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.

Practical Stats, MediaWiki, and SPAM!
Sep 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class in quantitative and qualitative methods.   As these topics are often challenging and sometimes bring out the “math phobic” in teacher-practitioner/students, I think it is very important to create learning experiences that allow the student to construct knowledge and be actively engaged (hands-on/minds-on) in the process.  To that end, I am attempting to utilize student-centered practices and limit teacher-directed instruction.

As part of the process, I am leveraging blended learning strategies.

  • Utilizing a Learning Management System (Moodle) for course resources.
  • Using this blog for my reflexivity and student feedback
  • Creating an online repository (student created) resource for domain-specific knowledge using MediaWiki

MediaWiki is the online software platform that drives WikiPedia. It has a user-friendly interface, is attractive and (purportedly) allows the instructor to focus on the content, not the platform.  However, since MediaWiki is used for WikiPedia, I have discovered that it is subject to major hacking and spamming.  I had a similar problem in the past, which required me to take down the site, and I found over the past week, the same problem reemerging.

Prior to me even populating the site with the previous data, I found that there were over 245 unlinked pages created.  Stuff about your dog’s ears, the latest stocks to buy, online gaming in China, and quite a bit of Arabic typology.  I started manually deleting these pages, which was quite tedious, and then went into the back end to find out that there were now over 12,000 users on the wiki and the front page had been “viewed” over 36,000 times.  Clearly an act of sabotage!  Either that or my “Practical Stats” popularity has become world renowned in just a few days.

Acts of Problem Solving.  Not knowing what to do, I first decided that I needed to turn off the ability for the wiki to create new pages.  I found a tutorial, access the Local php file and edited.  No more new pages . . . (Of course, now I can’t create new pages either, so this is not a long-term solution).  Some students register in the meantime.  More thinking, several days – I better turn off the ability to log on to the system and create a new account – more tutorials, local php edited again.  Now we’re pretty much shut down.  But what about all these users?  “They” (the bot-generated addresses) can potentially get back in.   A guide page suggests accessing the MySQL database via cPanel, use phpMyAdmin and find the code lines and delete them.  What does that mean?

A bit of trial and error, and I find the code and have access to 30 lines of entries (users) at a time.  I start deleting – this is going to take hours.  I look at the code above that is calling the data and decide to edit it.  How about showing 100 instead of 30.  Try that, seems to work. Let’s move faster, try “all.”  Ut-oh I’ve generated an error in the database.  A bit of haggling and reconfiguring and fffewww, problem solved.  I find that I can call 1,000 lines of data, then 2,000, and finally 5,000 at a time.   Eventually everyone is OUT.  If you are a student reading this here, your account has been deleted too.

I also deleted the bogus pages too.  Now I have to get back to populating the data and figuring out how to set up accounts.  Warning to all:  if you are installing MediaWiki, PRESET the safety protocols.

Student Projects
Apr 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

It’s great to see the news media giving students in our programs credit for their wonderful work. Our Innovation Expo is only 3 weeks away!

View more videos at: http://nbcconnecticut.com.

Jul 30th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

We’ve just completed our TEDxLitchfieldED videos and they are now available on YouTube.  Check my talk out if you have a chance!

Other TEDxLitchfieldED talks:

Jun 18th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am curating and will be speaking at the TEDxLitchfieldED event on June 28 at the IBM Conference Center in Southbury.  (Seats still available, click HERE).  I was just asked to provide my title and brief description, so here it is!

The Problem Finding – Problem Solving Conundrum

Problem solving has long been valued in education. Students are often challenged to use a variety of inquiry strategies to identify problems and their implications, develop action plans, utilize a variety of relevant sources, information, and data to address problems, and formulate solutions. Problem solving is typically a logical, analytical process. This, however, leads to a critical question:  Where do the ideas for problems come from?  In education, we rarely talk about the process of problem finding: the development of a unique and engaging idea for study.  Problem finding is the ability to define or identify a problem and involves the consideration of alternative views or definitions of a problem that are generated.  Problem finding requires setting objectives, defining purposes, deciding what is interesting, and ultimately deciding what to study.  Therefore, problem finding is an inherently creative process that complements the logical/analytical aspects of problem solving.

Well worth the effort for problem solving
Jan 25th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This is a great problem solving puzzle.  My students and I in Oxford worked on this one during our Advisory Period.  Give it a go – a great stretch of the brain.  Click on the image to link out.

