Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory

Kolb’s Learning Style Theory is based on Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory. Experiential learning theory is influenced by the work of 20th century educational theorists such as John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Wiliam James, Carl Jung, Paulo Freire, Carl Rogers and many others who in one way or the other gave experience a central role in their theories regarding human development (Kolb, 1981, Kolb, 1984, Kolb & Kolb, 2005). Continue reading “Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory”

A Survey of the Literature on Factors affecting learning Style preferences of the Learner

Previous studies have indicated that gender, age, and cultural heritage affects the learners’ learning style (Charlesworth, 2008; De Vita, 2010, Joy & Dunn, 2008; Song & Oh, 2011). Studies have also documented that learning styles are affected by other factors Griggs and Dunn (1998). Thus, factors such as these needs to be considered when identifying learning style preferences of the student as they may influence learning outcomes. Continue reading “A Survey of the Literature on Factors affecting learning Style preferences of the Learner”

Learning and Teaching Style Assessment

Multiple Intelligences

                In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Gardner challenged the traditional definition of intelligence as being too narrow and argued that a broader definition was needed in order to more accurately reflect the different ways that humans think and learn.  Each individual, he argued, possesses a unique blend of multiple intelligences (MI) and he opposed the idea of using the same techniques to teach and assess every child.  He defined eight types of intelligences including: musical–rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. When I took the MI test, I was not surprised to find out that I have the naturalist intelligence with some musical-rhythmic intelligence. This observation explains perfectly the path I took during the early years of my education. I spent four years of my undergraduate education studying marine science and microbiology, two years in graduate school studying environmental science with a specialty in water resource management, and three years studying a master’s degree in science education. Currently I am pursuing a PhD in curriculum and Instruction.
I have always been fascinated with nature and the natural environment. I have been especially fascinated by the interdependence amongst living things, their interaction with each-other, with other species, and the environment. I now realize how my MI affect the way I teach and learn. Furthermore, I have come to understand that my MI could have a positive or a negative effect on my students’ learning experiences in the course. I plan to diversify my teaching and learning strategies to meet the varied MIs of all students in my courses.

Self Assessment

            As I reflect on the strength and weaknesses of my teaching, three things comes to my mind. First, I believe I have a firm understanding of content knowledge in chemistry, environmental science, and ecology. Second, I believe that I have a firm understanding of teaching methodology in science education. Third and last, my experience teaching and learning in two contrasting schooling environment in the United States (urban resource poor schools and suburban resource rich schools) has added tremendous value to my teaching experience.  I believe a combination of all these factors has made me a better educator not only for content knowledge, but also for emotional knowledge, values, and critical thinking skills. Like everything in life, I realize that I am no near perfect at what I do as an educator. There is always a room for improvement. Thus, I would like to improve on two things. First, communication with stakeholders. I have found myself in troubled situations on many occasions due to lack of communication. This stem from my belief that I and only I should handle course related problems. I realize that opening up to others’ suggestions may be a good thing. Therefore, I plan to open up a little and hear advice from others. It’s not a weakness to incorporate others’ point of views into your own. Second, I tend to offer too many choices to students, choices on what to do, how to it, and on how they should represent their work. It becomes difficult to give students a fair assessment on their products especially when everyone decide to do and represent their work differently. I plan to stream-line my assignments and projects to allow for some level of standardization especially in light of the accountability educational era we working under.


Self-evaluation can be a good thing, however, because of inborn biases inherent to this process I decided to call my co-teacher and ask him to evaluate my teaching. This process will help me to understanding the areas of strength and weaknesses that my peers see in my teaching. Therefore, I asked Mr. Miller to reflect on my teaching and especially the areas where he sees strength and those areas that he sees I need improvement. Based on our conversation, these are some of the highlights and the lowlights of my teaching.

The highlights: He thought I was very good at managing instructional time and students. He thought I handled classroom related issues appropriately, and I do a good job at making sure each student has a say in the course. He also pointed to the fact that I seem to be fair in my treatment of all students and also in grading students’ work. He added that I do a good job in connecting what is learned in the course to students’ prior, present, and future interests. He though I do a good job at making content relevant to students’ lives. He also noted my pleasant and jovial mood. This makes my class a place where every student want to be and feels appreciated.

The lowlights: He mentioned my low-level of communication with parents and other stakeholders regarding students’ progress or lack thereof in class. He also noted that I tend to repeat concepts a lot which can be a good thing and sometimes a bad thing depending on the group of student in the class.

Student Assessment of my Teaching

            It is my custom to ask my students’ opinion about the courses I teach. I always try to give them an opportunity to reflect on my teaching. I find this type of evaluation refreshing and an important part in improving my craft as an educator. This year it was no different. At the end of the semester I created a course evaluation post in my blog where my student could go and evaluate the course. On the blog post I asked my students to rate my teaching on three aspects: 1) what did I do well in my teaching? 2) what I did not do very well, 3) if you were to take this course next year, how would you like me to teach the course? The reflections from my students were as varies as they were interesting. In general, most students enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in the class. They reported enjoying the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities, creating videos for some of the projects, and presenting their ideas to the class in a form they felt comfortable with. Some the things they did not like were: 1) lack of immediate feedback, 2) I spent more time on easy topics (such as the periodic table and physical and chemical changes) and less time on harder concepts (such as nomenclature, stoichiometry, and gas laws). Thus, next school year I plan use some of the suggested ideas to make the course and the environment under which the course is taught better. I know that as educators we tend to maximize the content and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning while forgetting the student affect side of learning. I plan to pay more attention to the student affect side of learning especially in areas such as self-confidence, how they value the course, and course enjoyment. In my 11 years as an educator, I have come to the realization that when the course is not enjoyable,has little or no value to the students; students tend not to care much about the course. I am constantly working to change that.

Course Evaluation

Hello everyone. It was great to have you in my course this semester. I hope you enjoyed the experience. In my quest to make the course more enjoyable to you, I would like your input. Additionally, I hope you will find a way to use the information you learned in this course in the near future to make your lives better. As we are approaching the end of the semester, I would like for you to share your opinion about the course by clicking this link. It is my hope that you will take this opportunity seriously and that you will offer genuine suggestions to improve the course.

Here are three things I would like you to respond to:

1) what did you like about the course (think about pacing (too slow, too fast, just about right), information, field trips, out of class activities, in class activities and so forth)?

2) what did you not like?

3) what could I have done differently?

This is completely anonymous. Feel free to express your opinion to help me improve students’ experiences in the course.

Good-luck and Happy Summer Y’all!!



Examining Teachers’ Practical Experiences with Virtual Labs in High School Science: A Narrative Study



Problem Statement

Virtual Laboratories are quickly replacing hands-on laboratory activities as the norm for teaching and learning science in the high school setting (Van Lejeune, 2002). Van Lejeune (2002) and Mint (1993) describe three main reasons for this shift.  First, materials for hands-on laboratory activities are very expensive. Second, the use of chemicals in the classroom could potentially lead to lawsuits if chemicals are not properly handled by either the teacher or student. Third, virtual labs can provide a quality experience for students, especially if the teacher lacks in-depth knowledge of the subject being taught. Research findings by Redish and Steinberg (1999) suggest that students learn most effectively in an active engagement learning environment.  Virtual labs, if used properly, can create and foster this kind of active learning environment. Virtual labs also provide a cheaper alternative to school systems struggling with tight budgets (Van Lejeune, 2002) and eliminates the potential for lawsuits associated with the use of strong or potentially poisonous chemicals (Mint, 1993).

