Peanuts . . .
Jan 2nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

As I continue to explore concepts of expertise, I look at my front yard for evidence. About 12 years ago, I made 4 Peanuts characters that I put out on my lawn at Christmas. Over the years, two were stolen, and about 5 years ago, I made the cutouts for two new ones (Peppermint Patty, Snoopy (#2)). With the throws of children and graduate school, I never painted them until this December. Now they stand on the yard – a testament to “paint by number.” (Even if I traced the number system from a Google image). I am dazzled by those who create original art and recognize that one of the most important characteristics of the development of that expertise is the ability to regularly practice the craft.

from the front yard . . .

Defining Inquiry Literacy
Jan 7th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My colleagues at McGill and I recently published an article in LEARNing Landscapes entitled, Inquiry Literacy: A Proposal for a Neologism. You can read the article here.ll-no5-dec2009

Let’s go fly a kite!
Nov 22nd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from www.babygadget.net

from www.babygadget.net

I am a strong advocate for authentic inquiry where we allow students to pursue interesting problems and determine innovative, creative solutions.  In order for a student to build a strong repertoire of problem finding and solving skills, they must develop the necessary prerequisite skills and have a positive disposition to learning.  I often think back to the expertise literature from the creativity domain.  (Below, from LaBanca, 2008):

Experts of a domain structure their knowledge differently from novices (Chase & Simon, 1973; Chi, Glaser, & Rees, 1982; Feldhusen , 2005; Larken, McDermott, Simon, & Simon, 1980; Sternberg, 2001). Expert knowledge is centered on conceptual understanding, with the use of specific domain-based strategies (Driscoll, 2005). Expert problem finding and solving, therefore, is a utilization of pattern recognition based on previous experience and matching those patterns to corresponding aspects of a problem. Novices generally do not possess the same understanding, and, in turn, utilize more general, non-domain specific, problem finding and solving strategies (Driscoll, 2005).

In an instructional setting, some teaching practices lead to the conveying of decontexualized information, whereby students are unable to transfer what they have learned to relevant situations (Brown, Collins, and Duguid, 1989). Students, as novices, have difficulty solving complex, authentic problems because they “tend to memorize rules and algorithms” (Driscoll, 2005, p. 161). Experts would tend to use situational cues to solve problems. Because they have greater domain-specific content knowledge, experts approach finding and solving problems by recognizing and applying previously experienced patterns.

Simply put:

  • Experience matters.
  • Experience promotes higher levels of creativity.
  • Experience makes better problem finders and solvers.
from newenglandsite.com

from newenglandsite.com

As a parent, I feel that part of my responsibility is to provide opportunities for my children to have diverse experiences which expose them to authentic problem solving experiences.  Today was one of those days.  As I was cleaning out the back of my car, I came across several kites.  I enjoy flying kites, but have never done this with my children.  Spontaneously, I packed them up, took a drive to Seaside Park in Bridgeport (probably the nicest beach on the Connecticut coast), and we set up shop.

Although my younger daughter Maggie (5) was not as impressed, my older daughter Anna (7) really got into it.  She was trying to figure out how to get the kite to stay in the air without crashing back to the sand on the beach.  Once the thing was about 100 feet in the air, I asked her how she got it so high.  She was able to give me a detailed explanation of how it works and some of the tricks that were necessary to work the kite.  This was without really any advice from me.  She tackled the problem and devised a solution using a trial and error strategy.

I think sometimes in science education, some get stuck in the mess of using only a hypothesis-based problem solving strategy.  That’s a shame because there are so many other ways to solve problems.  For example (from Wikipedia:)

  1. Divide and conquer
  2. Hill-climbing strategy, (also called gradient descent/ascent, difference reduction, greedy algorithm)
  3. Means-ends analysis
  4. Trial-and-error
  5. Brainstorming
  6. Morphological analysis
  7. Method of focal objects
  8. Lateral thinking
  9. George Pólya‘s techniques in How to Solve It
  10. Research
  11. Assumption reversal
  12. Analogy
  13. Reduction (complexity)
  14. Hypothesis testing
  15. Constraint examination
  16. Incubation
  17. Build (or write) one or more abstract models of the problem
  18. Try to prove that the problem cannot be solved.
  19. Get help from friends or online problem solving community
  20. Delegation: delegating the problem to others.
  21. Root Cause Analysis
  22. Working Backwards
  23. Forward-Looking Strategy
  24. Simplification
  25. Generalization
  26. Specialization
  27. Random Search
  28. Split-Half Method
  29. The GROW model
  30. TRIZ
  31. Eight Disciplines Problem Solving
  32. Southbeach Notation
  33. The WWXXD Method:

Let’s really strategize to provide students with DIVERSE opportunities for problem solving in our classroom.  If I can do it unplanned with my children on a sunny, chilly, fall day at a beautiful beach, we can certainly find ways to to it in our classrooms.

