Who are your Partners?
Dec 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the Connecticut Science Supervisors Association September Newsletter.  I typically post on my blog when it is published, but neglected to do it back then. No time like the present!  Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents there.



y network of colleagues working in Science Education in Connecticut has always amazed me.  The diverse expertise has always made it possible for me to find the resources necessary for improving the quality of programs by increasing student engagement and achievement.   In my (fairly) new role as the Director of the Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION, I have found the network is more important than ever.  Partnering with schools and districts, other science education organizations (both nationally and in-state) are a regular part of my daily activities.  If I want to create the highest quality STEM programs possible, I recognize that I can’t do it alone – I need my partners.  And those partners come from a wide swath – business partners, industry partners, higher education partners, State department partners, foundation partners, and federal partners, to name a few.



 think it is so important that I don’t operate in isolation.   It would be a waste of resources and time if I “siloed.” I don’t want to operate in isolation doing the exact same thing my peers are doing, creating the same product. Yet I find that siloing effect happening too often.  Although we absolutely do need to customize for our own program needs, we really should try to utilize each other’s expertise.  That might be the best use of our time.  Anyone looking for a partner?

The Unfortunate Economics of the Science Fair
Jan 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the CSSA Newsletter. Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents here.

A recent New York Times article by Emma Graves Fitzimmons discussed the financial woes of many science fairs across the country. Sponsors have dropped out, financing has been cut and organizers are scrambling to find money. The sad reality is that some of these events are being canceled. These authentic experiences for students are often important career-leading catalysts for young, budding scientists and engineers. Although not mentioned in the article, of local concern has been the greater Danbury area Science Horizons Science Fair.

from: New York Times

Science Horizons recently announced that it would be unable to financially support its regional Fair this year, and unfortunately, this important threshold opportunity, which brings a diverse group of students together, will be lost. Science Horizons is optimistic that it can obtain funding to restore the Fair in 2012. Science Horizons is encouraging each member school to support a local fair and will provide support by sending local winners to the Connecticut (State) Science Fair, held at Quinnipiac University this March. They will also fund some awards at the State fair. The reality of the US economic downturn’s impact on meaningful, authentic educational experiences for students hits home with this announcement.

Science Horizons is a nonprofit organization that has served the greater Danbury area’s budding scientists and engineers since xxx by offering a venue for middle and high school students to present the results of their original, long term experimental research. Each year typically over 600 students present projects at their annual Fair. Science Horizons is staffed totally by volunteers and raises all its money privately.

In the spring of 1989, as a high school junior, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in Science Horizon’s Science Symposium. This experience for me was transformational. I can point to that experience as one that helped me recognize that science was both a logical/analytical a creative endeavor, that an extended project was a rigorous, meaningful way to learn, and that science was a process – so much more than a collection of facts in a textbook. I pursued a degree in Biology, worked in a Bacterial Genetics lab doing methods development for the Human Genome Project, became a high school science teacher, and have worked directly with over 200 students who have conducted and presented high quality research. Many of these students have also pursued careers in science, the health sciences, and engineering.

With Connecticut’s budding knowledge-based economy, a scientifically-literate and educated workforce is critical. Opportunities like the Science Horizons Fair must be viewed as a necessity.

Observing Effective Questioning in the Science Classroom
Apr 28th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the CSSA Newsletter.  Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents here.


n March 13, 2010, the Obama Administration released its strategy for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind.  The blueprint, in part, focuses on the development of effective teachers and leaders.  The plan requires states to define an effective teacher, effective principal, highly effective teacher, and highly effective principal. Definitions are to be developed in collaboration with teachers and leaders, based in significant part on student growth and other measures such as classroom observations of practice.


he ESEA contains expectations that district level evaluation systems

  • meaningfully differentiate teachers and principals by effectiveness across at least three performance levels
  • are consistent with their state’s definition of effective teacher and highly effective teacher and principal 
  • provide meaningful feedback to teachers and principals to improve their practice and inform professional development
  • are developed in collaboration with teachers, principals, and other education stakeholders



ow do we, as science education leaders operationalize these broad statements and translate them into meaningful methods to assist in teacher growth and improvement?  I think at times, it is necessary to step back and examine how we can compartmentalize the instructional process for the purpose of identifying an area to focus efforts to help teachers improve.  Certainly instruction is a very holistic process, but targeting specific teaching skills in the instructional toolbag can give teachers meaningful feedback to improve their craft.  My focus here is on effective oral questioning. 