Despite the numerous potential benefits associated with using virtual laboratories to teach science in the high school setting, few studies have been conducted to assess teachers’ practical experience with using virtual laboratories and how these experiences can be used to identify best practices for improving praxis among teachers, especially for new science teachers. Results from several studies suggest that online labs and videos can be as effective as physical or hands-on lab activities (Leonard, et al., 1992; Malderelli, 2009; Cengiz, 2010; Gobert, et al., 2011; Tatli, Z. & Ayas, A, 2013; Kun-Yuan, Y. & Jian-Sheng, H. 2007).  In addition, a study among high school students identified a number of positive effects associated with using technology in the classroom (Reid-Griffin & Carter, 2004). These positive effects include improved student achievement and better student engagement.  Furthermore, the individualized nature of technology empowers students to take more risks in their learning and to be more willing to make mistakes. Controversy around virtual labs remains, however, as some researchers (Kennepohl, D. 2001; Nedic, Z., Matchoska, J., & Nafalski, J. 2003; Finkelstein, et al., 2005) have found online labs to be less effective than hands-on labs.  These researchers also found that students preferred face-to-face labs over virtual labs.

Despite the mixed evidence around the effectiveness of virtual laboratories, the use of these labs in high school science classrooms continues to rise.  The purpose of this research study is to elucidate teachers’ practical experiences with using virtual laboratory activities in their science classroom.  Understanding how teachers experience and use virtual labs in their classroom may provide some context for explaining the discrepancy observed in the literature on the effectiveness of virtual labs at improving student outcomes.  

Why Is Organizational Learning Important?

Learning is an everyday occurrence for most humans (Dewey, 1938). The success of the human race, can in large part, be attributed to the ability of humans to learn and to use that new knowledge to adapt to changes in their environment.  Humans, unique among animals, are able to create and share knowledge.  This shared knowledge allows them to make improvements in their environment or organization. This type of learning is called organizational learning (Argyris & Schon, 1978).  To improve practice in organizations, including schools, it is crucial to understand shared practical experience.

Moreover, there are three types of informational knowledge.  These include: (1) the hard and formal character of knowledge (Childreth & Kimble, 2002); (2) the paradigm mode of knowing (Bruner, 1986); and (3) the soft, tacit, and practical knowledge (Takeuchi, 1995). Current research indicates that soft, tacit, and practical knowledge can be meaningfully captured using a narrative inquiry approach (Boje, 2007; Czarniawski, 2007; & Gabriel, 2000). This study, therefore, will use a narrative approach to investigate teachers’ shared practical experiences with using virtual laboratories to teach science in their high school classrooms. It is my assumption that teachers hold valuable personal and practical knowledge. This study will gather that personal and practical knowledge in order to facilitate the sharing of best practices with teachers unfamiliar with the use virtual laboratories as a teaching tool. This information will be especially useful for new science teachers who most often find themselves using virtual labs in their classrooms with little or no training.

What Led Me to This Topic?

I was born and raised in Tanzania. I attended school in Tanzania for primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. I attended a graduate program in environmental science at Towson University from 2002 to 2004. While attending graduate school I worked as an Assistant Laboratory and Field Technician for the Center for Urban Research and Environmental Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In my capacity as an environmental lab and field assistant, I investigated water, air, and soil pollution in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I applied to the Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR) in May, 2004, a program designed to attract experienced science and mathematics professionals to teach in the Baltimore City School System. I was accepted into the program and was formerly hired as a teacher in July, 2004. Through the BCTR program, I attended the Johns Hopkins University for a Master’s Degree in Education from July 2004 to May 2007.

Throughout my teaching career, I have witnesses many changes in the technology used in schools. When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom especially when little or no training was offered to accompany that training. For the past five years, I have been using virtual laboratories to teach high school chemistry.  These labs teach a variety of concepts including the difference between chemical and physical changes, the periodic table, naming compounds, and the concept of “moles”.  I have found virtual laboratories to be an effective tool for teaching concepts where a hands-on lab either does not exist or is too expensive or dangerous to conduct.  Since many schools are shifting their investments from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought, it would be important to gather teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs to inform this shift and to identify best practices that could be shared with other teachers.  I plan to capture the experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students through their narratives.

Conceptual Framework

            Learning from experience is central to the creation of practical knowledge in an organization (Cole & Wertsch, 2004). Dewey (1916) suggests that learning from experience is crucial in connecting the past, the present, and the future (as cited in Liu & Mathews, 2005). This study will examine learning from experience through the Vygotskyan social constructivist lens and also through personal reflections. According to Wolcott (1990a), personal experiences can be used to examine a phenomena such as teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs.

           Social constructivist theory originated from Vygotsky’s work. Social constructivist theory emphasizes collaboration and views learning or meaning as being socially constructed (Resnick, 1991). A central concept of Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005). Individuals learn from each other and form their understanding of the world from their interactions with each other.  Social constructivist theory, however, is not without criticism. The major criticism of this theory is that it places too much emphasis on the role of social and collective, but, ignores the role of the individual in meaning construction.  While I acknowledge this criticism, I plan to use social constructivist theory as the basis for my study because I believe that teachers share their experiences with teaching tools, like virtual laboratories, with each other and it is through this communication that they decide whether or not to use these tools in their own classroom.  Thus, I feel that this theory is most aligned with the purpose of my study.  Figure 1 below illustrates the conceptual framework for my study.


Informed Future

Practical Experience

Teachers’ Past Experiences

Teachers’ Present Experiences






Socially Constructed Meaning through Stories




Figure 1: Socially Constructed Practical and Personal Experiences of Teachers When Using Virtual Labs.


Study Rationale

As mentioned earlier, the use of virtual labs and online learning continues to rise in in high school science courses. This rise in virtual lab usage has implications on how successfully the learning experiences are going to be for teachers and students. This research will identify teachers’ practical and personal experiences with virtual laboratory activities to help create a body of best practices for other teachers. As noted in my personal and professional narrative, most teachers do not actually receive formal training on how to effectively use virtual labs with their students. Therefore, teachers learn through trial and error how best to implement virtual labs in their classrooms.  The risk, however, is that they will not utilize virtual labs correctly, leading to poor student outcomes. This study will gather teachers’ experiences with virtual labs, including the knowledge they have acquired through the use of virtual labs in their own classrooms.  Best practices will be identified and shared with other teachers who are considering implementing virtual labs in their own classrooms.

Research Questions

As in any qualitative study, choosing the type of qualitative inquiry and the questions to fit the approach is the first challenge. In the beginning, I explored various approaches to qualitative inquiry to see which approach was most appropriate to answer my research questions.  After, much deliberation, I chose narrative inquiry to investigate teachers’ practical experience using virtual labs in their classrooms. In my interview, I asked eight main questions to elucidate teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  These questions are listed below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    1. Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?


In Chapter One, I provided a rationale for my research study and presented the theoretical framework that will form the basis of my study.  In addition, I reviewed the questions that I asked the teachers participating in my study in order to elucidate their experiences using virtual laboratories.  In Chapter Two I will review the origin and definition of several key terms related to my study including: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry.













Chapter One provided an overview of the purpose of this research study and described the theoretical framework that will be used as the basis of this study. Chapter Two will continue this discussion by reviewing some key terms related to the study. The terms described herein are “Social Constructivist Theory”, “Reflective Practitioner”, and “Experience”. This chapter will also describe Narrative Inquiry which forms the basis of this research study. At the surface level, these terms appear very different, but, at a deeper level they have inter-related meanings.

Social Constructivist Theory: A Vygotskyan Idea

            As described in Chapter One, social construction theory emphasizes the importance of collaboration and views learning or meaning making as socially constructed (Resnick 1991; as cited in Liu & Mathews 2005).  A central concept in Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005).  Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory argues that “knowing is relative to the situations in which the knowers find themselves” (Liu & Mathews; 2005; p.392).  The concept of social and the individual being interconnected is the cornerstone of the social constructivist theory and it provides a valid explanation for social and individual change.

Reflective Practitioner: Schon’s Idea

Schon (1986) describes reflection as what practitioners do to examine their increased understanding of a phenomenon that arises from practicing. Reflectivity combines reflections from both past and present actions in order to improve future actions. Schon emphasizes that knowing with doing and thinking with action must go together because they work hand-in-hand.  We cannot “know” and “think” without “doing” and “acting” (Schon, 1986).  Thus, thinking with action is crucial to improving practice. In my experience, teachers and school administrators rarely use reflective action to enhance their praxis. Part of this research study will be encouraging teachers to use narratives or storytelling as form of reflection in action in order to improve and transform their teaching practice.

