Who are your Partners?
Dec 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the Connecticut Science Supervisors Association September Newsletter.  I typically post on my blog when it is published, but neglected to do it back then. No time like the present!  Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents there.



y network of colleagues working in Science Education in Connecticut has always amazed me.  The diverse expertise has always made it possible for me to find the resources necessary for improving the quality of programs by increasing student engagement and achievement.   In my (fairly) new role as the Director of the Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION, I have found the network is more important than ever.  Partnering with schools and districts, other science education organizations (both nationally and in-state) are a regular part of my daily activities.  If I want to create the highest quality STEM programs possible, I recognize that I can’t do it alone – I need my partners.  And those partners come from a wide swath – business partners, industry partners, higher education partners, State department partners, foundation partners, and federal partners, to name a few.



 think it is so important that I don’t operate in isolation.   It would be a waste of resources and time if I “siloed.” I don’t want to operate in isolation doing the exact same thing my peers are doing, creating the same product. Yet I find that siloing effect happening too often.  Although we absolutely do need to customize for our own program needs, we really should try to utilize each other’s expertise.  That might be the best use of our time.  Anyone looking for a partner?

Alignment of inquiry and 21st century skills standards
May 6th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Tomorrow, presenting at the 2nd biennial International Instructional Leadership Conference, I am going to make a supposition that 21st century skills are inquiry process skills. Below, my prezi presentation:

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.

Options for Professional Growth Models
Mar 1st, 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.

from: icim-ireland.net

from: icim-ireland.net

Many districts employ a professional growth model for their tenured faculty members for evaluation.  Instead of a traditional clinical observation with post-observation follow-up, teachers can develop a project to improve their own teaching and learning.  This performance-based approach to teacher development and school improvement allows teachers to take ownership of their growth and learning.  Outcomes expected from a professional growth project might include:

  • Empowering teachers to analyze and improve their own strengths and areas needing improvement
  • Empowering teachers to adjust their teaching as compelled by internal desire, student needs, or societal demands
  • Empowering teachers to engage in a search for relevant compasses to guide the thoughtful implementation of education of children.

Undoubtedly empowering teachers to improve should be linked to improved student achievement, which should be measured in many, various, authentic ways.  In essence, growth models can allow teachers to conduct their own inquiry into a relevant, important topic that can improve their instruction.

As science educators, we subscribe to an inquiry philosophy for teaching and learning.  Simply put, inquiry is learning by questioning and investigation. Underlying an effective inquiry program are philosophies associated with problem solving, reasoning, critical thinking, oral and written communication, and the active and reflective use of knowledge.  Inquiry learning has the instructional goals of teaching scientific knowledge and processes of research, while nurturing a commitment to scientific inquiry, promoting open-mindedness with an ability to balance alternative perspectives, and a cooperative spirit and skill.  If we ask our students to do it well, why not be leaders to them by example?

As science education leaders, we have the opportunity to empower our teacher to seek out inquiry professional growth opportunities to better develop their instructional potential.  However, embedded in our responsibility is to develop the leadership potential in each one of our constituents.  Teachers often have amazing skills, knowledge, and dispositions that they should be encouraged to share with others. 

How do we empower our teachers to share?  We can encourage them to include in their professional growth plans opportunities to share their knowledge with others as part of their end products with the Science Education Community:

  • Presenting a workshop at a district or school professional development session
  • Presenting a workshop at the Connecticut Science Teachers Association Annual Conference
  • Writing an article for the Connecticut Journal of Science Education or the CSTA newsletter.
  • Writing an article for a national journal: The Science Teacher, The Journal of Chemistry Education, The American Biology Teacher, The Physics Teacher

These are activities that many teachers would not consider doing on their own, but with gentle, supportive encouragement from a compassionate leader, they might.  The courage to step beyond oneself, to take a risk and be willing to share is not always easy, but we do our profession a disservice when great ideas exist and they are not shared on a larger stage. 

We ask our students to share their work in authentic settings.  Perhaps it’s time we evaluate ourselves and our colleagues as life-long learners and ask if we collectively are willing to take the risks that we expect from our students: to develop our own inquiry skills, leadership, and innovation and have a willingness to share with an authentic audience who would find value – our own peers.

“Get Motivated” or “Get Bamboozled” ???
Sep 9th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.pakalil.com

from: www.pakalil.com

My department chair colleagues and I at Oxford High School attended a professional development session in the Hartford XL Center along with a crowd of about 19,000 others for a day-long program referred to as “Get Motivated!”  The program was billed as having major (and I mean MAJOR) speakers to inspire, motivate, teach team building, perseverance, and leadership skills to the audience.  Sounded like a powerful day, especially with a line up including Joe Montana, Laura Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and Colin Powell. 

The program began with an MC introducing Joe Montana who came out, gave a 20-minute talk about stories from his professional career, followed by Laura Bush, who spoke, also for about 20 minutes about her passions and life in the public eye.  Both speakers were fairly good, but seem to capture more of “stories from the past” than learned lessons that can be transferred to other’s life situations. 

