Place-based learning
Nov 20th, 2014 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Placed-based learning is a relatively new term in the inquiry-based learning literature. I am currently working with a student examining place-based education. Here is a brief excerpt from something that I recently wrote:

Place based education (PBE) and its conceptual model was first described in the literature by Smith in 2002. He suggested that that PBE manifests in five major ways: (a) cultural studies, (b) nature studies, (c) real-world problem solving, (d) internships and entrepreneurial opportunities, and (e) induction into community processes. Tying all of these processes together is the common thread of the concept of place (i.e., location) exercising a critical influence in the design, execution, and outcomes of curriculum and instruction. PBE finds its roots in the work of Dewey (1938), whose broader impact laid the foundation for inquiry learning.

Simply defined by Miriam-Webster (2014), inquiry is “the act of asking questions in order to gather or collect information” (para. 6). Inquiry also refers to activities of students in which they acquire knowledge and understanding of concepts, as well as problem-solving skills. High quality inquiry teaching and learning requires learning to do and learning about at the same time: knowledge, skills, and process are all linked (Shore, Birlean, Walker, Ritchie, LaBanca, & Aulls, 2009).


Habits of mind associated with inquiry learning include: asking questions, designing and conducting investigations, using relevant tools, techniques, and technology to gather information, determining relationships between evidence and explanations, analyzing alternative explanations, and communicating claims and findings (Bell, Smetana, & Binns, 2005). Educational benefits of the use of inquiry learning include improved higher order thinking skills (Mao & Chang, 1998; Smith, 1996), gains in student learning (Jackson & Ash, 2012; Kanter & Konstantopoulos, 2010; Shore, Aulls, & Delcourt, 2007; Shymansky, Hedges, & Woodworth, 1990) and increased engagement (Spronken-Smith, Walker, Batchelor, O’Steen, & Angelo, 2012; Summerlee & Murray, 2010). Because inquiry learning leads to development of imaginative, evidence-based explanations, students’ creative and problem solving skills are simultaneously developed (LaBanca & Delcourt, 2008; LaBanca & Ritchie, 2011).

In the classroom setting, inquiry instruction classically manifested in science instruction in the form of experiments and investigations (Llewellyn, 2013). However, as educators recognized the benefits to inquiry instruction across the disciplines, a broader use of projects emerged. Project-based learning is a comprehensive approach to instruction designed to engage students in the investigation of problems (Blumenfled, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991). The necessary components of effective project-based learning are (a) a question that organizes or drives the activity; and (b) activities that result in authentic products and artifacts. Schneider, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway (2002) and Hmelo-Silver, Duncan, and Chinn (2007) demonstrated that inquiry-rooted project-based work increases achievement.
PBE similarly utilizes an inquiry and project-based approach, however the context of projects are consistently rooted in the theme and location of the place. “Place-based education stands apart from project-based learning in that the community is often the project context of first choice. This feature enables students to pursue, with a passion, a project linked to their locality” (Lewicki, 2007, para. 3).


