Manifestation of 21st-century skills
Dec 14th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


This summer, I helped my daughter establish an email account.  We discussed the importance of password security and address security.  While sending an email to her teacher, she wanted to demonstrate that she knew how to type.  In fact, she was properly keyboarding with the fingers in traditional positions: asdf jkl;.  Most impressive.  I am glad to see that a skill I learned in 9th grade with Mr. Gargano in typing class, is now embedded within the 3rd grade curriculum.

What is interesting to me is that although we are teaching digital communication to students, we are not teaching world communication:  where are the languages?  While other countries teach their students English from a very early age, where are we in teaching Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, or even the classics like Spanish.  Seems when a child’s mind is most amenable to learning, we don’t systemically take advantage.

Theories and Laws in Science
Oct 25th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Definition for theory:

From: wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; “theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses”;

From: Merriam-Webster.com Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Theory in Science

a scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena

Some important theories in science:

  • kinetic molecular theory
  • evoluion theory
  • theory of relativity
  • plate techtonics theory

I often hear those who talk about proving a theory.  An inevitable contradiction because:

Prove is an absolute

I prefer:

  • make plausible
  • draw conclusions
  • make inferences
  • verify
  • determine validity
  • interpret
  • confirm
  • demonstrate
  • provide evidence
  • authenticate

Therefore, I really do not like reading about the word ‘prove,’ especially in student work.  How do we effectively inform students about theories, most importantly that they are NOT conjecture, but are unifying concepts supported by FACT?

Balancing instructional strategies
Oct 12th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

from: uic.edu

One of the challenges in teaching is to keep students engaged throughout a class period. In science during a lab period, this is fairly straight-forward, as hands-on inquiry experiences tend to take more extended time.  However, when there is an extended period for which there is no lab activity planned, it is important to keep students engaged by varying the activities so students maintain high levels of active engagement.

from: gallerynucleus.com

In my biology class today, we were working on solving pedigrees – a clear problem solving, lateral thinking inquiry activity. 

However, solving pedigrees for an hour and a half is probably too much.  To keep students engaged, I read the third paragraph from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, [full text] which specifically discusses an inbreeding situation – gets kids attention, you can make a pedigree, and connects literature to science:

 Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch ; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other – it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher” – an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

We then continued with some additional problems, and later I showed a 4-minute video about Huntington’s Disease.  We paused and mapped the pedigree based on the speaker’s comments.  

I was attempting to access different learning style preferences to help students understand the concepts.  The period was over before the students and I realized.  We’ll see how well the skills have developed!

Reflective properties of open inquiry
Sep 30th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Though I spend my days working with high school students, I have a deep passion for open inquiry research and am lucky to have the opportunity to work with doctoral candidates in the Ed.D. Instructional Leadership Program at Western Connecticut State University.  This semester (and for the next 5,) I will be providing secondary advisement to two students and primary advisement to one. 


Yesterday, one of my secondary advisees had her proposal defense.  A proposal defense occurs when the student has identified and defined his or her study (problem finding).  First, the student provides the advisors with a ~20-page document for review a few weeks prior.  We provide feedback, the proposal is modified, and then a presentation is conducted to share the design with the committee.   Yesterday was that presentation.  As we listened and subsequently discussed, I couldn’t help but consider some of the important behaviors and actions the student had undertaken.  My colleague, Krista Ritchie, and I are working on a paper about promoting  problem finding and our recent email discussions synthesizing our research have lead us to generate a teacher and student list of strategies.  Here are the student strategies, which I clearly saw on display yesterday (and part of our working list for the paper):

  1. Identify and work with an authentic audience
  2. Excellent written and oral communication skills
  3. Know there is value
  4. Novel approach
  5. Focus on areas of personal interest.
  6. Be a critical consumer of information.
  7. Create a support system. 

We are going to elaborate on each of these as well as provide a “teacher list.”