Then came the circus.  .  .  A motivational speaker (actually pretty good) who told me that no one ever remembers a critic and critics are there to find faults in things.   Uggg, I guess that I am going to be unmemorable based on what I say from here out.  The following speaker talked about financial success and effectively working the market.  I initially found his talk very interesting and thought provoking, until the pitch came.  “But wait . . . if you call now we’ll supersize your order to two jars of oxyclean . . .”  Was Billy Mayes speaking to us from the netherworld?   The speaker actually talked about the specific software that was necessary to track stocks the way he described.  Normally ~$3,100.  Wow!  But he worked a special deal for those who were in attendance today . . . the whole package for $99.  Could this be?  The whole thing for just over 3% of the original cost?  But you have to act now.  You need to sign up for the seminar for either next week or the week after.  Come to one of the tables on the floor of the XL center or go to one of the tables on the promenade.  AND DID THEY COME!  I just couldn’t get over how many people were ready to jump for this.  Must have been the free red canvas bag that was given with each purchase.  Don’t worry, the purchase was fully refundable after the first day of the 2-day seminar if you didn’t like it. 

Following Mr. Sell-a-stock, the co-founder of the Get Motivated! seminar came out and gave a patronizing, contrived speech about sales and individuals’ “motivational DNA,”  complete with a “rap” of her spiritual values.   But don’t worry, she was also selling something, too:  her new book.  But wait, it also comes with pleanty of free-bees, valued at over $1000.  I guess it’s easy to give away $1000 when its really worth nothing.  Fill out the card, go online, yadda yadda.  What is going on here?  I am still waiting to learn something that can help me out in my job as a department chair and an instructional leader.   Maybe I’m just being too much of a cynic.  After all, it really does seem that the mission of this organization is to promote motivation and leadership.  I’m just not sure about some of the extracurricular tangential strategies that go along with it.

crossBut I did listen carefully . . . There was a free “Motivational DNA” survey that I could take online to get my motivational DNA profile.  I completed this instrument online, just before this post as I sit in the emergency room at the hospital.  (I punctured my foot on a rusty nail, need a tetanus shot, etc.) This was very powerful.  It really makes sense to me and its description of my motivational style. At the risk of being too cheeky, I’ll post my results below.

Frank’s Motivational DNA Type is: PVI
(Production-Variety-Internal) The Visionary

Visionaries are persistent, energetic and confident. They are able to organize people and projects. Visionaries exhibit strong leadership potential and react quickly to crisis. Creative thinkers, Visionaries have the ability to craft a vision and get others excited about it. They enjoy working on multiple projects at the same time and like to be involved in exploring alternative concepts. Farsighted and imaginative, Visionaries are good at finding original solutions to difficult problems. Visionaries enjoy change and thrive under pressure. They have the ability to shift gears and turn on a dime. They are confident in their ability to master new skills. Visionaries enjoy challenge and desire personal growth. Visionaries want to know that their work matters and desire to “go where no man has gone before.”

PVI Motivators: Inspiring work environment, opportunity to originate and initiate ideas, peer respect, credit for work accomplished and a strong sense of mission.

PVI De-Motivators: Rigid structure, routine, delays, time-consuming details and bureaucracy.

1. Options are vital for your motivational style. Make a list of a dozen ways to accomplish your goal. Then mix it up. Do a little of everything on the list. PVI Visionaries get bored with the same old, same old.
2. Create a customized plan for achieving your objectives. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t force yourself to do it—eliminate it. Find a better way—something enjoyable that works.
3. Make a detailed record of why your goal is important to you. How will you (and others) benefit if you achieve the goal and what are the consequences if you don’t?


from: csb.yale.edu

from: csb.yale.edu

In all honesty, I left at lunch, because I was so disappointed with the content.  I also found out that Giuliani and Powell wouldn’t be presenting until the end of the day, and I had family obligations that brought me home instead of listening to more pitchmen before these keynote speakers.  So here I sit wondering what I’ve learned, and I’m not too sure.  Certainly this motivational DNA instrument is interesting. Although as a good researcher, I want to know if it is reliable and valid.  I think the “Visionary” description does describe me well, although I wonder if its a perceived ideal of myself.  I walk away knowing that I don’t like the pitch as subterfuge of a motivation and leadership conference.  I also walk away thinking about the professional development I do and want to make sure I think very carefully about the values that I often impose and how it might be perceived by my audience.

Blogging Live
May 15th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


Right now, I am attending a professional development session with Dr. Katie Moirs.  She works with the CT State Department of Education.  Her presentation is entitled “Assessment for Learning Presentation”.  I will comment as her presentation goes, and will post at the end.   I am doing this to document the session, but to also experience what live blogging is like, for me.

assessmentShe is beginning to speak about assessment literacy.  This is interesting to consider – a meaningful defintion might emerge?

