Read my post on ED WEEK!
Nov 29th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I wrote a guest blog post for Bob Slavin’s (Success for All) Blog – Sputnik.  Please check it out and if you are on Twitter, I would really appreciate a tweet from the site!


Here’s a brief excerpt:

The real question, ultimately, is, “Does technology help our students become better independent, self-directed learners?” That’s the game-changer. It’s not about the latest fancy device, hot off the shelf. That device is just a tool– it’s not knowledge and it’s not a skill. Just because we haphazardly give students technology tools doesn’t mean they are going to learn better–the evidence definitely supports that. Learners purposefully interacting with the tool and using it for production, facilitated by thoughtful, forward-thinking educators, is the way to get to a student-centered learning environment that improves engagement and achievement.

Cut the Rope and Angry Birds
Oct 22nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This past week in my graduate leadership class, we were discussing problem solving and used the app “Cut the Rope” to spark the discussion. Later during the class, I showed a video of Dan Meyer presenting at TEDxNYED. Ironically, Dan just made a post on his blog, dy/dan about the app “Angry Birds” and approaches to problem solving. Read it here:

Five Lessons On Teaching From Angry Birds That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Parabolas

The confidence not to know
Oct 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I distributed an article to my graduate leadership class that I am teaching.  It was a fairly challenging article to read in general – a meta analysis.  However, to the neophyte researcher, it was probably extremely challenging.  Being a research article, it had the typical parts:

  • abstract
  • introduction
  • methods
  • results
  • discussion/conclusion
  • references

My experience tells me that you don’t necessarily read a research report from start to finish, but rather use the subheadings to guide your search for information.  However, not everyone knows that, and there certainly is an art to the process based on expertise.  However, teaching that class, something else stood out – some students clearly didn’t understand some of the concepts and were (afraid?) (shy?) (lacking confidence?) (thinking they should, when really they shouldn’t?) to ask questions, or to verify their lack of understanding to me.

It gets me thinking . . . you really have to be confident to be willing to stand up and say you don’t know something.  That’s a real challenge.  As an educator, it’s my responsibility to create a culture that promotes confident questioning.   After all, I am working with educators and that’s where their expertise lies, not necessarily in educational research.  But as this cadre builds their knowledge – becoming a good consumer of educational research is critical, because after all – that’s what leads to being a producer of educational research.

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

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

Students long to be creative
Nov 6th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I facilitated a workshop several Saturdays ago for the Connecticut Science Fair.  The topic was:

Strategies for improving middle school science fair project quality.

The workshop was opened to students and teachers to learn about both the problem finding process.  I challenge the fold, quite frequently asking participants to challenge their own engrained biases to move students to a point where they value and understand the problem fnding process.

This workshop had an “interesting” participant:  an English teacher who felt that a special education student should be able to choose a project that would be deemed low quality by a panel of authentic judges.  This bothers me for several reasons.  The first, is because the teacher finds little to no value in the problem finding process. Problem finding is about exploring, questioning, and thinking to determine an idea and avoiding the hasty, non-invested, often irrelevant and value-lacking idea.  All students can learn about value by recognizing an authentic audience that would appreciate the student’s work.

Second, the teacher thinks that a special needs student is not capable of original, creative thought.  I also reject this idea with years of experience and many students who have challenged the fold to make a meaningful, relevant project.  Several of my identified (SpeEd or 504) students have developed and carried out projects that have been recognized at the NATIONAL level.  They are competing with some of the top students from around the world.  They have demonstrated that perhaps their learning style is different than some of their compatriots.  They learn in a different fashion, and when given the opportunity, shine masterfully.

We do any and all students a disservice when we classify or compartmentalize them based on perceived deficiencies.  We really need to recognize that every student, given motivation, appropriate scaffolding, and high quality mentorship can be successful

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. 


Developing your Personal Learning Network
Dec 10th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

 Note:  This article is a cross posting from the Connecticut Science Supervisor’s Association Newsletter.

from: thotwave.com

from: thotwave.com

As practicing professionals who strive for continuous lifelong learning, we often recognize that adult scholarship takes different forms.  We appreciate that our learning is not just what we read in books, view on the Internet, or hear from an expert presenter.  More importantly, we recognize that we construct our knowledge through the social-cognitive interactions that occur with our colleagues.  Many of us choose to belong to organizations like CSSA to nurture these relationships with our peers, which, in turn, promote our own individual professional growth.  We talk with each other in person, by phone, by email, or by whatever means necessary to collaborate.  This is a Personal Learning Network (PLN).  As individuals, we count on others with similar goals, visions, and ideas to validate or even challenge our conceptions so we can grow individually while also building capacity with our constituents.