Experience: A Deweyan Idea

Dewey (1916) views experience as a continuum of reason. Dewey’s work shows his attempt to resolve the dichotomy between experience and reason.  According to Dewey (1916) experience and reason are a continuous mesh of consciousness most meaningful when connected to everyday life. There are two natures of experiences described by Dewey. The first is “trying” which is related to active experience. The second is “undergoing” which is related to passive experience. Dewey was more concerned with active experience because it involves changes of actions through reflection. In order to better understand the nature of active experience, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment.  Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder,2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.


The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.

Narrative Inquiry: Stories as a Reflective in Action Tool

Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study, I used a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I asked the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background.  The information helped me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy and how the information can be used as best practices for other teachers with little to no experience with virtual lab usage.


In Chapter Two I explained the key terms: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry. In the narrative inquiry tradition, stories are used as a tool for capturing practical experiences through reflection. These stories can then be passed on from person to person in an organization as best practices. Brown, Denning, Groh & Prusack (2005) posits that stories are a powerful tool for sharing practical experiences and knowledge in an organization such as a school or school system.

Chapter 3 explains the research approach I have chosen for this study. I have chosen a narrative approach to conduct my study. In addition, I offer justification to why I chose a narrative approach for this study. Finally, I explain how the data was collected and analyzed using the narrative inquiry approach.






In Chapter Three, I will explore the reasons behind why I chose narrative inquiry methodology for my research study. I will also explain how I conducted this study from data collection to data analysis, including how I selected my research site and participants.

What Led Me to Choose Narrative Approach

Clandinin & Connelly (2000) argue that practical knowledge gathered from people’s experiences is sharable in the story format.  Narrative inquiry is arguably the best method for capturing those stories and the inherent knowledge to be gained from these stories. In addition, narrative inquiry is a useful methodology for describing an insiders’ experiential knowledge in the form of story-telling (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  My intention for this study was to identify practical experiences of teachers (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). In addition, I wanted to recognize my self –reflective knowledge and how to capture the experience of teachers who use virtual labs with their students.

To put my experience with technology in context, I will provide my life and professional history.  I was born and raised in Tanzania. I went to school in Tanzania from primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science from Towson University, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I began my career as a teacher in July 2004 at an inner-city middle school. Most of my students were African-American and from low income households. 

When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom since I rarely received any training to accompany the new technology.  In 2009, I began teaching at a suburban high school in Atlanta.  It was at this high school that I learned about virtual laboratories.  I began using these laboratories in my chemistry classroom.  Again, I did not receive formal training on how to use these labs. Instead, I learned by doing.  I believe this is an experience that many new teachers face. Since many schools are shifting their investment from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought it would be useful to gather teacher’s personal and practical experiences with virtual labs. The challenge was that personal and practical knowledge is often hard to capture systematically.

In the process of finding which method was most appropriate to answer my questions, I started by trying the phenomenological approach. According to Creswell (2013), a phenomenological study, “describes the common meaning of several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon.” There are two types of phenomenological studies.  The first type is a heuristic phenomenological approach which brings to the fore the personal experience of the researcher (Moustakas, 1990b:9, as cited in Patton; 2002b).  The second type is a transcendental phenomenological approach that involves the researcher bracketing themselves through acknowledging their experiences with the phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2013). However, after a careful analysis of the method, I came to the conclusion that a phenomenological study was not the best for my research question because my sample size was too low and also I was relying on a single method for data collection which is not advisable for a phenomenological study. To conduct a well-rounded phenomenological study, a number of data collection methods such as surveys, observations, journaling, and photographs need to be used.

I then turned to a mixed method approach. A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s, mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green, Caracelli & Graham (1989) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative  approaches  or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of the research findings. Using more than one research method can also help corroborate the study findings, ensuring the findings have a stronger validity. To use a mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research questions must include both quantitative and qualitative elements. It is important that the formulated questions address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. Again, after a careful examination of the method and the question, I realize that my questions did not match well with the mixed method design.

While examining a possible method to capture teachers’ experience with virtual labs, narrative inquiry emerged slowly but surely as the best method for capturing teachers’ experience with virtual labs and identifying the practical knowledge inherent in these experiences. Narrative inquiry emerged as a new research method in social research in the 1980s (Clandinin & Connely, 1990). In 1986, Clandinin and Connelly experimented with narratives as an alternative way of representing experience in graduate courses at Ontario Institute of Studies (OISE). According to Clandinin & Connelly (2000), an individual’s story should be considered as a source of phenomenon and method. Atkins (1995) pointed to two advantages of using narrative inquiry. First, the story creating process is similar to the self-reflection process, thus, helps to expand experiences. Second, developing stories helps to connect a person to the human experience through narratives. Therefore, narrative inquiry can be used to gather personal and practical experiences and knowledge and to share them with the community.

Data Collection

This study takes place in a high school environment in an upper income suburban neighborhood in the Southeastern United States. I purposely chose my two participants for the following reasons. First, I wanted them to have different levels of teaching experience.  My first participant was a new teacher (two years teaching experience) who had limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I chose her because I wanted to understand and chronicle new teachers’ experiences with virtual lab usage in the science classroom. The other participant was a veteran teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience. I wanted to interview him because I wanted to gain deeper insights into the use of virtual labs by an experienced teacher.  The second reason for choosing these two teachers was a matter of personal convenience.  The participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them.

I used the life story narrative to elucidate the personal practical experiences of my teacher participants. I took the life story approach because I believe each and every one of us has his or her story to tell.  I interviewed each participant for approximately 15 minutes in their classroom using a semi-structured interview guide.  I began with an open-ended question followed by a probing question whenever necessary to gain a deeper conversation of the participant’s experiences.  Even-though I had developed structured and open-ended questions for the interviews, I conducted the interviews mainly as conversations. The reason for choosing a conversational approach rather than a direct interview approach is that probing is most effective when it takes place in the form of a conversation (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  Since I was using only a single method of data collection and a small sample of interviewees, I decided to record the interviews so I did not miss any relevant information and so I could produce a verbatim transcript for analysis. I used my IPad to record the interviews with the permission of each participant.  I received human subject approval in September of 2013 and conducted both interviews in October 2013. The open-ended questions used for this study are presented below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    • Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

Data Analysis

            After I conducted and recorded the interviews, I attempted to analyze the data through first listening and transcribing the interviews. To better understand the stories, I used the restoring or retelling method to reconstruct the participants’ stories as they were told to me during the interview. I identified and interpreted the major themes such as technology-related problems, when to use virtual labs, when not to use them, and in what instances they most benefit students’ understanding.  I then wrote summary statements for each of the identified themes using the information from the participants’ interviews.  Participants’ narratives are presented in Chapter Four and the conclusions and recommendations resulting from the research findings are presented in Chapter Five.
























In this chapter, I examine each participant’s experience with virtual labs using a story-telling or retelling approach of the narrative inquiry methodology. I begin with a description of the classroom environment followed by narratives from each participant’s interview. In Chapter Five, I examine the data and offer analysis and interpretation. I then, conclude the chapter with conclusions and recommendations for future studies. What is presented here is a verbatim transcript of the participants’ own words. To the best of my ability, I refrained from adding any of my comments or additions to this transcript. However, I sometimes use my own words to help create smooth transitions, where necessary. Note that the names used below are pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of the participants.

Mr. Physics Jones’s Class

            Mr. Physics Jones is 37-year old, white male who teaches physics and chemistry at the suburban high school. He has 13 years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for 10 years. Prior to working with this department, Mr. Jones worked for a private Christian high school for three years. Mr. Jones is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but specializes in teaching Advanced Placement Physics and general chemistry.

            My classroom is located next to Mr. Jones’ classroom. We normally have lengthy conversations about teaching physics and chemistry. We also share a stock room for chemicals and laboratory equipment that we use to teach chemistry and physics. In his spare time, Mr. Jones likes to run. He is the head coach for the school’s running team. His team has won numerous awards including State championships and zonal championships.