Use of assessment: In the old days, assessment means standardized tests. No longer are we focused on standardized tests that rank order students.  What are we concerned with?  Think about a balanced assessment strategy. 

  • Institutional levels:  e.g., CAPT, CMT – a bad thing is that we rank order schools.  Where do standardized tests fit within the big picture of assessment.  They DON’T help kids learn – rather they are used for accountability.  They are reliable and valid, yet they are insular.  They measure a restricted skill set.  
  • Benchmark level:  program evaluation at a building or district level.  Common assessments fit into these categories.  Within this school, this is how many kids are at a certain, measurable level.  It’s also an accountability measure, because it’s closer to home.  They are school/district specific.  There is still accountability, but they generally still don’t promote student level.  SRBI:  Scientific research based intervention – benchmarking level. 
  • Classroom level:  Most neglected area of training, yet the most important.  Formal, informal, summative, or formative.  This is what helps kids learn.  What really promotes student achievement and learning is what happens in the classroom.  That’s why it’s so important to develop meaningful assessments.

Cognitive psychology appoach and framework.  Think about the importance of assessment training at the undergraduate level. 

  • Crystallized to fluid ability. Students start at a basic level and acquires basic skills, basic procedures, facts.  Simple, easily assimilated.  Easily automated – once achieved, they are crystallized.  Once there, students move to fluid abilities: doing something with the knowledge acquired.  When they can apply to novel situations, they can problem solve and tackle new things.   She refers to Picasso and developing skills. 
  • Novice to expert ability.  Moving from novice to expert problem solving.  The more knowledge acquired, the better problem finding and problem solving.  There are big differences between novice and expert English students. 
  • Anderson & Krawthwohl.A revised Bloom’s taxonomy to make it more useful for educators in various domains.  Cognitive process dimensions mapped onto knowledge dimensions


Knowledge dimension



































A website that focuses on knowledge dimensions and cognitive processes:  http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/coursedev/models/id/taxonomy/#table

  • Stiggins.  A practical way to use assessments.  Offers the following taxonomy:  (a) knowledge mastery, (b) reasoning proficiency, (c) skills, (d) ability to create products, (e) dispositions

Assessment can be divided into two categories:  selected response, constructed response.  There are benefits to both.  Mapping assessment onto a continuum is critical to figuring out what’s going on because it is necessary to making sure you are following a crystallized to fluid ability

Pulling it together. You need foundational knowledge in order to do higher order thinking.    However, you can never assess anything perfectly.  Internal and external errors always exist. 

High reliability and high validity for selected responses (but measure a limited, insular skill set)–> Low reliability and low validity for constructed responses (because there are no right or wrong answers).  If teachers develop knowledge and skills then they should be successful on the standardized tests – there has to be a careful mesh of the two. 

  • Clear and appropriate learning targets.  Content and learning standards from the state.  Guidelines for schools of what students are able to do and know.  How do I operationalize what I am measuring?  How can I take what students are learning and measure it?  Standards are limiting but the present a starting point.  Backward mapping from assessments to teaching.
  • Observable indicators of performance.  When you think about what you are measuring – is it observable, defined, and measurable – but is it reliable and valid?
  • Appropriateness of assessment method.  Are skills and abilities aligned with assessment?  What do I want students to show, do, and know?  How do we map skills and knowledge onto assessment
  • Trained assessors.  I am a team of 1 in my classroom.  If I teach X, Y, and Z, does my assessment test A, B, and C?  Need to be aligned – otherwise really low validity and reliability. 
Almost AERA time. . .
Apr 11th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
On Monday, I will be heading to San Diego to attend my first American Educational Research AssociationAnnual Meeting.  I have been priviledged to be selected to present my research on problem finding for student research.  I am excited to share the results of my research in a poster presentation.  I recently wrote about the process of constructing the poster, and now it sits in a tube ready to fly to San Deigo. 

I am excited to share my ideas with like-minded people and am hoping to have an experience where I can learn more about strategies to share with others on how to be more accepting of research-based practices in education.

I am regularly amazed that teachers that I work with do not pay any credence whatsoever to research-based instructional practices.  They like to do what “feels good,” or “the way they were taught.”  If we are to have  transformative changes in teaching behavior, teachers have to become, at least, consumers of educational research.  I would dare say that so many practitioners dismiss educational research.  Preservice institutes certainly play a role in this apathy.  However, in service teachers need to be challenged as well. 

Action research as a personnel evaulative tool can potentially begin to reform thinking.  Teachers thoughtfully evaluating their practice is the best tool to introduce the concept of evidence-based practice.  These types of studies don’t have to be magnificent.  They should just ask a meaningful question, have a method to collect data, and draw some conclusions.  However, without the necessary professional development, this won’t effectively happen.  I wonder most how to get buy-in from teachers.

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