Sep 14th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This past Wednesday I taught my second class in statistics. The focus was to explain types of data and examine visually appropriate ways to represent data. This took the form of making an appropriate APA table as well as constructing several graphs. I think that most of the students recognized the actual attributes of the representations, and some walked away with an understanding of the differences that they might not have known before.

Although I was not surprised, what was most striking to me was how the differences in abilities, mainly related to computer expertise (not content understanding/knowledge). The students are very open, unassuming, and metacognitive when it comes to their level of experience using technology. I value that, because I don’t have to guess what’s happening. They just let me know. Therefore, I can adjust to the needs of the students. Also wonderful, is watching those with more experience and expertise lean over and provide the support and help that some need themselves.

This has all of the feels of differentiation. However, the interesting part is that all students have to end in the same place, in the same 15 weeks of the instructional experience. I guess what makes me fret most is that we meet for a very limited time: two hours per week, only once a week. That’s not a great deal of contact time to meet the individual needs of each student, especially in a fairly large class.

I consider the initial topics of the first two weeks fairly easy.  When the content becomes more demanding, I think my challenges will increase.  It is important for me to continue with my inquiry-oriented constructivist approach (I really hope I’m doing this . . . ) to prepare these students for authentic quantitative studies.

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.

Teacher dispositions
Aug 24th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I had the exciting opportunity to complete my open-water PADI scuba certification this past weekend in Dutch Springs, PA. My wife and I decided to celebrate our doctoral graduations by completing the open water program together. We did our coursework with an amazing teacher, Bruce. I had the opportunity to observe him and carefully evaluate the way he taught. Specifically, Bruce, although probably never had heard the term, had a strong understanding of androgony.

He was collaborative, supportive, casual, and well informed. He understood his content impeccably, but more importantly, he understood his students: adults who had elected to learn something brand new and exciting. He clearly recognized that these were new skills for students and that we would often struggle with them. However, he knew that we needed the necessary positive support to become successful.

When we went for our open water dives, Bruce switched with another teacher, John. Bruce conducted advanced open water dives, while John completed our open waters. John has a very different disposition from Bruce. He’s a bit more gruff and curt. That really didn’t bother me, because each person has their own personality. However, it became evident, that the gruff behavior crossed the line of appropriate discussions with adults.

John would occasionally chastise and ridicule individuals for not “doing the right thing.” It seemed to me that John had somehow forgotten that he was a great, experienced diver, and we were inexperienced learners. We certainly couldn’t dive the way he did and we WERE going to make mistakes. Those mistakes, should have been learning experiences for use, but rather, they turned into opportunities for him to criticize us. Diving was supposed to be a supportive, exciting, new opportunity, and it was slowly turning into a drudgery. Not to mention, we were customers who had paid a fair share of money to participate in this activity.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when we were completing an underwater swim at 25 feet without any markers or reference points. This was pretty hard to do – it is very disorienting. My wife and I were swimming along and we must have been on an inclined path, because after a bit, we surfaced. We tried to submerge again, but had a bit of trouble. John had everybody surface and started to rant in a very demeaning and inappropriate way.

I informed him that I did not need to be spoken to in that way. I had a few follow up lines as well. It seemed apparent that John was taken aback, but that this had happened before. His disposition immediately changed, and I think he recognized that his behavior was no longer going to be tolerated. It’s a shame too, because we had gone to enjoy ourselves and do something together. We weren’t planning on having our experience depreciated by a poor teacher.

The following day back on land, I had the opportunity to speak with the dive shop owner. I informed him of my dissatisfaction with the experience. He initially started by saying, “Well, you have to know John . .. ” My response was that I did not have to know John. I was a paying customer and this was no cheap endeavor. After a bit of a discussion, I think the owner got the point. After all, he’s not the only game in town. The real business in SCUBA occurs after the training when individuals begin to purchase the expensive equipment for themselves.  We can easily pay someone else to provide us with high quality equipment with a better interest and attitude.

I think about this in terms of my teaching. I can be a very rigorous, demanding teacher, and still be compassionate. The two are not mutually exclusive. Often in public education, we are the only game in town. Does that give us license and liberty to not provide high quality, meaningful, and kind instruction? I know some teachers that act as that would be true. We can’t do that. Our students deserve better. They need to know their teachers care about them, but also demand at a very high standard.

Maybe John should think about that.

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