Bell, R. L., Smetana, L., and Binns, I. (2005). Simplifying inquiry instruction. The Science Teacher, 72(7), 30-33.
Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 369-398.
Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.
Dewey, J. (1938). Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
Hmelo-Silver, C. E., Duncan, R. G., & Chinn, C. A. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99-107.
Jackson, J. K., & Ash, G. (2012). Science Achievement for All: Improving Science Performance and Closing Achievement Gaps. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(7), 723-744.
Kanter, D. E., & Konstantopoulos, S. (2010). The Impact of a Project-Based Science Curriculum on Minority Student Achievement, Attitudes, and Careers: The Effects of Teacher Content and Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Inquiry-Based Practices. Science Education, 94(5), 855-887.
LaBanca, F., & Ritchie, K. C. (2011). The art of scientific ideas: Teaching and learning strategies that promote effective problem finding. The Science Teacher, 78, 8, 48-51.
Lewicki, J. (2007). Place-based learning measures pp: Tips on local learning. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/place-based-learning-measures
Llewellyn, D. (2013). Inquire within. SAGE Publications.
Mao, S., & Chang, C. (1998). Impacts of an inquiry teaching method on Earth science students’ learning outcomes and attitudes at the secondary level. Proceedings of the National Science Council ROC (D), 8, 93-101.
Miriam-Webster, Inc. (2014). Inquiry. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inquiry
Schneider, R. M., Krajcik, J., Marx, R. W., & Soloway, E. (2002). Performance of students in project‐based science classrooms on a national measure of science achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(5), 410-422.
Shore, B. M., Aulls, M. W., & Delcourt, M. A. B. (2007). Inquiry in education volume II: Overcoming barriers to successful implementation. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Shore, B. M., Birlean, C., Walker, C. L., Ritchie, K. C., LaBanca, F., & Aulls, M. W. (2009).
Shymansky, J.A., Hedges, L.V., & Woodworth, G. (1990). A reassessment of effects of inquiry-based science curriculum of the ’60s on student performance. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27, 127-144.
Smith, D. (1996). A meta-analysis of student outcomes attributable to teaching science as inquiry as compared to traditional methodology. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Philadelphia.
Smith, G. A. (2002). Place-Based Education: Learning To Be Where We Are. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(8), 584-594.
Spronken-Smith, R., Walker, R. Batchelor, J., O’Steen, B., & Angelo, T. (2012). Evaluating student perceptions of learning processes and intended learning outcomes under inquiry approaches. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(1), 57-72.
Summerlee, A., & Murray, J. (2010). The impact of enquiry-based learning on academic performance and student engagement. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 40(2), 78-94.

Technology changes “note taking”
Nov 9th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am often still baffled at schools who have a “no tolerance” policy for the use of digital tools in the classroom.  No phones, no tablets, no nothing.  You might have been one of the 2M who saw the professor who indicated “No laptops in class.  Do I make myself clear?”

However times are changing.  In my current Stats class (practicing teachers/doctoral students), I often find the SmartBoard posing for pictures.  After modeling a procedure using software, notations and all, the students whip out their smartphones and click away.  It is a CLEVER documentation process as you get the WYSIWYG photo – students can reference the actual screen that they may encounter later on the computer and, as a fully annotated doc in context, it mayvery well make more sense than something documented on paper.

I think the important consideration is that when technology is used to ENHANCE learning, that’s a good thing, but when technology DISTRACTS you from learning, that’s the bad thing.  In a classroom with children who are still working on self-regulation, we may need to assist them.  But should we take away the potential benefits that technology offers to protect against potential problems.  I think it is better to deal with them as they come up and teach responsible citizenship.

Educational Inputs vs Outcomes
Sep 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was meeting with a medical doctor last week who asked me about my profession.  I expressed that I was an educator working on STEM programming with teachers and students across the state.  He asked the off-color question “Do you do that education stuff where you make kids feel good about themselves?”  I didn’t even hesitate to say no.

The programs I run focus on rigor and increasing achievement.  Thinking about it more, I think we work on engagement (a.k.a. “feel good”) as an outcome, NOT an input.  This really made me think more about the design of research.  When conducting studies you need an independent variable and a dependent variable.  To me, engagement is a dependent factor – what should happen with quality instruction.  I wonder if other educators consider it an input.  Kids thinking, working hard, problem solving, collaborating, asking and answering hard questions .  .. .  that’s the essence of good engagement.  Good instruction, success for students, meaningful and relevant assessments .. .  . that leads to success.

A Crash Course on Creativity
Jun 2nd, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am just completing my first MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) entitled “Crash Course in Creativity” offered by Tina Seelig at Stanford University.  It’s been a pretty amazing experience taking a course with 15,000 others – probably about 5,000 active students in the process.