The Rules:

The group consists of a woman and two girls, a man and two boys, and a policeman with a thief. If you leave certain people alone with others, trouble will ensue. For example, the thief will only behave if the policeman is on the same bank.

  • A maximum of two people can be on the raft at a time.
  • One adult must be on the raft to operate it.
  • The man cannot be with any of the girls without the woman present.
  • Conversely, the woman can’t stay with the boys without the man there.
  • The thief must be with the policeman or be alone.



Brine shrimp
Dec 26th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


My children and I had an exciting visit to the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium today. The girls enjoyed the seal feeding, shark tank, jellyfish tank (on of my personal favorites), and, of course, the festival of lights – lighthouse exhibit. However, I was drawn to the jellyfish work room. The room is equipped with a number of customized gear made of PVC pipes, customized tanks, and pump systems. I was drawn to a 5-gallon blue Crystal Rock water cooler bottle that was modified with a cut-off top and a huge air stone set upon a PVC structure/table. This “tank” was growing brine shrimp, sometimes in the common vernacular referred to as sea monkeys. These small macroscopic shrimp are used as planktonic food for the jellies.

I was excited to see this set up, because about 10 years ago when I was teaching marine biology, I had a similar setup in my classroom. The students and I used to construct devices and strategize ways to take care of our 55-gallon tanks. It was experiential learning at its best. We did our regular “curricular” things in that semester class, but my fondest memories were working side-by-side with the students finding ways to make our catches from Long Island Sound – our crabs, snails, mummichog fish, mussels, clams, and even the red beard sponge come alive in our classroom environment.

What was important was that we created the environment and made the tools to keep it running. Sure, we had pre-purchased some materials, but the art of the process was determining how we could build devices that made it our own.

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

Distilling Problem Solving
Oct 19th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My graduate class and I attempted to distill the essential features of problem solving on our class last week.  We superficially compared our results with Newell and Simon’s (1972) model.  Since they have had time to incubate the ideas, I am wondering what they think of the relationship between the two. (P.S. – is my list what we discussed?)


The Doctoral Student List | Newell and Simon’s List Identify a problem
Determine a strategy
Employ the strategy
Evaluate solution
| Varying levels of task complexity and goal clarity
Constraints and opportunities (e.g, surroundings, prior knowledge, resources, time)
Heuristic and algorithmic strategies
Divergent and convergent thinking
Appraisal of value and relevance



Project-based learning and problem solving
Sep 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Today I conducted a project-based learning workshop for the Science Department at East Haven High School. It’s always a bit never-wracking to present on a new topic – although I have been under the influence of project-based learning almost my entire career.

It’s amazing to see what works successfully and how you question it. For example, when talking about problem solving, I always bring up alternatives to hypthesis-based strategies. For example:

Abstraction: solving the problem in a model of the system before applying it to the real system
Analogy: using a solution that solved an analogous problem
Brainstorming: (especially among groups of people) suggesting a large number of solutions or ideas and combining and developing them until an optimum is found
Divide and conquer: breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, solvable problems
Hypothesis testing: assuming a possible explanation to the problem and trying to prove (or, in some contexts, disprove) the assumption
Lateral thinking: approaching solutions indirectly and creatively
Means-ends analysis: choosing an action at each step to move closer to the goal
Method of focal objects: synthesizing seemingly non-matching characteristics of different objects into something new
Morphological analysis: assessing the output and interactions of an entire system
Reduction: transforming the problem into another problem for which solutions exist
Research: employing existing ideas or adapting existing solutions to similar problems
Root cause analysis: eliminating the cause of the problem
Trial-and-error: testing possible solutions until the right one is found
Proof: try to prove that the problem cannot be solved. The point where the proof fails will be the starting point for solving it

I think it is important to give a tangible example as well. I am particularly fond of goal-oriented problem solving, which often takes the form of trial-and-error. Today I showed the square peg-round hole problem from the movie Apollo 13, and to follow up we made our own creation by just following oral instructions: an origami box. I am always curious/cautious to see what happens when I try a new activity. To my relief and surprise, I was informed that this was an activity some of the teachers were going to try on the first day of school. Glad it had an impact!

I think one of the things that made it a success, was that I was explicit about the reason for doing it: to promote spacial literacy – relationships of shapes – ability follow oral directions – and tactile development. I have found that many teachers fall short on the explicitly of learning. Students are often puzzled as to the reason for their learning – evident by “what do we need to know that for?” I have found that when students have a clear understanding of what they are learning and justified reasoning, they often engage better and are more accepting and willing.

Perhaps we all should do some origami today.

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