After the defense, in the adjacent lounge, the professors then gathered for one-on-one meetings with primary advisees.  This was a great time for each professor (4 of us) to meet individually to discuss ideas, goals, and progress.  What was more striking to me, though, was the culture.  Student sitting with advisor, advisors and students sharing information both between the two and among the group.  Meeting dynamics that went from one-on-one, briefly to small group, back to one-on-one.  There was an underlying sensation of inquiry permeating the room.  Deep, specialized learning occurring without the traditional walls, desks, or blackboards.  Learning for learning’s sake, bidirectional knowledge flow, challenging ideas – wow!  This is what learning is supposed to be like.  As we constantly consider educational reform we really need to think of ways to make authentic inquiry the bedrock of learning.  This is where growth really occurs.

Considering purpose in instructional design
Sep 9th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Dan Meyerrecently wrote on his blog dy/dan:

“The best learning begins with a good worksheet.”

September 6th, 2010 by Dan Meyer

I wrote that. In all sincerity. On June 8, 2004. In an essay for my credentialing school entitled — of all things — “How Students Learn Math.”

This gobsmacked, gross-feeling moment is what I get for digitally cataloging every essay, handout, and lesson I have written since high school.

I am grateful, I suppose, that it only took me six years to go from “the best learning begins with a good worksheet” to the kind of instructional design that — for whatever good it does my students — has me excited to wake up in the morning, has me constantly double-checking my front pocket for a camera, has me excited to walk around and encounter math in my daily life. I’m grateful because I’m positive there exists another timeline, equally plausible to this one, where I’m still that enthusiastic about worksheets after six years, or ten years. Or an entire career. I hear that happens.

Although I think he doesn’t clearly articulate what is “best,” or  ‘better,” I internally find that the major concept is that what is key to good instruction is generating compelling and engaging problems, and working through them in a hands-on, minds-on way.

What stands out for me is that good instruction is NOT about the stuff – the worksheets, the PowerPoint, the lab book, the Internet resources.  It’s about the meaningful interactions we have with students that help them positively grow in knowledge, skills, and disposition. 

Although teaching and learning has best practices that are research-based, there is no question that design and execution of meaningful, well-articulated instruction has an artistic component – one that demands we build quality relationships with students.  After all, we may teach biology, chemistry, or research, but ultimately we are teachers of  students.

The Proud Father . . .
Jun 2nd, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My kindergarten daughter brought home a book from school today, When I Grow Up.  My daughter’s teacher has, throughout the year, had the students complete “Think Books,” where the children draw a picture and write a sentence to explain their “story.” I can tell by the book that the teacher was working on “evidence.” The student had to say what she wanted to be, then explain the reason.  The teacher then assembles the student work and makes a bound book that the children bring home on different nights to share with their families.

What I like about the “Think Books” is that the students are making an authentic product that they share with their families.  There is a certain level of quality when it is shared with many.  Here’s her page:

Maggie's Career Think Book

Refining the definition and role of science in education
Jan 27th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
I recently read a post on Wes Fryer’s blog stating:

The Kennedy Center Teaching Artists define arts integration as:

an APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an ART FORM. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.

 We should review this statement carefully, because I really think it integrates concepts of 21st-century learning very well.  It also seems so relevant to science education as well.  Too often, I think students think they learn science, but infer that “they’ll never use this in real life,” unless they become an engineer or scientist.  What I try to stress with students is that the skills we teach in science are what is critical. The content is the medium to advance those skills.  I want students to be self-directed, motivated, critical thinkers who are capable of problem finding and solving.  The Kennedy Center definition also implies constructivist learning theory in their definition. 

from: http://www.ade.state.az.us/

from: http://www.ade.state.az.us/

To that end, and as a springboard point for me, I am going to modify this definition for science education integration.  What amazes me, is that it really doesn’t change very much from the art definition:

An APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through INQUIRY-BASED QUESTIONS AND INVESTIGATION. Students engage in CREATIVE AND LOGICAL/ANALYTICAL PROCESSES which CONNECTS SCIENCE and another subject or skill domain and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.

