An interview which describes my early professional influences
Jul 25th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Earlier this year, I was asked to participate (as a subject) in a research study examining teacher’s expertise as it relates to pedagogy, subject expertise, and inquiry (research) skills.  During an interview, I was asked to recall a meaningful experience that influenced my teaching.  I have orally told this story many times, but the researcher was recording and transcribing.  I was fortunate to receive a copy of the transcript and am sharing it below:

Question:  Can you recall what experiences informed your understanding of science teaching?

My response:

Yes! I can very much pinpoint the event that really helped focus and change my perception of myself as a science teacher. And it took place in March 1998. I was working with a teacher and he said, Frank you would really like this event, is called the Junior Science and Humanities symposium.  It takes place at UConn and I really encourage you to go. I think you are going to get a lot out of it.  Take a couple of students if you would like, and by the way, can you take my son too.  He’s at the right age and I think it would be good for him to go. So I went to this symposium at the University of Connecticut.  What I found were students presenting results from their research. It took place in 15-minute platforms: they did 15 minute talks followed by questions and answers from the audience.  I was sitting in the audience utterly mesmerized by these students – how well they were presenting.  I sat back and said what a fool I had been. As a neophyte teacher, I was teaching the way I was taught.  Here I had my mind opened to remind me what really made a very positive influence in my development as a scientist and that was working in a research laboratory.  Watching those students I realized what was meaningful to me – what made me a good student of science.  It was not the didactic book knowledge but rather the meaningful exploration of science as a way to develop knowledge. So I walked away from that event saying this (authentic, applied research) is what I should be doing.  From that point, I really started to shape my philosophy of education.  At that point I did not know what inquiry meant or perhaps I had not defined it as well as I do today, but I understood the value of doing authentic research.  The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium really shaped my whole philosophy of teaching – that we needed to move students towards the individualization and the authentic opportunities for them to do meaningful science. So I can confidently say that was the most important experience in my professional career to date.

There is so much more to the story too.  At that symposium there were also students presenting posters.  I went up to one of the students who has developed this device and it was basically a homemade spectrophotometer:  it’s a device used to measure interference of light.  He was using it for photosynthesis or some whatever reason. He was very proud of himself and I was chatting with him and his teacher happened to be there. The students was from Greenwich High School, which was the next town from where I was teaching.  I met this teacher, we really got on very well, and he became a mentor for me to inculcate me to doing science research process with students.  He really was a wonderful teacher and it was an amazing experience in the sense that I recognized what I valued in my education and also I met someone who shared the same values as I did.  We both had extremely positive experiences doing research with students.  He became a mentor for me.

Metacongitive students
Jul 23rd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

nav_logo_gla2My continued adventures with the Green Light Academy continue to exceed my expectations.  Tomorrow will be my last day before heading to Brazil to join my family on vacation.  Last night I was working on the program evaluation for submission for presentation at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Denver, CO for next April. 

I was analyzing some of the qualitative comments written by the students, and feel obligated to document them here.  They are demonstrating that learning through a guided inquiry approach has very wonderful rewards:

Student #1

We actually got to implement our ideas and be creative during the lab, too.  The research and the presentations which help our public speaking skills were nice things to do.  I think being able to successfully communicate is just as important as taking in information.

Student #2

At first I thought it was really hard to figure things out, because we didn’t get a lot of information.  But now I realize that I can figure things out myself and it really isn’t as hard as it initially seems if you just think about it and work things out.

Student #3

Another thing I like about this academy are the projects.  Even thought they were challenging, they were challenging only in the beginning. I loved going through the journey, of going through the clueless ideas, and then it turns to being so easy.

Thanks for validating me!

Attempting to make statistics applicable and accessible
Sep 5th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I taught my first graduate class in statistics today. As I said to my students, I think I was far more nervous than they were. I found that I was sweating – probably a combination of nerves and movement while teaching the class. But, nonetheless, I wanted to share my personal philosophy of the discipline. As I have stated before, I view statistics as a tool to help us understand the things that MATTER TO US. Certainly there are those that study statistics for its pure value, however I don’t see it that way. If statistics are to be practical, then there must be value for the user.

I’ve encouraged my students to collect data that is meaningful to them. If they can learn something about their teaching and, in the process, learn something about a sophisticated method to evaluate its effectives, I think we bring such greater meaning. This doesn’t stray far from my dissertation where I purport that learning takes place in a situated environment, where constituents become members of the community of practice (see Brill). Work needs to be authentic, not sort-of-maybe-on-Tuesday-authentic. I cringe every time I hear the saying, “like real life,” in some instructional setting. Why can’t it just be real life?

I think this is an incredibly hard concept for educators to grasp. I gave an assignment for the teachers to collect some data that had meaning to them for further evaluation in our class. I was not completely convinced that everyone bought into the value of this. Some students certainly won’t have access to good or usable information for the assignment, but I think some that might will complete the assignment with arbitrary or fictitious data. This is totally fine and acceptable within the context of the learning. However, I guess my own personal biases in education really want me to have students completing real work. Ultimately what’s most important is that students learn well. That can happen with or without authenticity. As the saying goes, I shouldn’t impose my values on others.

Now for a bad transition. The purpose of the class was to talk about p. p being probability. I wanted students to have a very firm grasp of what p was, since it is the real foundation to statistics. When they see the p, or the Sig. notations, I want them to quickly think about how sensitive that value is compared to other decisions we make that have far higher risk (i.e., a higher p value). We played Black Jack to illustrate this. Students were interested in taking a card with a p value of ~.50 – the 50/50 odds. Yet in education, we wouldn’t dare say anything was statistically significant (make a choice to take a card) unless we were at least 95% sure that it was different (p<.05).

I hope I effectively communicated my big idea of p. So much can make sense with just a simple, yet clear understanding of p values.

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