            Mr. Jones’ classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into eight two rows with eight lab desks. He has a promethean board, LCD projector, laptops, and a student response system that he uses on a daily basis. Mr. Jones also has five computers in the back of his classroom that are connected to the internet. Mr. Jones’ students are very diverse with a variety of racial and ethnic groups represented. His students also come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. His classes contain a fairly even gender distribution.

Mr. Jones’s Experience with Virtual Labs

Mr. Jones has aBachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and chemistry. He also has a Master’s of Arts degree in teaching with a specialty in chemistry education. Mr. Jones worked as a research technician for the state of North Carolina and he is now teaching. He decided to become a teacher because he thought his skills would be better utilized in educating the kids (children) of America. Mr. Jones teaching philosophy is a triangle between the teachers, parents, and the students.

Mr. Jones feels that virtual labs give the kids a tool to explore the topic more on their own. He also feels that virtual labs form a good substitute when the student is absent. If a kid is absent, virtual labs serves as the lab.  Virtual labs also serve as the alternative when we don’t have the funds for the lab equipment or chemicals. Mr. Jones mentioned that he did not receive any professional development regarding the effective use of virtual labs. He learned how to use virtual labs through trial and error. Mr. Jones sees the barriers of virtual labs as that students don’t see the true results of what’s happening. They are pre-programmed and therefore devoid of real life experiences. Another barrier to virtual labs is that students tend to copy from each other without engaging themselves in the actual learning activity. In addition, virtual labs offer the same results, so it’s hard to talk about real life errors (e.g. experimental errors) that often occur during real life experiments.

Mr. Jones sees the benefits of virtual labs as that they can be accessed anywhere at any time. Another benefit of virtual labs is that there is no preparation time for the teacher. In addition, virtual labs are useful at substituting instruction especially when the equipment is too expensive. Mr. Jones uses several adaptations to make sure that all students in his class benefit from virtual labs. First, he discuss the lab with students ahead of time. Second, he does a demo for the class before-hand. Third, Mr. Jones does group discussions to enhance student understanding of concepts covered in the virtual labs session.

Ms. Biology Tanisha

            Ms. Biology Tanisha is a 34-year old black female who teaches general biology in the science department. She has two years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for one year. Ms. Tanisha is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but, specializes to teach general biology. She explained her experience with virtual labs in her classroom during the interview.

            Ms. Tanisha’s classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into two rows with eight lab desks. She has a promethean board, LCD projector, a laptop cart, and student response systems that she uses often. Ms. Tanisha also has five computers in the back of her classroom that are connected to the internet. The students in Ms. Tanisha’s classroom, like those in Mr. Jones’ class, are very diverse in terms of race and socio-economic status.  Her class also has an even distribution of boys and girls. 



Ms. Tanisha’s Experiences with Virtual Labs

Ms. Tanisha has a bachelor degree in education. She became a certified teacher two years ago. She decided to become a teacher for four reasons.  She is a people person.  She likes showing children the different ways to learn. She likes to give back to the community and she thinks that there are not enough people in the world who want to teach but just want to be a part of something so that they can get vacation time. She wants to give back and show why having a good education is important. She says that growing up, even though her mom and her relatives were educators, she never saw the importance of going home and studying or doing what she was supposed to do. As such her GPA after she graduated high school was below a 2.0 and she actually flunked out of college twice. The third time she went back, including grad school, her GPA was well above a 3.0. She learned the importance of an education but it took her awhile and now she’s at a point in her life that she wants to give back and to show why it’s important to be educated.

Ms. Tanisha’s teaching philosophy is every child can learn, however, not every child can learn the same way. She believes that teachers need to engage all students individually if possible throughout the week. To continually communicate with your students so you know where they are. She also believes that it is up to the teacher to actually engage each one of their students so that they can learn. In addition, Ms. Tanisha feels that virtual labs are good because the teacher has the ability to rewind as opposed to doing a lab in class step one, step two and typically you don’t even have the resources to go back and see where did I get this from? Virtual labs are good for proofing one’s work because of the ability to go back and check where the information came from.

Ms. Tanisha went to the Explore Learning workshop last year where she learned that a teacher had the ability to add to the labs everything he/she needs to engage students in their learning. She feels that the workshop she attended last year was beneficial in making the labs better. It helped her in different ways as far as getting the concepts across to her students. Ms. Tanisha sees the only barrier to virtual labs is that some students are not as engaged as others.  She feels as though these students would prefer hands on labs rather than virtual ones. In addition, some students just don’t want to do the lab because it does not fit their learning style. Ms. Tanisha recognizes several benefits for using virtual labs in the science classroom. First, virtual labs offer the ability to go back and redo the labs up to a certain degree. Second, students have to follow directions and engage themselves in the lab and learn at their own pace. Third, she thinks students learn more because virtual labs follow the learner centered approach.

Ms. Tanisha uses various adaptations to make sure that all students in her class benefit from virtual labs. She walks around and talks to students often to make sure they understand the lab. She checks for understanding and engagement by communicating with each student on a regular basis.


In this chapter, I presented participants’ narratives. In Chapter Five, complete data analysis, discussions, conclusions, and recommendations for future research will be presented.








In this chapter, I first analyze the data, then, I present the conclusions of the study, and finally, I present my recommendations for future research. 

Data Analysis and Conclusion

Narrative inquiry was used in this study to shed light on the practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students. The purpose of the study was to identify personal and practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs in their science classrooms. After reading and re-reading the transcripts from the interviews, I identified two characteristics that were shared by both teachers – a love of teaching and a belief that all children can learn.  In addition, I identified several best practices that these participants had used to maximize the success of virtual labs in their classrooms: (1) pre-lab discussions, often with a demonstration, (2) post-lab discussions where students’ questions were answered, (3) regular monitoring during lab sessions to check student understanding and engagement, and (4) receiving proper training on how to effectively use virtual labs as a teaching tool.

Love of Teaching

            Both participants expressed their love for teaching during the interview. I realize that teaching is not a get rich and/or money making profession. Mr. Jones is an environmental engineer. He has many job options, but, he choose to share his knowledge and engineering skills with the children of America. In addition, Ms. Tanisha spoke of her love of teaching very explicitly during the interview. She shared with me that she was a “people person” and loved to show students different ways to learn.

The Belief That All Children Can Learn

            The saying that all children can learn has been used in many educational articles and books. In many settings, this saying has become a cliché.  During my interview with both participants, I genuinely felt that these teachers believed what they were saying. Ms. Tanisha said “all children can learn, but, differently.” It is true that all children can learn. This is especially true when the needs of each of the student are met. For example, each child comes to class with his or her own capability, learning preferences, and world view. If these needs are not met by the teacher, some children will be left behind and deemed to be incapable of learning. Therefore, according to the participants, it is crucial to meet each individual child wherever they are and to help them to achieve success in learning. This will boost their confidence to learn.

Pre-Lab Discussions

            Since virtual labs are somewhat different than hands-on and real life experiments, it is paramount that teachers discuss the lab before students actually do the lab. This will improve student understanding by activating their prior knowledge and by making them ready to learn. Mr. Jones normally discusses the lab before students begin doing the lab. It is a good practice as it helps iron-out student misunderstandings and reduces the amount of questions that students may have during the lab session. Once students know what to do and how to do it, completing the lab becomes easier for them and they are more likely to learn from it. Therefore, Mr. Jones and Ms. Tanisha employ the pre-lab discussion to help their students understand what the lab is all about and how to complete it.