So how do we develop these Networks, nurture them, and keep them thriving?  Certainly our face-to-face interactions are critical, but today’s technology offers us more options and power to communicate with others.   Many web-based tools are specifically designed with interactive features. Sometimes dubbed Web 2.0 or the read/write web, these sites allow simple production and the ability for others to provide reactions or comments. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and discussion forums allow individuals to produce original work, publish it online, and solicit feedback from others. Knowledge flow can occur in two directions. Individuals become not only consumers but producers of information.

Those wishing to integrate Web 2.0 interactive technology into their Network do not have to be savvy at programming. Rather, the web tools are menu driven, object-oriented, and often have interfaces that look like common word processing software packages. This is important because it allows educators to focus on content, concepts, and ideas, not the distracting minutia of web coding.  It’s not about the technology, but rather the people that the technology connects.

For example, I maintain a blog (problemfinding.labanca.net).  I started the blog as part of my dissertation work, but continue to use it both for my own reflection of educational issues and as an instructional tool with graduate students with whom I work. A blog, or weblog, is a personal chronological online journal record of thoughts, beliefs, and activities that has interactive commenting features for both the writer and readers.  I personally enjoy writing, but I find that the asynchronous responses I get from other thoughtful professionals help me professionally develop more. 

Why share this?  Apart from some shameless self-promotion of my own work, I find that the interaction that takes place between my readers and me, help to challenge my own thinking.  What’s new is that these challenges and discoveries, by their own nature, caused a feedback loop of new ideas and thought that each lead to some new thought.  However, when I started reading the blog postings of other educators, and began posting responses to their writing, I began to understand the importance of the Network.  The Network consists of people I personally know, and others that are just cyberspace compatriots. My face-to-face and digital PLN partners help me do my job better, because they expand my mind, challenge my thoughts, and provide me with perspectives that I may have never considered. 

Will you become a part of and help me to continue to develop my PLN?  I will cross-post this article on my blog: http://problemfinding.labanca.net.  Please come for a visit, and more importantly, leave a comment.  That’s how the Network builds its capacity!  Collectively we can continue to develop and improve the educational enterprise by applying novel, collaborative, and innovative strategies to our own learning.

Research indicates that problem finding elicits negative responses from students
Jul 28th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.bath.ac.uk

from: www.bath.ac.uk

My good friend and colleague, Krista Ritchie, recently defended her dissertation at McGill University.  I was able to attend via distance using Skype.  During her defense, I had the opportunty to hear about her research on problem finding.  She conducted her study longitudinally, observing students over the course of a year from various Connecticut high school science sites.  Each site she studied had students in a “traditional” course (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and an applied science research course. Both the traditional and research courses were taught by the same teacher at each site.

As she was presenting her data, one thing stood out to me as a practitioner.  She discussed the negative responses often associated with problem finding: anxiety, nervousness, fear.  These responses, she discussed, were often not found in the traditional science education classes, yet were prevalent in the applied research class.  This immediately got me thinking.

Of course, the proximate interpretation is for an applied science teacher to know that there is anxiety assocaited with the problem finding phase of research, and he or she should do whatever is in his or her power to support the students.  Yet, I wonder – what is the necessity of the anxiety to push the student forward to facing and conquering the challenges associated with creative problem finding?

For more of a holistic view of the educational enterprise, I am thinking more about the place of problem finding within educational structures.  While I am an advocate of problem finding, I am not so Pollyanna as to realize that creative behaviors like problem finding are often stifled and supressed in education.  As much as teachers say they want their students to be creative producers – so many really don’t.  I can hear the voices now . . . “Just do what I say.”    Or from the students, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  There is TOO much culture of lock-step-do-as-the-teacher-says-and-don’t-push-the-creative-envelope culture prevalent in education.  I don’t even claim this to be a one-way street.  Teachers and students just want to do as told:  solve/teach well-known questions that have well-known answers.  I am often disgruntled about how few teachers and students are willing to take a risk and work with ill-defined problems.  I think that’s where really powerful learning takes place. My challenge as an instructional leader is to bring more students, parents, teachers, administrators – all the constituents – to this place.

A place where we transcend the logical and analytical processes of problem solving and challenge students to engage in creative problem finding behaviors.    And I’m not anxious about saying that one bit!

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