To me, I’ve had two great experiences:

  1. Taking a course on creativity.  Although I’ve only been able to dedicate limited time to the course – and that’s allowable. I’ve come to realize that time and dedication to a project is necessary for maximum results.  I think I’ve been able to think about creativity and also how to get others to think about it in a meaningful way.  To me, that’s the big take away that makes me happy.  I’m less happy realizing that if I had and/or made more time to participate in the course, I would certainly had a more robust experience. But isn’t that what I’ve written about on this blog for years?  Creativity and problem finding take time.  If you don’t dedicate the time to the creative process, you won’t come up with your best ideas.  Incubation takes time and if you don’t make the time to do it, you won’t generate enough ideas for prioritized selection. I guess in that sense, it’s very self validating
  2. Taking a MOOC.  There’s been a lot of buzz around open courses lately, and professionally, I’m glad I could experience the process.  I really like the way the platform is flexible and the way the professor designed the learning challenges.  I really want to figure out a way to engage Connecticut students from across the state in a MOOC environment.  I have a few ideas about content and think there is incredible potential for breaking down barriers when students can be allowed to collaborate across school and district boundaries.  Learning can truly be anywhere, anytime.
Digital Learning Day
Feb 7th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

dig learn day, a set on Flickr.

Here’s a summary of my exciting day on February 1, 2012

Frank LaBanca visited Sandy Hook School in Newtown for digital learning day.  There he joined a fourth grade and second grade class.  Using iPod touches and the StoryKit app, Frank, Ted Varga, teacher, and the fourth grade students created riddles that modeled the literary device personification.  Students selected an inanimate object in the room to personify.  Some examples of their work include:

sample | sample | sample | sample | sample

Frank also visited second grade teacher Robin Walker’s class.  Using the same app, students recorded observations of growth patterns of their Wisconsin Fast Plants that they are growing as part of a science unit.  Some examples include:

sample | sample | sample | sample

New CT Comissioner of Education
Oct 7th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

From the Hartford Current:

New State Schools Chief Begins Today, Declaring ‘We Are Tired Of The Lack Of Progress’

Rick Green

4:57 PM EDT, October 6, 2011

The heralded and long-awaited arrival of Stefan Pryor as Connecticut’s new education commissioner — he begins work Friday — is a bitter reminder of how little progress we’ve made solving our most persistent failure.

We talk endlessly about our economic future, and yet tens of thousands of children in urban schools are still falling behind, not learning and dropping out. There are few, if any, larger obstacles holding Connecticut back.

What, I wanted to know when I met with the commissioner-to-be this week, could Pryor possibly do that governors, previous commissioners and hundreds of educators haven’t already done to tackle what is the nation’s greatest achievement gap?

“I think there is a recognition that this is a special moment,” Pryor responded, explaining that it his good fortune to be working for an impatient governor who has promised an education agenda during his second year in office.

“The sense I get from everybody — the education associations, the union leaders, the advocacy group leaders, the legislators, the state board members — is that we are tired of the lack of progress. We are ready for a shift forward.”

Though Pryor was cautious and guarded during our chat, it was still clear that education policy under the 39-year-old Yale graduate may shift seismically in coming months. This is a man, after all, who made an early name for himself as the founder of one of Connecticut’s most successful charter schools, the Amistad Academy in New Haven. More recently, Pryor was a top aide to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Above all, Pryor was brought here to create change. Some important highlights emerged from our conversation:

•A streamlined state Department of Education, one that focuses more on the fundamental problems of struggling schools, will emerge. Shifting from a regulation-and-compliance bureaucracy focused on paperwork to a more nimble agency that exists to improve learning will be a top priority.

•School districts that succeed can expect new freedom. Schools, experimental or traditional, that show results will be held up as models — and replicated.

•Teachers who achieve will be rewarded. Whether students actually learn must become part of how educators are evaluated. In particular, getting the best teachers into the lowest-performing schools will become a top priority.

•Student achievement, measured by indicators like standardized tests, will continue to be a critical metric for evaluating schools.

“At the moment, when there are national dialogues about which states are moving in the right direction, you don’t hear Connecticut’s name,” Pryor said. “The unit that parents think about … is the school. We as a department need to think about the schools of our state and how to improve them.”