Post-Lab Discussions and Regular Monitoring during Lab Sessions

Mr. Jones discussed the use of post-lab discussions as an important tool for effective use of virtual labs with students in science. Once students have completed their virtual lab sessions, it is important to have a discussion regarding the concept or concepts covered. This is important because it helps students to consolidate what they have learned. It also helps the teacher to assess what students have learned and what topics may need further discussion. I concur with Mr. Jones’s views on this, I believe that post-lab discussions are crucial for helping student re-evaluate their understanding of the lab and also to receive confirmation regarding their understanding. Post-lab discussions also offer students the opportunity to explain and reflect on their understanding of the concept covered by the lab and to ask any clarifying questions.  In addition, both participants mentioned the importance of circulating throughout the classroom while students are completing the lab to monitor their understanding and to make sure they remain engaged in the task. This also allows students the opportunity to ask questions as they are completing the lab so that they are able to successfully complete all their assigned tasks.  Teachers can also monitor their progress and provide one-on-one guidance as needed.

The Importance of Proper Training

            Lack of proper training was one issue raised by the participants during the interviews. It is quite obvious that in the absence of training, things tend not to work as effectively as they should. This applies to virtual labs as well. Ms. Tanisha discussed a two day training she received on how to effectively use virtual labs. In my view, in-service training is needed for teachers to help them understand how to best use virtual labs in their classrooms. School districts’ tend to buy these programs with little or no emphasis placed on training teachers how to use the programs. Mr. Jones reports that he never received any formal training on how to use virtual labs. He trained himself through trial and error. Allowing teachers to train themselves on the effective use of virtual labs with their students is not a good practice. Teachers should be trained to use technology properly in order to increase student engagement and academic achievement.

Recommendations for Future Research

            This study was centered on two research participants’ practical and personal experiences with virtual labs. Six themes emerged from the interviews with research participants. The emerged themes include: (1) love of teaching, (2) the belief that all children can learn, (3) pre-lab discussions, (4) post-lab discussions, (5) regular monitoring during lab sessions, and (6) the importance of proper training. As discussed in the study results and discussion, these themes have direct implications for the effective use of virtual labs in science classrooms. In order to validate the results from this study, additional research with more teachers from different settings is needed.  For example, studies with teachers from middle school science or other high school science setting would be desirable. In addition, the questions used to capture teachers’ practical experiences with virtual labs in this study were not very focused. Therefore, studies with more focused questions on this matter are needed to capture the essence of these practical experiences. Finally, I realize that one’s cultural background influences one’s experiences.  My background, cultural experiences, and world view may have affected the way I analyzed the data. Therefore, research done by people with different cultural and background experiences are warranted.








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Curriculum Evaluation Using Tyler’s Goal Attainment Model or Objectives-Centered Model

In this article  I will describe the Tyler model while emphasizing its evaluative component. I will use the DeKalb County Science Curriculum in my analysis. Specifically, I will use Dunwoody High School students’ outcomes data (end of course test-EOCT) for physical science and biology to evaluate the curriculum. However, before I start the evaluation, I will provide a brief overview of the Tyler model (what is it? what are its parts? and what are the criticisms of the model?) and finally I will conclude Continue reading “Curriculum Evaluation Using Tyler’s Goal Attainment Model or Objectives-Centered Model”

Education Ideologies: A comparative Study

By: Shaaban Fundi

In this essay, I will start with a brief history of the Social Efficiency and Learner Centered ideologies of education. I will then compare and contrast the two educational ideologies.  For each ideology, I will describe how the ideology treats the nature of the learner, the subject content of the ideology, how the ideology views the needs of society, and which type of knowledge the ideology deems most important.   Finally, I will discuss the supporting arguments and criticisms of the two ideologies of education.


Historical Backgrounds of the Learner Centered and Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

Ideal schools or what we now call, Learner Centered schools, have existed in the past and continue to exist today at all levels of education. The ideal school originated in Europe and were promoted by four early educationists.   First, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) emphasized that learning was developmental.  He argued that learning progressed from concrete to abstract thought (Schiro, 2013).  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), however, is the person most credited with introducing the Learner Centered ideology. He believed that children were not miniature adults.  Instead, he insisted that children’s natural growth should be the focus of children’s education which he called “child-centered” education. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) put Rousseau’s theory into practice by emphasizing that children should be free to explore their own interests and draw their own conclusion from their experience.  Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) invented kindergarten as we know it today. He emphasized the use of games, songs, stories, crafts, and manipulation as tools for early education.  

In the United States, the Learner Centered ideology was first promoted by Francis Parker in the 1890s in the Quincy, Massachusetts public schools. The ideal school then became known as organic schools at the turn of the 19th century. Marietta Johnson promoted her organic schools with students from elementary school to secondary school in the first few decades of the 20th century.  Her school is still in operation today. The organic schools became the progressive schools in the 1920s. Progressive schools became popularized in the 1920s through the 1940s and reached their peak during the Depression Era. Notable educationists who supported the Learner Centered ideology in the United States include John Dewey, H. O. Rugg, and A. Shumaker. The open education movement promoted Learner Centered education in the 1960s and 1970s in K-12 education. The Sudbury Valley School still practices Learner Centered education from elementary through secondary school. At the higher educational level, Learner Centered education took the form of the free university in the 1970s through the 1980s. Most adult education centers in the United States align themselves with the Learner Centered approach.

In contrast, the Social Efficient ideology is truly an American invention. It gained influence in American educational spheres at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was popularized in reaction to the rising concern regarding utilitarian forms of education such as agriculture education, manual training, industrial education, and vocational training. The central focus of Social Efficiency education was to equip students with the ability to perform useful skills rather than filling their minds with useful information. This ideology is credited with making the American educational system more practical over the last century. Notable educationists who strongly supported the Social Efficiency ideology in the United States include Franklin Bobbitt, Ralph Taylor, and Thorndike. Currently, the Social Efficiency ideology is the most influential educational ideology in the United States with its focus on improving efficiency and accountability.  This ideology forms the basis of the federal Race to the Top funding and the No Child Left Behind mandates (Schiro, 2013).

Comparing and Contrasting the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

The main focus of the Leaner Centered ideology is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and must be incorporated in the learning experience.  I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As a teacher, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the semester to learn my students’ names, interests, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities.  I believe that in order to teach students effectively, I need to know who they are and what they like. Being aware of my students’ interests and abilities is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content.

The “child” or leaner is not the main focus of the Social Efficiency ideology.  Instead, the focus is on helping students develop the necessary skills to allow them to fulfill society’s needs. In this ideology, each child is viewed as potential adult member of society. As a result, the Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child and more emphasis on the capability of each child to become a productive member of society.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and that other aspects of the individual child are equally as important as teaching them the skills needed to fulfill the social needs of society.  In my opinion, the individual needs of the child must be taken into account in the process of teaching and learning

The Social Efficiency ideology views a teacher as a “manager of the conditions of learning (Gagne, 1970, p. 324; as cited in Schiro, 2011). In essence the teacher’s role is to implement curriculum developed by developers with little or no input of their own. As a teacher I feel that this role is misguided.  Teachers should be able to adapt the curriculum as necessary to meet the needs and interests of their students. This will help students remain engaged, learn, create meaning, AND develop the necessary skills to be fully functioning members of a democratic society.

In contrast, the role of the teacher in the Learner Centered ideology is to provide consultations with the child. This consultation will help the child to reach whatever destination s/he needs to go. I am in favor of this teaching and learning approach. I see myself in this role while teaching my courses. I create experiences and put myself in the background to watch and admire as my students create their own meaning from their experience.  In conclusion, while I see the value of both ideologies and borrow from each in my praxis, I tend to more closely align myself with the Learner Centered ideology in my teaching philosophy.

In terms of instructional content, the Social Efficiency ideology views education and schools as a shaping process through which an educated person is produced in much the same way as the railway industry manufactures steel rails in a factory. Social Efficient ideologists obtain the purpose of education from their client such as the parents, businesses, teachers, scholarly organizations, and publishers.  Educational purposes are mostly behaviorally stated and they specify what the learners should acquire throughout the learning process. Bobbit (2004a) believes that education is a social process that perpetuates the existing social functions. Social ideologists view themselves as behavioral engineers who shape the behaviors of the learner to satisfy the needs of society and not that of the child. I take offence to this view I feel as though education is more than a cookie cutting business where everything must match the client’s needs and specifications without regard to the learner’s needs. I value the contributions, experiences, and curiosity each individual student brings to the learning process. Students should have a say in what they learn and how they learn the content. The skills based education is misguided because it misses the central objective to learning, which is the experience of the student. Therefore, learning content should be geared to students’ needs, interests, and capabilities and students should be free to learn at their own rate.

