Identifying ideas . . .
Aug 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am preparing for a workshop tomorrow and will include a session to teach how to correct/comment on papers electronically.  Looking for a sample of student work, I came across Jon Morrow’s post “Seven Bad Writing Habits You Learned in School”  Jon has hit the nail on the head with #2 when he talks about PROBLEM FINDING.  There it is in a different domain, identified, as I often do as a necessary process that is often avoided in education.  Cheers to you, Jon!

2. Expecting someone to hand you a writing prompt

Looking through the eyes of an educator, I can see why telling students what to write about would be useful. You have a bunch of students who couldn’t care less about your curriculum, and making them write a paper about the assigned readings is a great way to force them to read the material.

Makes sense . . . but it doesn’t make it any less damaging.

One of the biggest challenges of writing is figuring out what to write. Whether you’re writing a memo, an article, or a letter to your mother, the process is always the same: you start out with a blank page, and you decide what to put on it.

Sure, that involves considering what your audience will want to read, but no one but you makes the final decision of what to put on the page. That act of deciding is what writing is all about.

Read my post on ED WEEK!
Nov 29th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I wrote a guest blog post for Bob Slavin’s (Success for All) Blog – Sputnik.  Please check it out and if you are on Twitter, I would really appreciate a tweet from the site!


Here’s a brief excerpt:

The real question, ultimately, is, “Does technology help our students become better independent, self-directed learners?” That’s the game-changer. It’s not about the latest fancy device, hot off the shelf. That device is just a tool– it’s not knowledge and it’s not a skill. Just because we haphazardly give students technology tools doesn’t mean they are going to learn better–the evidence definitely supports that. Learners purposefully interacting with the tool and using it for production, facilitated by thoughtful, forward-thinking educators, is the way to get to a student-centered learning environment that improves engagement and achievement.

Battlstar Galactica (1978) vs Star Trek Voyager (1995-2001)
Apr 23rd, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I’ve recently been hooked on some science fiction series from my earlier years via Netflix.  It is quite amazing to be able to watch an entire series from start to finish over a much shorter period of time.  The streaming feature is really great.  I started my sci-fi adventure with Star Trek Voyager and then moved on to Battlestar Galactica (original series).  Both have a common theme – they are far, far away searching for earth.  In the case of Galactica, they are somewhere else in the universe searching for the elusive 13th colony – Earth, while Voyager is stranded a bit closer, somewhere across the galaxy, and they know how to get back to Earth – it’s just going to take a while.

So I’ve been thinking about which series I thought was better, and just come to the conclusion that Voyager works better for me on so many levels.  Some might think, well the tech from the 70s really isn’t good enough – but I can get by that pretty easily – the constant repeat footage of the vipers and Cylon three passenger vehicles, tube-TV monitors – static when there’s nothing there (instead of the blue screen), keyboards that remind me of Radioshack TRS-80, wired headsets, and all the other “felgercarb.”

What really bothers me in this series is the concept of


They just do such a horrible job in presenting a realistic depiction of distance and time.  For example: Earth is presented as “galaxies” away.

Now if galaxies have huge distances between them – the majority of time would be spend traveling between galaxies.  However, a transition between galaxies seems to happen almost instantaneously in the show.  And don’t forget – these ships all travel at sublight speeds – unlike Voyager that travels at Warp (superlight) speeds.  Voyager (located in the same galaxy as Earth) needs to travel 70,000 light years to get home.  How far do you have to travel at sublight “flank speed” to make it?

In the final Galactica episode, “The Hand of God,” summarized:

Receiving a mysterious radio signal possibly from Earth, Adama and the crew are wary of a Cylon trap, and decide to turn the tables by attacking the Cylons with a stolen Cylon Raider. Apollo and Starbuck, in the series finale’s last scene, narrowly miss receiving Apollo-11 moon-landing transmissions from Earth.

The Cylon trap is a single ship in the current galaxy, positioned within a single solar system that for some reason the Galactica fleet HAS to traverse.  “There’s no way around it.”  How can that possibly be that a single ship, hidden behind a single planet of a single solar system in a single galaxy is the ONLY route to go.  It just gets too unreasonable for me.  The design and thinking is too two-dimensional


This to me is a more interesting comparison.  Cylons are

. . . a cybernetic civilization at war with humanity.  The Cylons of the 1978/1980 series are not the mechanical foils seen throughout the series, but an advanced reptilian race who created the robots (who were referred to as Cylons within the show) to serve them, maintain their vast empire and to man their military forces in the face of a sudden population drop that eventually led to the Cylons’ extinction — seemingly overnight. (wikipedia)

While the Borg are

. . . a fictional pseudo-race of cybernetic organisms depicted in the Star Trek universe.  The Borg manifest as cybernetically-enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind, linked by subspace radio frequencies.