Continued Anecdotal Evidence of Creative Expertise
Jan 23rd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Last week I heard about the amazing water landing of the US Airlines flight on the Hudson River in New York City.  I was in the midst of many projects and didn’t have a chance to truly appreciate the magnitude of what had happened until I viewed a slide show of pictures.  The images are breathtaking, and I hope the link I am providing to this event lasts a long time.

What amazes me most is, in less than one minute, the pilot identifies a problem, creates a strategy for solution with multiple options, selects the best option, and finally executes the option in a near-flawless fashion.  This is what creativity and 21st-century skills is all about! (Well, maybe we don’t need to teach students how to crash land a plane, but we do need to give them the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to successfully navigate the challenges that they will undoubtedly encounter in their future.)

This situation makes me really consider the creative mind, in this case, the pilot.  Preparedness certainly favored this mind, and the expertise displayed in the choices made were enhanced by previous experience.  Sandy Kay (1994) defined creativity (specifically problem finding) in terms of an individual finding, defining, or discovering an idea or problem “not predetermined by the situation.”. This definition is problematic because it assumes there are no underlying or situated factors that might influence decision making factors. There are boundaries and parameters that are required for individuals engaging in creative problem finding and solving behaviors that are established by the field of study and the domain-culture (i.e., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). These predetermined factors must surely influence the nature of the problems individuals attempt to solve.

IMHO, the pilot was capable of such a creative and successful act because he had the necessary expertise, coupled with a situation that mandated immediate action.  Without his experiences as a pilot and a safety consultant he could NOT have been as creative as he was. 

In terms of education, the lesson seems to be that we need to engage students in authentic experiences that challenge them to develop skill sets that allow them to solve problems well.  From a situated cognitive framework, becoming members of a community of practice – practicing both the trade and the thinking of professionals – is a necessary tool to become a productive, contributing member of a 21st-century society.

Gaining Expertise
Nov 18th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was recently checking things out on Craig’s List, when I saw a Catalina 27 sailboat available at a phenomenal price.  I have enjoyed Long Island Soundsailing for the past 11 years on my Catalina 22, but with the family more regularly joining me, I’ve been thinking about opportunities to upgrade.  Adding 5 feet of boat length translates into an incredible amount of space. 

I asked my friend, Paul, to join me on the excursion and we arrived in Milford to check out the boat, now dry-docked in a boat yard.  Apparently the boat has been abandoned, and they want to get rid of it.

Initial inspections look good.  The boat is very structurally sound.  I think the cushions all need to be replaced – all wet and mildewy.  Mast looks good.  Needs a lot of TLC.  We discuss the boat with the boathouse manager – apparently the motor may have seized.  What does this mean?  I’ve always had an outboard motor on my boat – it comes off; it’s easily serviced.  I’ve never dealt with an inboard before.  I don’t know anything about it.  In fact, I was blissfully ignorant about inboard motors. 

Changing hats . . . sailor-enthusiast to educator

A while back I wrote about expertise and student experiencemaking references to a Disney song from Pocahontas “Colors of the Wind.”  You see, students and teachers can be incompetent (I use the word incompetent, not as a derogatory word, but rather as an objective descriptor) and not even know it.  They can be conscious of their incompetence and want to learn more.  This Consciousness/Competence learning model (similar to Ingham and Luft’s Johari Window) provides an important framework for competency and expertise.

As students begin learning new concepts that they’ve never been exposed to before, first they have to identify that knowledge and skills exist beyond their experiences.  This is not a bad thing – it indicates to us, that there is always more to learn – we need to strive for continuous improvement.  In fact, who would be so boldly ignorant to say that he or she knows everything? 

As I work with my students who are developing independent science research projects, they begin to learn about limitations and need to make deciscions to navigate through those uncharted waters.

They might ask:

  • What do I know? 
  • Am I capable of doing this?
  • Do I have the necessary skills, expertise, access to expertise, money, time, or self-commitment to follow through?

Adult learners also have to make the same considerations.  In addition, they most likely think about how their learning will impact their job. In the case of teachers – how does the new learning impact teaching and learning.  Is it meaningful and helpful for me and students?

Let’s set sail and find out!

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