The Learner Centered ideology views subject content in a different way. This ideology emphasize that the role of schools is to meet the needs, interests, and desires of the child. Their belief is that if the present needs of the child are fully met, the future of the child is assured. The Learner Centered ideology does not view the child as lacking social, intellectual, artistic, and physical interests but rather as individuals full of self-expression, curiosity in their own world, and an active maker of meaning resulting from their interaction and interests with their world. According to Learner Centered ideologists, experience is the mother of all learning and children must discover facts for themselves through their experiences. I subscribe to this view of learning. I believe that learners must personally experience reality in order to grow, learn, and construct meaning. Therefore, I reject the belief that students need to develop skills by learning mere facts from books that others have written. I believe in the idea that learning comes through the interaction of an individual with their surrounding world. Creating meaning (knowledge) through experiencing reality by physical and social encounters is the best way to learn.

Under the Social Efficiency ideology, society’s expectation and needs drive the learning outcomes. In this ideology the client, which is society, has specific demands that must be met. Society’s needs for certain skills drive the entire learning process. The child is seen as a miniature adult that needs to acquire certain skills in order to fulfill society’s need to build a stronger economy and advance the existing society.  Society’s needs are not the main focus of the Learner Centered ideology.  The main focus is on the child and the child’s needs, desires, and abilities are central to the learning process. The learning process under the Learner Centered ideology is activity based. Students engage in stimulating activities through the manipulation of objects such as making models, airplanes, radios, videos, and websites rather than watching a video about them or listening to didactic lectures from their teachers. Thus, to construct meaning, students are provided with the reality they need to experience in order to create meaning for themselves.

Current Literature Supporting and Refuting the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency Ideologies of Education

As with any educational philosophy, there are many arguments for and against each of the two learning and teaching ideologies. Lea and colleagues (2003) reviewed several studies of the Learner Centered ideology and found that it was indeed an effective method of instruction. In the review, Lea (2003) reported that students felt more respected in the Learner Centered approach and found the approach to be exciting, interesting, and a boost to their confidence in their ability to learn.  In addition, a six year study in Helsinki, Finland found that when compared to a traditional didactic learning approach, the Learner Centered approach was associated with the development of better study skills and with a deeper understanding of the concept (Lonka and Ahola, 1995). Also, Hall and Saunders (1997) found that students who received an active learning type of instruction in a first year information technology course had increased motivation, participation, and grades. Furthermore, 94% of the students in the study would recommend a student-centered approach over the conventional approach.

There are three main criticisms of the Learner Centered approach. These are: the focus on the individual learner, the amount of resources needed to successfully implement the approach, and the belief that students hold about their learning.  Edwards (2001) warns that the student centered approach may lead some students to feel isolated. He argues that if the focus of instruction and learning is mainly geared to each student’s need, then the needs of social interaction with peers will be ignored. Another criticism of the Learner Centered approach is that it requires a lot of resources to be implemented successfully. This may make it difficult to implement in resource poor schools and countries. O’Sullivan (2003) argues that the Learner Centered approach may not be transferable to developing country settings where the resources are scarce and there is a different learning culture. Students belief system is another criticism levelled at the Learner Centered ideology. Students conditioned to the teacher-centered learning approach may not be receptive to the student centered approach.

On the other hand, the Social Efficiency ideology is credited with making education relevant and practical in the United States. It has transformed education from being informational or knowledge based to being focused on helping students acquire useful skills that are transferable to their careers and societal needs. There are several criticisms to the Social Efficiency ideology. First, critics believe that the Social Efficiency ideology perpetuates the existence of the current exploitive and capitalist society. Students are not taught to question the ills of society nor taught how to change the existing exploitive mode of society. Rather, they are taught to unquestionably fit in the existing society. Second, critics believe this model places too much emphasis on testing and separating students based on the results of that testing. Third, critics believe that this ideology focuses almost exclusively on developing students’ skills with little or no regard to educating the whole child.

In conclusion, I have learned that both educational ideologies have their pluses and minuses. In my career as a curriculum manager, I plan to use not just the two educational ideologies discussed in this paper. I also plan to use other educational ideologies when developing curriculum for school districts and nations in order to develop a balanced curriculum. I believe that there is a place for both ideologies in education. I will try to keep balancing between these two competing ideologies so that the pendulum does not end up swinging too much towards either of the two ideologies. I strongly believe that balance is needed when preparing a good and effective curriculum.








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Curriculum Mapping: The Essentials

By Shaaban Fundi

Curriculum Mapping and Explanations

As I was planning to design my curriculum model, several ideas came to mind. In the beginning, I thought maybe I should make my model fit models such as the Taba Model, the Tyler Model, or the Oliver Model. However, I realized through this process that, I really did not need to come up with a completely new curriculum model. Rather, what I should spend more time on is how to enhance the existing curriculum model in my school district. The current curriculum model in my district works perfectly well in some parts, but in other parts it does not work at all. Therefore, I thought it would be unwise to use the meagre district resources to create or buy an entirely new curriculum, but rather, to enhance the parts that are currently working successfully and to focus on revising the parts that are not working well. The best way to achieve this is through the curriculum mapping process. Therefore for this assignment, I deviated from the norm and decided to create a curriculum map that is relevant to my district’s current needs.

Since teachers are the most important professionals when it comes to educating and implementing any curriculum, I plan to engage all the teachers in the district throughout the process so that they can be informed of the curriculum changes and be able to implement those changes successfully. Currently, my district has two curricula in place. The written curriculum and the taught curriculum. Through the curriculum mapping process, I hope to harmonize the two curricula such that the elements that are actually taught are highlighted and the elements that are only in the written curriculum but are not actually taught are either dropped or incorporated into the taught curriculum. This process will be a collaborative bottom up approach. Below is my curriculum model and explanation for how to address the challenge. Figure 1. The Phases of the Curriculum Mapping Process

Phase 1 – the “finding what is actually taught phase”

This will be an individual level process. In this phase, I will ask each educator in each school to list the topics they really teach during each month from August to May. Each teacher will be given a two column sheet with months on one column and what topic is taught in the other column. In this process, I will ask teachers to refrain from looking at the district standards and benchmarks. They should only use their lesson plans to fill in the month and the topics they teach on those months. The purpose for this phase is to identify which topics are actually covered in each month to be able to understand what is really taught. Therefore, it is extremely important for educators to only list the topics that they actually teach each month and not what is on the district’s written curriculum.


Phase 2. The “collaboration phase”

This will be a department level phase. In this phase each department will work together to look at the maps produced in the individual educator phase. This phase will be led by a trained department head or a teacher leader. In this process each teacher will work collaboratively with others in the department to iron out the difference in the taught curriculum and the written curriculum. It should be done at the subject level. The topics that are taught by some teachers but are not part of the curriculum will be dropped and those that are not taught but happen to be in the curriculum will be added to the maps. This process will allow teachers to develop the monthly topic maps for each subject in each school in the district.


Phase 3. The district-wide map review phase

This is a district-wide professional development phase. In this phase, educators will be grouped based on the subjects they teach. I realize that some educators teach more than one course and therefore the district-wide process may take longer to accommodate the teachers’ needs. In this phase, educators will compare the subject maps developed at the department level for each school. The purpose of this phase is to have the same subject maps in the entire district. Therefore, teachers will add or remove topics to make sure that all teachers have the same maps for each subject in the entire district. This phase can also be used to share strategies and approaches that are effective to teach the topics. In addition, teachers can use this phase to develop activities that will be used to teach each topic. Caution: This phase may take longer for elementary school teachers since they normally teach more than one course.


