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.

She made a difference in the lives of kids
Jun 22nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

At my last stop, I had the pleasure of working with Donna Ragaini.  Donna was a special education paraprofessional and spent a period a day with me while I taught academic biology each year.  I taught the 10th grade section that included all of the special education students and always appreciated Donna’s candor, dedication to the students, and ability to reach them on a personal level.  I think we really made a great team.  I often told Donna that she should have been a special education teacher – she had all of the skills, knowledge, and certainly the dispositions.  She had a gift – she could hold students to very high expectations while being a compassionate, caring adult.  She had children of her own, a bit older than mine, and would sometimes pass along a used Leapster or funky sweater that was too small.  At the all-to-young age of 46, Donna passed away.  Even though we aren’t working together now, I know I will miss her wit, sensibility, and friendship.  Donna was a 21st century educator – the ones we are really looking for now.

From the New Haven Register:

Donna Lyn Ragaini

RAGAINI, DONNA LYN Donna Lyn Ragaini, 46, of Seymour, beloved wife for 22 years of William J. Ragaini, entered into eternal rest on Friday, June 10, 2011 at Yale-New Haven Hospital, after a short illness. She was born in Derby on February 20, 1965, daughter of Arthur, Sr. and Delores Cavallaro Valentine of Seymour. Donna was a graduate of Waterbury Technical School with an Associate’s Degree in Business. She was a devout communicant of Holy Rosary Church of Ansonia, where she was a teacher of religion. Donna was a paraprofessional for the Special Education Departments of Oxford High School and Seymour High School. She was a former assistant manager at Filene’s Department Store in Milford, and volunteered at the George J. Hummel Little League, and the Valley YMCA. She was past president of the Wildcats Swim Club of Seymour. Donna enjoyed the beach and camping. She will be missed by her family and many friends. In addition to her parents and husband, Donna leaves her cherished children, Seth J., Sara A., Anthony P. and Peter W. Ragaini; all of Seymour; a brother, Arthur Valentine, Jr. and his wife, Rozlyn, of Terryville; a sister, Tina Marie Valentine, of Derby; and several nieces and nephews. A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial in celebration of Donna’s life, will be held FRIDAY, June 17, 2011 (DIRECTLY) at 9:00 am at Holy Rosary Church, Father Salemi Drive, Ansonia. Interment will be private and at the convenience of the family. There will be no visitation. Miller-Ward Funeral Home, 260 Bank Street, (Route 67 across from Klarides Village), Seymour is caring for the family. Memorial gifts in Donna’s memory may be made to Yale-New Haven Hospital Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, PO Box 1849, New Haven, CT 06508. To leave online condolences, please visit millerwardfuneralhome.com

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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

Get Engaged 2.0
Jan 26th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My team at the Center for 21st Century Skills at Education Connection recently produced a video about student engagement, with a “Did You Know?” feel.  Check it out and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues!

Value Proposition
Jan 22nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


I am co-presenting this morning for the Connecticut Science Fair and the Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.  My co-presenter, Joy Erickson is talking about value propositions.  I really like the idea, because it really makes the person define the scope of authentic work.  Here are some key features:

Value Proposition Definition: The four parts of the value proposition are fundamentals:  they must always be answered:

  • Need: along with your new, compelling, and definible
  • Approach: to address that need with the superior
  • Benefits: when compared to the
  • Competition and/or alteratives.

Successful value propositions are quantitative and easy to understand and remember.


  • NOT: Diabetes type 2 is growing fast
  • RATHER: Diabetes II cost our country $2B/yr and shortens a person’s life by an average of 10 years


  • NOT: We have a clever design
  • RATHER: We have created a new engine that uses methanol and emits 10% less carbon dioxide gas than the gas powered combustion engine


  • NOT: The results are excellent
  • RATHER: Our one-step process reduces costs by 50% and results in an expected ROI of 50% per year withi a profit of $30 M in Year 3


  • NOT: We are better than our competetors
  • RATHER: Our competetors are Evergreen Corporation and Bigway, which uses the current two-step process.

Great thoughts Joy!

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.

Shameful comments about Science Fairs
Oct 29th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

NPR’s Science Fridayhosted by Ira Flatow recently featured Dean Kamen, the founder of the FIRST Robotics Competition (no hyperlink provided, because it wasn’t earned).  He had some negative comments about the Science Fair experience.  Shame on him – he should be promoting and inspiring all students to pursue interests in science and engineering.  Organizations that support and provide opportunities for innovative students should all be rewarded, not classified as “boring.”  Have you ever been on the floor of a science fair?  It is abuzz with excitement – students that are inspired – adults that are mesmerized and impressed.  It is life-changing for some students.  Shame of Kamen for unilaterally stereotyping one of the most positive, far-reaching experiences for student innovators.

 I have offered to the Society for Science (the organization that publishes Science News, and sponsors the Intel International Science Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search) to write a position paper or publically speak as a teacher, educational researcher of the science fair process, and representative of a science fair organization (VP – CT Science Fair).

 Here’s the excerpt including the despicable comments:

Mr. KAMEN: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned that point, because as I said, we had we’ll have 50 regionals this coming year. We were all the way up to 46 regionals last year. And one of them, we put literally in the convention center in downtown Washington, specifically. Because we hoped now that we have teams competing from every state, we figured, certainly, all the senators and Congress people would want to show up and root on their teams, and see what’s going on, especially in something as important as this.

[A]lthough we invited 100 senators and, well over the 400 congressmen, nobody else [besides Jeanne Shaheen and Harry Reid] showed up. . . .

FLATOW: Well, do you not suspect that in this political environment, there’s an anti-intellectual bent, where the people don’t want to think that science is a good thing to know about?

Mr. KAMEN: You know, I hope I’m not that cynical. I think it’s not that. I think they many of them think it’s just too difficult and abstruse a subject to really understand. They don’t want to be embarrassed maybe by what they don’t know. I think it’s even simpler than that in some cases. They believe that that we invited them to see some kind of a boring, dull science fair where they’d have to read little charts and posters with, you know, words either from Latin roots in medicine or…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KAMEN: …mathematical figures and terms that they didn’t really understand. And when we tell them, no, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s a sporting event. It’s so exciting. You bring the cheerleaders and the school bands and the fans, and you have a great time. Except instead of learning how to bounce the ball, these kids are learning how to think and solve difficult problems, and work on complex issues with big teams.

But until you go to the event, I think they dismiss it as, it must be a science fair. I won’t get much out of it. I won’t be able to comprehend it.

 Why does a science competition have to be made to be like a sporting event to be exciting?  I’m not so convinced of that.

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?

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.

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