The Cylons are certainly a reflection of 70s technology. Each unit is independent and there is a hierarchy of unit type.  The silver Centurion is the lowest level and has a seriously computer-processed voice.  For a race of “robots,” they are seriously unsophisticated and seem to have pretty poor processors and data nodes.  Likely because the technology didn’t exist (in real-time, 1978), it is surprising to see that these cyborgs have no networking capability – there is no data sharing between units, unless communicated orally.  The Cylons are unlike the Borg which are all interconnected and simultaneously processing all knowledge and data between units – now that’s sophisticated technology.  The Borg are composed of both organic and computer components.

In a battle, who wins? I think the Borg have it hands down – just in ship alone, the Borg cubes have electronic field generating shields – the Cylon Basestars don’t have any shielding.

So thanks for enjoying my SciFi rants.  Resistance is futile!

2011 Edublog Awards
Dec 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Creating that personal learning network is so important in the field of education.  Having other professionals that are engaged, pushing the envelope, and challenging the status quo are necessary for me to become a better educator.  I love sharing my ideas, but I also love hearing about others who give me new thoughts or challenge my preconceived notions.

I salute the EDUBLOG AWARDS for recognizing those in education who use Web 2.0 technology to improve their craft and share their ideas with others.  To that end, I nominate the following sites for their contribution to the educational enterprise.

 Best New Blog:  http://teachdigital.org Matthew Worwood, an Apple Distinguished Educator, shares his innovative approaches to digital media instruction and inspiring ideas centered around creativity.

 Best Group Blog:  http://blogcea.org  The Connecticut Education Association not only keeps us abreast of political/legislative action in Connecticut, but they share the positive stories that show the power of education and those who have dedicated their lives to the profession.

Best Educational Use of a Social Network http://www.facebook.com/TheQualitativeReport The Qualitative Report has become one of my favorite qualitative research journals because it is so practical for educational researchers and those engaging in qualitative research.  TQR does a great job with its social network via Facebook, email blasts, and websites. Best of all, this peer-reviewed journal is online and open access.

Best Free Web Tool.  http://wordle.net  Wordle, unquestionably, is a tool that has so many practical applications for literacy, research, summarizing, and big ideas.  Best of all IT IS REALLY ENGAGING for students.  If you haven’t used this tool with your students to examine writing, communicate ideas, and share learning, you’ve missed a great opportunity.

 Lifetime Achievement.  http://speedofcreativity.org  Wesley Fryer really is an amazing individual and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from him over the years.  I had the pleasure to speak on a panel with him in 2006 for the Discovery E-School News Blog Awards and I continue to learn from him every day.  He is a prolific writer – always sharing new ideas and thoughts.

New Publication
Oct 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am proud to announce a new publication that was just released in The Science Teacher entitled “The 21st century oral presentation toolbag.”  Link is here.  You can see the article if you are a member of NSTA.  Others can send me a message, and I will be happy to email a copy.

Technology that can build relationships
Jul 18th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When I think about technology and value in education, I am always looking to examine how technology can be used to leverage learning in ways that can’t be done in other traditional formats.  I am currently working on a blended learning paper with my team and have started the following vignette to describe such an example:

Michael was teaching a high school Applied Science Research class.  The class was designed for students who demonstrated interest in pursuing research in biological, physical, medical, and/or engineering sciences.  Students conduct a year-long or multi-year independent science experimental research project under the mentorship of the instructor and field scientists and are expected to present the results of their research at local, state, or national fairs, symposia, or competitions.  To help his students find success, Michael set up the following course goals:

1.  Interact with practicing scientists

2. Participate in a significant research experience

3.  Select, develop and conduct an independent research project

4. Develop the skills of reporting and presenting research results.

A highly motivated student, Anna had a strong interest in the physical sciences and engineering, began to examine the properties of particle accelerators and decided that she would like to try to build one.  Even though Michael was a biologist, and lacked knowledge about particle accelerators, he encouraged Anna to pursue her ideas.

Anna discovered that old television and computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and brought a junked monitor from home to school for examination.  She stopped to discuss her ideas with the IT staff member in school who warned her that the monitor could potentially have a capacitor still charged with 40,000 volts of electricity and she should have it discharged.  Begrudgingly, she found a local electrician who did the work for her.  Returning to school, she started to dissect the device, first removing the cover and then different circuit boards and parts.  She reached an impasse and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Michael had a friend, Bob, a retired multipatent-holding electrical engineer, living on the other end of the state, and encouraged Anna to make contact.  The two connected and decided to have a conversation in class via Skype, an Internet telephony service provider that offers free calling between computers.  Sitting in his couch at home, one morning during class, Bob coached Anna through the process of removing the CRT and gave suggestions on how to proceed with the particle accelerator.  During the process, Anna often took the laptop and steered the camera towards the deconstructed monitor and they discussed parts and procedures.  Occasionally Bob would scratch some figures on paper and move his camera towards the document to share his feedback.  The two had an invigorating conversation that lasted the majority of the class period.  Nearing conclusion, Anna realized that she still had many more questions.  She politely asked if she could follow up with email with more questions.  Bob agreed, and they continued the mentor/mentee relationship throughout the year, never actually meeting face-to-face.