Phase 4. The educator self-reflection phase

In this phase, educators can reflect on the process and how they will use the new maps they have developed to align instruction to benchmarks and standards. This phase can also be used to share strategies and approaches that are effective to teach the topics. In addition, teachers can use this phase to develop activities that will be used to teach each topic.


In conclusion, instead of creating an entirely new curriculum every other year, this process may help improve learning across the district. In addition, this process can improve student outcomes through the harmonization of the district’s standards and benchmarks to instruction in the classrooms across the county. Furthermore, since the process involves teachers from start to finish, it will have a higher buy-in during the implementation phase.



Den Keyer, K (2013). The challenges of curriculum change, ATA Magazine, 93(4): 16-19

Blanchard, L.J. (1978). Creating a climate of rapid response to needs for change. Journal of Educational Leadership, 37-40.

The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis

The article entitled “The Qualitative Method of Impact Analysis” by Mohr (1999) attempts to qualify qualitative study design as a rigorous and explicit method for impact analysis (impact evaluation purposes). In this article, Mohr discusses the problems facing qualitative methods when it is used to study impact. He asserts, impact it fundamentally is a causation type of a problem. Causation impact analysis is better evaluated if one uses a quantitative methodology. Mohr argues that the main issue here is based upon the definition of causality. The most accepted definition of causation is based solely on the counterfactual definition of causality. Therefore, if Y occurs, then, X must have occurred. This aligns perfectly with the quantitative methodology of impact evaluation. According to Mohr (1999), a more defensible version of the counter factual definition is called factual causation. Factual causation states that “X was caused by Y if and only if X and Y both occurred and, in the circumstances, if X had not occurred, then neither would Y” (Mohr, 1999; p. 71). As a result, causation is better established when variables are compared. Thus, causality is derived from the comparison of results from the experimental group to those in the control group. Without this base of combination of observations it would be impossible to determine the variance on the treatment variables. Hence, statistical analysis would not be possible.

Based on the counterfactual definition of causality it is impossible to use qualitative methodology to evaluate impact. To better determine impact, qualitative methods must rely on something other than evidence of counterfactual to establish causal inferences. Therefore it renders impossible for a qualitative methodology to show the concurrence of X and Y without the use of a treatment group and a control group that is prevalent in quantitative designs. However, Stricken (1976 as cited in Mohr, 1999) offer us an approach called the “modus operandi’ method which can be used to bypass the counterfactual definition of causality. The modus operandi method can be described as follows: it is an elimination process. For example, to demonstrate that treatment T has caused Y to occur, other possible causes of Y such as U, V, and W must be eliminated as contenders for causing T to occur through elimination. The modus operandi is commonly used in the daily works of professionals such as doctors, police, and investigators. Modus operandi does not meet the counterfactual definition of causality used in quantitative study designs. However, because of the modus operandi methods, qualitative study designs can be used to determine the programs impact using the elimination process to determine causal inferences. Therefore, no variables are needed to establish causation in qualitative designs because physical causality rather than factual causality does indeed produce compelling evidence for ascertaining the occurrence of T when Y occurred after all the other contenders have been eliminated. Thus, causal reasoning can be reliably used in qualitative designs to determine causal inferences in program and impact analysis.

I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me practical and useful insights in conceptualizing causality inferences. I have learned that the causation debate between researchers in quantitative design and those in qualitative design is based on the definition of causation. For the supporters of quantitative design, causation is defined by the counterfactual definition of causality. Thus, causation is determined by comparing two sets of variables (control and experimental values). On the other hand, the proponent in the qualitative design camp proves that causation can be established through the elimination process. The process of elimination is commonly used in our daily lives without comparisons and/or variables. I can relate this to my research. There are several similarities between my research design and the process of elimination described in this article. My research follows the quantitative design tradition, but it does not involve a control group. The causal inferences I can draw from my research design (single participant research design) are largely a result of better controls of the internal threats to validity rather than the comparison of results from the control group to that of the experimental group. There are no control groups in my proposed experimental design. Thus, as a researcher I plan to incorporate the useful, practical, beneficial insight, and steps of determining causal inferences discussed in this article.
Mohr, B. L. (1999). The qualitative method of impact analysis. American Journal of Evaluation, 20 (1), 69-84.

The One Size Fits All Assessment Model: A disastrous approach.

In this analysis, I will discuss the book review entitled “Computers, Curriculum, and Cultural Change (2rd ed.)” by Bonita Wilcox (2005). I will review the four types of literacy discussed in the book review and how to incorporate these literacies in instruction. Finally, I will conclude by discussing the lessons I learned from reading this article and how I will use some of the information in my praxis.

In her article, Wilcox reviews the book entitled “Differentiated Literacy Strategies for Student Growth and Achievement in Grades 7-12” by Gayle H. Gregory and Lin Kuzmich (2005). Ms. Wilcox begins here review with two fundamental questions: “Overwhelmed by student diversity? Too much content and too little time? I am sure that many educators can relate to that. We all are struggling to meet the needs of each and every student in our classrooms. Some of the needs we must meet to remain effective educators are student development, learning styles, learning preferences, and multiple intelligences”.  Ms. Wilcox goes on to state that student diversity is one of the biggest challenges for American educators in the 21st century classroom.  In their book, Gregory and Kuzmich (2005) suggest looking at these challenges through the lens of the four domains of literacy: functional, content, technological, and innovation/creative. Gregory and Kuzmich further suggest educators consider numerous differentiated learning methods while acknowledging that these methods have to be balanced against the time and resource constraints many educators face. To address these challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich offer several instructional strategies, assessment strategies, planning models, checklists, rubrics, and lesson plans based on current brain research and recommendations from prominent educators.

Gregory and Kuzmich believe, like most educators, that gathering and evaluating data is crucial in making well-informed decisions to improve learning. They also believe that diagnostic thinking must be done by teachers themselves since they work with and know all the students in their classroom. External testing and evaluation is not tailored to individual students and therefore does not offer the best diagnostic prescription for student development at the individual level. The use of differentiated instructional practices for specific learning styles, preferences, and multiple intelligences are discussed to address the functional and content area competence. These include flexible grouping, anticipation guides, SQ3R, graphic organizers (four corner, compare/contrast, and cross classification), choice boards, KWL charts, reciprocal teaching, and writing prompts. To meet the technological and innovative literacy challenges, Gregory and Kuzmich suggest best practices for promoting multidimensional thinking and multimedia production. These include useful websites for various content specific areas, search engines, search guides, website credibility measures, and some innovative methods including switch between work groups, kinds of text, and types of writing skills and media use.

In conclusion, this book review was very informative. I have learned many useful teaching and learning strategies that I will be utilizing in my daily praxis. Furthermore, it was very interesting to learn that most educators over-value the importance of external student testing and evaluation. In my view, this practice is not formative and does not help educators improve their teaching. The best diagnostic thinking is the one envisioned and implemented by the teachers themselves. This kind of test takes into consideration student diversity and can address challenges at the individual student level. The one size fits all assessment that we are currently using assumes that all students are the same.  In my opinion, this is an incorrect assumption.






Wilcox, B (2005). Computers, curriculum, and cultural change (2rd ed.), English Leadership Quarterly, 28(2): 12.

Curriculum Mapping: A Synthesis

The article entitled “Curriculum Mapping: A How-To Guide” by John DeClark (2002) discusses the process through which a curriculum can be mapped to align topics and promote seamless instruction. In the article, DeClark (2002) describes the purpose of curriculum mapping, the step-by-step process used for successful curriculum mapping, and the benefits derived from a good curriculum mapping process. In this reflection, I will review DeClark’s instructions for curriculum mapping and discuss the lessons I learned from this article. 

The article reports on a district-wide curriculum mapping project in the state of Michigan. The purpose of the curriculum mapping project was to create seamless science curriculum maps for the suburban Michigan school district. It was found that the existing curriculum in the district had many unnecessary repetitions. Therefore, the purpose of the curriculum mapping project was to build a curriculum that meshed across grades and eliminated unnecessary repetitions of topics in the curriculum.