Two things Pryor spoke repeatedly about — giving more freedom to school districts that achieve, and promoting successful individual schools as examples for the state — are particularly noteworthy. Significantly, we have no shortage of high-achieving schools and districts in Connecticut.

It would be revolutionary if Connecticut’s state Department of Education became known for helping good ideas grow and for getting out of the way of districts that are already succeeding.

“What can the state department do for higher performing districts? Get out of the way,” Pryor said. The big idea, he told me, Is to “spend more time with this districts that need the help.”

Pryor warned me — repeatedly — that he was not arriving as an acolyte of the charter school movement, which is often pitted against traditional education and unions. Charters play a very small role in the education of children in Connecticut. Like other model schools, they can be an example, he said.

“Effective schools will play a large role in this new era,” Pryor said, whatever the design or governance structure. “My goal will be … to promote those schools, to expand those schools, to replicate those schools that show effectiveness.”

Teacher evaluation, a favorite topic of seat-of-the-pants school reformers, must improve, but by working with all sides, particularly the unions, Pryor said. Significantly, this must include a career path that rewards and promotes effective teachers.

“It is essential that student performance be an element of evaluation and companion in our system,” he said. “That is something that we are going to engage as a very healthy, very full conversation with all of the stakeholders.

“We need to ensure that the teaching profession provides for ways for outstanding faculty members to advance in their careers. And advancement includes increased compensation over time.”

Pryor, who has a reputation as a workhorse, said he plans to begin his job with a listening tour of schools, classrooms and towns around the state.

“I think it’s possible to map out an approach that people agree upon. Will there be conflict? You can count on it. The place to start from is what do we agree on what do we want to accomplish,” he said. “People are hungry for that.”

The more I examine and think about “CHANGE,” the more I realize it happens in the evolution of dated individual teaching and learning philosophies of education to constructivist thinking.

Principles of Adult Education (Andragony)
Sep 15th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When we speak of instructional strategies, we often use the term pedagogy.  However adult learning is different and termed andragony.  I’ve been thinking about adragogical strategies and how to effectively apply them in my teaching of experienced teachers.  Below are some thoughts on the topic:


Noun: The method and practice of teaching, esp. as an academic subject or theoretical concept.


an· dra·go·gy/ änəˌgäjē /

Noun: the practice of teaching adults with emphasis on participation of students in the planning and evaluation

Adults have different expectations in learning than children do.  It is important to take into consideration the needs of the adult learner when engaging in professional development.  Androgogy is the term used to describe the methodology used in teaching adults.

Androgogy, the teaching of adults, contains the following important components and tenets.  Adult learning is voluntary and learner-oriented.  Education brings freedom to the learners as they assimilate learning with life experiences.  Androgogy encourages divergent thinking and active learning.  Often the roles of the learner and the teacher are blurred in the process.  Often there is an uncertainty about the outcome of learning, regardless of the curriculum content.

Research demonstrates that there is a difference in learning between novice professionals and expert professionals.  A professional developer should be aware of his audience’s expertise level and adjust instruction appropriately.  Three main aspects of performance change in novice to expert learners:

  • i.) the novice professional’s work paradigm focuses on abstract principles while the expert uses concrete past experiences;
  • ii.) the novice often views situations discretely where the expert sees situations as part of a whole;
  • iii.) the novice is often a detached observer where the expert is an involved performer (Daley, 1999).

A striking difference when considering novices and experts is that novices are often hindered by specifics of the job, where experts are often hindered by the system.  Novices prefer, and best learn formally, where experts learn best informally, often in conjunction with their peers.  Novice professionals prefer learning strategies like memory and therefore accumulate information, while the expert professional uses dialogue to create a knowledge base (Daley, 1999).

I think, most important to consider, are some practical aspects of facilitating adult learning.  According to Knowles, there are six assumptions related to motivation of adults:

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know)
  2. Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation).
  3. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept).
  4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives (Readiness).
  5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation).
  6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation).