Why teachers shouldn’t waste time designing a webpage
Oct 19th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Working with my neophyte teachers, we had an interesting discussion regarding the role of technology in the science classroom.  I strongly subscribe to the idea that teachers should not waste time designing and coding webpages. The fact of the matter is that science teachers have expertise in scientific concepts, not in web design.   Most of the teacher-designed webpages are unimpressive, aesthetically ugly, and lacking the power to promote increased student learning.

That’s where Web 2.0 is so critical. Teacher web presence is incredibly important, but teachers need to focus on CONTENT, not FORM.  So interactive sites like blogs and wikis provide opportunities for bidirectional knowledge flow.  Both the teacher and the students can be contributors to knowledge.  Blogs and wikis (and other Web 2.0 tools – podcasts, chats, Moodle, Google Docs) allow for the social construction of knowledge where all constituents can become producers.  Even better, these tools are preconstruted, have great skins, and look so professional.  Teachers don’t have to waste time with the form, but spend the time where they should – high quality content.  The interactivity also allows ease for contribution from students.  So more and more it becomes about science ideas instead of web page dynamics.

The Machine is Us/ing Us is a strong reminder of these ideas.

Analysis of Data
Oct 5th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

graphLast week in my graduate class I spent part of the class speaking about strategies for data analysis.  I found myself having the same conversation with my student teacher today trying to discuss using inquiry strategies as a method for analysis.  Many lab activities can have large quantities of data for examination.  The challenge, I think, is helping students discover their own inner voice for determining what to do with all of it.

Sure, I can precisely say what I expect them to do, but then I impose my values and attitudes, not to mention removing the critical thinking necessary to determine what is needed.  For example, this week my students are going to conduct an enzyme catalysis lab where they examine different environmental factors which influence enzyme activity over time, specifically: concentration, pH, and temperature.  Each group takes data every thirty seconds for 10 minutes (20 points per condition, ~8 conditions per group, ~ 10 groups = ~ 1600 data points)  Wow,  considering class data, that’s an awful lot of data.  But there is true value in it.  Over the years, students have consistently found the proper enzyme activity trends.

The challenge is determining what to do.  Students could certainly graph every point – but that would probably be a waste of time. Aren’t graphs supposed to show trends and summarize results?  Seeing everything probably would be of little value.  Ultimately, though I want my students to determine what is of value to them so they can draw the conclusions necessary to understand the scientific concepts.  Giving them the autonomy to make their own decisions ultimately gives the power to control their learning.

I think that’s a worthy goal!

Fairfield cop hurt investigating traffic incident
Sep 21st, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This article recently appeared in the Connecticut Post.  It caught my attention since it had an embedded video, but moreover, in my Forensics class, we’ve been talking about the crime scene.  This gives a classic example of a crime scene that is transient.  I think it will be an excellent example to share with the class.

By Genevieve Reilly
staff writer

FAIRFIELD — A police officer was injured by a woman who sped away from officers investigating why she stopped in the middle of an intersection Friday afternoon, triggering a short chase that was recorded on videotape by a neighbor.

Officer Michael Guilfoyle came upon January Wilson, 29, of Melville Drive, in a car stopped in the middle of an intersection on Church Hill Road. Guilfoyle approached the car, but Wilson refused to respond to verbal requests for her to open her window, police said. Eventually, Guilfoyle broke the passenger-side window and reached in to open the door. But Wilson backed into the police cruiser parked behind her, and as Guilfoyle again tried to get into the car, she hit the gas, causing the officer to fell to the ground, police said.

The video shows Guilfoyle collapse as he attempts to walk back to his cruiser.

Wilson sped around another police cruiser, up onto a lawn and then back onto the street. However, other officers dispatched to the scene soon overtook her.

She was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, where she remained as of Monday.

Guilfoyle was also treated at the hospital for pains in his stomach and upper thigh.

Sgt. James Perez, the police spokesman, said Wilson has not yet been charged in connection with the incident because she was taken to the hospital, but she will face charges.


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