uestioning in the classroom is vital to help students develop problem solving and critical thinking skills.  To frame this discussion, it is important to consider the different types of questions that a science teacher might ask students (or students might ask teachers).  I would classify them into three major categories:

  • Factual
  •  Conceptual
  •  Analytical

Factual questions are just that:  checking facts.  Factual questions are composed of isolated information that stands alone and is generally much lower on Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge/comprehension).  Conceptual and analytical questions, though, would fall under higher order thinking skills questions.  Conceptual questions are ill-defined, allowing students to connect ideas together and draw on knowledge to formulate an answer, while analytical are well-defined, challenging students to interpret information or data, and make calculations. Both are more inquiry-based but a conceptual question can have multiple possibilities (i.e., the BEST answer), where a well-defined analytical question has one right answer (i.e., the CORRECT answer).  Of course, all types of questions are necessary, especially to scaffold student learning, but are a variety used effectively and judiciously?



s I observe teaching and learning, I often find myself asking many of the following questions: Who (teacher/students) are asking the questions?  Are a variety of students participating?  Does the teacher answer student questions or does the teacher turn them back to the class for a response?  Is appropriate wait time utilized?  If a HOTS question is too difficult to answer, does the teacher rephrase or scaffold to provide a structure for student success?  What types, in what frequency, and in what proportion are questions being asked by students and teachers?


# HOTS questions # K/C questions
# HOTS questions # K/C questions


 If  inquiry is learning by questioning and investigation, then effective oral questioning in a science class is critical to the development of student inquiry skills.  Helping teachers develop their classroom questioning skills is a necessary and important part of professional mentoring for growth and development. 


Options for Professional Growth Models
Mar 1st, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the CSSA Newsletter.  Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents here.

from: icim-ireland.net

from: icim-ireland.net

Many districts employ a professional growth model for their tenured faculty members for evaluation.  Instead of a traditional clinical observation with post-observation follow-up, teachers can develop a project to improve their own teaching and learning.  This performance-based approach to teacher development and school improvement allows teachers to take ownership of their growth and learning.  Outcomes expected from a professional growth project might include:

  • Empowering teachers to analyze and improve their own strengths and areas needing improvement
  • Empowering teachers to adjust their teaching as compelled by internal desire, student needs, or societal demands
  • Empowering teachers to engage in a search for relevant compasses to guide the thoughtful implementation of education of children.

Undoubtedly empowering teachers to improve should be linked to improved student achievement, which should be measured in many, various, authentic ways.  In essence, growth models can allow teachers to conduct their own inquiry into a relevant, important topic that can improve their instruction.

As science educators, we subscribe to an inquiry philosophy for teaching and learning.  Simply put, inquiry is learning by questioning and investigation. Underlying an effective inquiry program are philosophies associated with problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking, oral and written communication, and the active and reflective use of knowledge.  Inquiry learning has the instructional goals of teaching scientific knowledge and processes of research, while nurturing a commitment to scientific inquiry, promoting open-mindedness with an ability to balance alternative perspectives, and a cooperative spirit and skill.  If we ask our students to do it well, why not be leaders to them by example?

As science education leaders, we have the opportunity to empower our teacher to seek out inquiry professional growth opportunities to better develop their instructional potential.  However, embedded in our responsibility is to develop the leadership potential in each one of our constituents.  Teachers often have amazing skills, knowledge, and dispositions that they should be encouraged to share with others. 

How do we empower our teachers to share?  We can encourage them to include in their professional growth plans opportunities to share their knowledge with others as part of their end products with the Science Education Community:

  • Presenting a workshop at a district or school professional development session
  • Presenting a workshop at the Connecticut Science Teachers Association Annual Conference
  • Writing an article for the Connecticut Journal of Science Education or the CSTA newsletter.
  • Writing an article for a national journal: The Science Teacher, The Journal of Chemistry Education, The American Biology Teacher, The Physics Teacher

These are activities that many teachers would not consider doing on their own, but with gentle, supportive encouragement from a compassionate leader, they might.  The courage to step beyond oneself, to take a risk and be willing to share is not always easy, but we do our profession a disservice when great ideas exist and they are not shared on a larger stage. 

We ask our students to share their work in authentic settings.  Perhaps it’s time we evaluate ourselves and our colleagues as life-long learners and ask if we collectively are willing to take the risks that we expect from our students: to develop our own inquiry skills, leadership, and innovation and have a willingness to share with an authentic audience who would find value – our own peers.

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