Daley, B.J. (1999). Novice to expert: an exploration of how professionals learn.  Adult Education Quarterly, 49, 4, 133-147.

Knowles, M. S. (1980). The modern practice of adult education: From. (Revised Edition). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge

Examining theory related to practice
Sep 12th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I began teaching  a graduate class in Instructional Leadership last week. I focused on the concept of teacher practice around the 21st century skill of collaboration. I structured an activity to allow educators to explore their views of collaboration: how does it manifest in the classroom, what are barriers and successes, and so on using the following prompts:

  • What is collaboration?  What is the role of collaboration in instruction?
  • How does collaboration promote and/or deter learning?
  • How does collaboration look at different age levels?
  • Provide an example/anecdote of collaboration in your own instruction.

Since this is the first class that the group of experienced teacher-practitioner doctoral students are taking, I wanted to take advantage of the expertise of the group by meaningful sharing.  The discussion was interesting – full of back and forths, and, as a teacher, what struck me most was how the questions lead to a perspective that I had not considered.  When writing the questions, I thought about collaboration from the student-student perspective.  Although that was a meaningful part of the conversation, I was struck by the “collaboration from teacher-teacher” perspective.  I am pleased, that as an instructor, I developed “ill-defined” (ala Jonassen, 1997) questions that lead to very meaningful discussions.

Once we had developed enough capacity around these ideas, I switched gears and related the concept of collaboration in instruction to Vygotsky‘s social learning theory.  I think we had a few “ah-ha” moments during that discussion:  good instruction is based on sound learning theory.

That’s not to say that you can’t have good instructional practice without explicitly knowing theory.  I think the message is that when you are more AWARE of the connection between research and practice, you can more purposefully think about the decisions you make as a practitioner to improve student achievement and engagement.

Thinking about the role of textbooks
Feb 14th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

from Desales University Library

I was recently reading the Foundation for Excellence in Education (2010) Digital Learning Now! document.  Of particular interest to me was “Element #5:” Content:  digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.  Check out this forward-thinking statement:

States should abandon the lengthy textbook adoption process and embrace the flexibility offered by digital content. Digital content can be updated in real time without a costly reprint. The ongoing shift from online textbooks to engaging and personalized content, including learning games, simulations, and virtual environments, makes the traditional review process even less relevant.

Transitioning to digital content will improve the quality of content, while likely saving money in production that can be dedicated to providing the infrastructure for digital learning.

This will be a tough nut to crack, but once schools and districts start thinking this way, there will certainly be an improvement in quality.  I started down this path in 2007 when I assumed the role of the first science department chair at Oxford High School.  My perception of the biggest challenge is the time to develop and maintain the high quality resources as part of the blended learning environment.  This, unfortunately, probably is not “doable” by the classroom teacher alone because there is just not enough capacity to give teachers the necessary time to make it all work.  But . . . teachers are key to the process.  So partnerships are a necessity.

Competency-based learning
Feb 2nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When we consider education based on achieving standards versus measuring performance, we start to rethink the way it looks. I’ve got to say, people talk about innovation, but making major changes in schools is a challenge. Read this (pretty progressive for a union president):

Once we free ourselves from a factory model and the time practices handcuffed
to that structure, we must rethink such unquestioned time-honored practices as:
• Grouping kids in grades;
• Grading as a way to communicate what has been learned;
• Moving kids around based on bell schedules;
• Separating subjects divided into discrete time blocks; and,
• Connecting high school graduation with Carnegie units.
Schools can no longer be expected to change and still look the same. It’s time to
get away from the legacy of the factory that imprisons us, as educators, as well as
the students we teach. We know that ‘a cage for every age’ is an archaic and dysfunctional
way to group students. It’s for us to start questioning the sacred rituals
of schools and school systems. We can use time as the catalyst to do just that.

– Dr. Ellen Bernstein, President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, Testimony at the
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Field Hearing on Innovative
Approaches to School Time, 2010

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