New research report on reflexivity
Jun 30th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am proud to announce the release of my paper:  Online Dynamic Asynchronous Audit Strategy for Reflexivity in the Qualitative Paradigm, just published in The Qualitative Report. It was a long process to publication, but I am really excited about this work.  The data for the study originated here on this blog back in 2007.  This study is about this BLOG from 2007-2008.   I first presented the research concepts in 2009 at the Connecticut State University Faculty Research Conference, and then in 2010 at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Denver.  Feel free to read it and leave a comment below.

The Unfortunate Economics of the Science Fair
Jan 3rd, 2011 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.

A recent New York Times article by Emma Graves Fitzimmons discussed the financial woes of many science fairs across the country. Sponsors have dropped out, financing has been cut and organizers are scrambling to find money. The sad reality is that some of these events are being canceled. These authentic experiences for students are often important career-leading catalysts for young, budding scientists and engineers. Although not mentioned in the article, of local concern has been the greater Danbury area Science Horizons Science Fair.

from: New York Times

Science Horizons recently announced that it would be unable to financially support its regional Fair this year, and unfortunately, this important threshold opportunity, which brings a diverse group of students together, will be lost. Science Horizons is optimistic that it can obtain funding to restore the Fair in 2012. Science Horizons is encouraging each member school to support a local fair and will provide support by sending local winners to the Connecticut (State) Science Fair, held at Quinnipiac University this March. They will also fund some awards at the State fair. The reality of the US economic downturn’s impact on meaningful, authentic educational experiences for students hits home with this announcement.

Science Horizons is a nonprofit organization that has served the greater Danbury area’s budding scientists and engineers since xxx by offering a venue for middle and high school students to present the results of their original, long term experimental research. Each year typically over 600 students present projects at their annual Fair. Science Horizons is staffed totally by volunteers and raises all its money privately.

In the spring of 1989, as a high school junior, I had the distinct pleasure of participating in Science Horizon’s Science Symposium. This experience for me was transformational. I can point to that experience as one that helped me recognize that science was both a logical/analytical a creative endeavor, that an extended project was a rigorous, meaningful way to learn, and that science was a process – so much more than a collection of facts in a textbook. I pursued a degree in Biology, worked in a Bacterial Genetics lab doing methods development for the Human Genome Project, became a high school science teacher, and have worked directly with over 200 students who have conducted and presented high quality research. Many of these students have also pursued careers in science, the health sciences, and engineering.

With Connecticut’s budding knowledge-based economy, a scientifically-literate and educated workforce is critical. Opportunities like the Science Horizons Fair must be viewed as a necessity.

From bad to train wreck . . . why written communication is a critical 21st-century skill
Dec 8th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

The following editorial appeared in the Waterville Times last week.  Apparently the author works in the schools in a professional support role.  I don’t know if I am more amazed with the low-quality writing or the fact that the paper printed it without editing.  In any event, this is an excellent example of how NOT to write.  This article could actually be used to teach editing:  i.e., what changes should be made to make it readable and understandable?  Good written communication skills are a necessity.

from Waterville Times

A Waterfall as an Authentic Learning Environment
Mar 19th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Exposure is key to a child’s development.  When children have the opportunity to experience the natural world authentically, we allow greater capacity for the growth of their minds:  we expand their ability to problem find, problem solve, by being creative, critical thinkers.  Stemming from the monsoon-like nor’easter rain we experienced this past weekend, my daughters and I made a short detour home to go check out the Pootatuck River.  We experienced the shear strength of the flowing water over two of the constructed waterfalls that used to provide hydroelectric power to a some factories.  We documented our experience with photo, writing, drawing, and sound.  Our products?  Below:

The girls at the waterfall

The girls at the waterfall


The second waterfall

The second waterfall

Anna's (7) drawing of the waterfall

Anna's (7) drawing of the waterfall

Anna writes about the waterfall

Anna writes about the waterfall

Maggie's (5) drawing of the waterfall.  What monsters are living below the surface?

Maggie's (5) drawing of the waterfall. What monsters are living below the surface?

Maggie writes about the waterfall

Maggie writes about the waterfall

We also did a short audio recording of the amazing sound of the waterfall.  My voice recorder didn’t intially capture the deep, grand sound of the water, so I used audacity to modify the file.  Click on the icon to hear it:
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