According to DeClark (2002) there are four steps for a successful curriculum mapping process. The first step is deciding the content to be taught. In this step, teachers are given a two column chart with one column listing the months of the school year and the other column listing what they need to teach in those months. This is an individual level process. The teachers are asked to be very honest when completing this chart. Teachers fill the chart with the topics they really teach each month of the year without looking to state standards or district benchmarks. The purpose of this step is to find out what is really being taught. The second step involves teachers in the revisions of the maps produced in the first step. This is a department level collaborative process. Any benchmarks that were not included in the taught curriculum will be added. Teachers will also remove topics that are taught in the curriculum but are not in the benchmarks and district standards. At the end of this step, each teacher who teaches the same subject should have the same map. The third step is the getting together stage. This step involves district-wide in-service professional development. In this step, teachers in the same discipline from the entire district are given the opportunity to compare their revised curriculum maps. Teachers from each level in the K-12 will meet to encourage accurate curriculum alignment. In this step teachers will eliminate all needless repetitions in the curriculum map across the grade levels. In the final step, called the analysis stage, teachers will incorporate their individual maps into daily lesson plans. This is an opportunity for teachers to share lesson plans and experiences. This is where teachers share what works and what does not work for each of the topics.

According to DeClark (2002), one of the benefits of using curriculum mapping is that it ensures all benchmarks are taught and the K-12 curriculum is seamless. Students learn best when they see the big picture.  In the old curriculum, however, it was found that the existing curriculum was exposing students to parts of concept at different grades and in different years. Since “the concepts are taught in isolation, students see them as completely different topics” (DeClark, 2002; p.30). Therefore, curriculum mapping was needed to create a curriculum that helped students see the big picture.   Curriculum mapping also helps eliminate unwanted repetition when students move from grade to grade. Most often students encounter the same topic taught the same way year in and year out. This could lead to students tune out the teacher. Repetition is required to learn, however, that repetition needs to be meaningful to the students.  Curriculum mapping also provides an opportunity for cross-curricular integration. Curriculum maps are based on monthly plans and therefore it is easier for teachers to combine lessons and projects that are interdisciplinary.

I enjoyed reading this article because it offered me very practical and useful insights into the curriculum mapping process. I have learned that the process for curriculum mapping needs to involve the professionals (teachers) and not the politicians.  I have also learned that the bottom-up approach seems to be more beneficial than the top down curriculum mapping process that we often see in schools. The success of the bottom-up approach was largely due to giving the teachers an opportunity to come up with curriculum maps that included elements of what was already being taught and shown to have success in schools. The process also helped teachers to eliminate the unhealthy repetitions that we often see in the top down curriculum maps. The other thing that I thought was very useful in the curriculum mapping process was the incorporation of the big picture for each of the concepts. It is important for student to be able see the big picture of what they are learning. Teaching topics in a disjointed fashion leaves students with a shallower understanding of the interconnectedness of topics in different disciplines. Thus, as a curriculum manager I plan to incorporate these useful, practical, beneficial insights, and steps in the curriculum mapping process for my district.


DeCark, T. (2002). Curriculum mapping: A how-to guide. Science Teacher, 69(4): 29-31.

Part III: Conversations with Educators Regarding Virtual Labs Usage In Science Education

In this video I interviewed a science general biology educator regarding her experiences with virtual labs in science education. I started the interview by asking her to describe her education background and how she became an educator. In addition, I asked her to describe her educational philosophy and how that philosophy fit in with the use of virtual labs. Furthermore, I asked her to describe a professional development she had received to help her use virtual labs effectively with her students. I concluded the interview by asking her to describe what she sees as the benefits and barriers of using virtual labs in science education and what adaptations she is using to ensure all students in her class benefited from virtual labs.

Narrative Research Approach: Synthesized.

In this synthesis of narrative qualitative inquiry, I will review the readings that I have done on narrative inquiry. I will also present my plans for using the narrative inquiry tradition to develop my exploratory study. Finally, I will provide lessons learned throughout the process and discuss whether a narrative inquiry approach is appropriate for answering my research questions.

 Creswell (2013) states that “introducing and focusing the study, data collection methods, and data analysis and representation” are the essential components of a narrative inquiry. Creswell also identifies five components that should be included as part of the introduction to a well-conducted qualitative research study.  These components include: 1) a clearly defined topic, 2) a well-stated research problem, 3) a literature review justifying the problem, 4) identification of gaps and deficiencies in the existing literature, and 5) a justification and rationale for why the problem is an important area of research (Creswell, 2013; p. 132). As I start to develop my rationale and research questions for my exploratory qualitative study, I found Creswell’s five prong process to be helpful. I am interested in exploring the experiences of high school science teachers when using virtual labs with their students. I am planning to explore this topic using a narrative inquiry approach.


Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study I plan to use a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I will be asking the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I will collect information about the teachers’ background.  This information will help contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy.


During my review of the literature, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.


The two studies points to the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach and examining the impact of virtual labs on student learning using quantitative methodology. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.


Creswell (2013) describes several types of data collection techniques that can be used as part of a narrative inquiry.  These include in-depth interviews, personal observations, field notes, and attendance at events.  In their study entitled “Transformational Teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher”, Kumi-Yeboah and Waynne (2012) use a combination of in-depth interviews, observations of teacher-student interactions, field notes, and follow-up interviews to trace the evolution of a teacher from a novice to an expert. For my exploratory study, I also plan to use a variety of data collection techniques including in-depth interviews with two teachers to elicit their experiences with virtual labs and to observe how they use virtual labs in their classrooms.  In my initial interview, I would like to ask six main questions to capture teachers’ experiences with virtual labs. These questions include:


1)   Tell me about your educational and professional background;

  1. Probe: How did you become an educator?

2)   What is your teaching philosophy?

3)   How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?

4)      Describe the professional development that has helped you to be effective in using virtual labs for teaching?

5)      What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?

6)      What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?


In my data collection phase, I am purposely choosing my two participants for the following reasons. First, the participants are new teachers (two years of teaching) in my department and because of that they have limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I will not interview them during my actual dissertation study. Second, the participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them. However, during the actual study I would like to interview just one veteran teacher who has extensive experience with virtual labs. This is in accordance with Creswell’s (2013) description that narrative inquiries are best suited for studying the lived experiences of a single individual. During my interview with this veteran teacher, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of how she uses virtual labs in her classroom in order to provide guidance to other teachers on the opportunities and difficulties of using virtual labs as a teaching tool in the science classroom.  .


Finally, in my data analysis phase, I intend to identify and interpret the major themes arising from the teachers’ stories. This is where the information gathered from the interviews will help create developing themes regarding the participants’ experiences with virtual labs.  I will then, present a visual comparison of the themes that may have developed from the interviews to show similarities and differences between the interviewees. I realize that including just two participants in my exploratory study may result in findings that are devoid of richer and triangulated stories (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). However, I hope to use the lessons learned from the interviews conducted as part of my exploratory study to refine the interview guide and methodology that I use for my dissertation.


The use of various data collection methods in a narrative study increases the validity of the study findings by offering the means to cross check the developing themes across the data collection methods (Sinclair, 2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder, 2010). I plan to use both in-depth interviews and observations as part of my exploratory study.  It is my hope that the exploratory study will offer me some insights on what additional methods of data collection and analysis I should use as part of my dissertation study. In addition, the exploratory study will help me to determine if the initial questions that I have developed are appropriate for collecting teachers’ experience or whether the questions need to be refined.


In conclusion, the synthesis for this week has helped me to frame my research study using a narrative inquiry approach.   As part of this process, I came to realize that other approaches may be more appropriate to answer my research question, namely categorizing the types of experiences that science teachers have when using virtual labs. For example, a phenomenological inquiry could help me understand the essence of the teachers’ shared experiences using virtual labs. Therefore, in synthesis two, I will explore these same questions using a phenomenological approach of qualitative inquiry. This will help me to determine which approach, narrative or phenomenological, is best suited to help me answer the questions outlined in my dissertation study. 



Case, J. M., Marshall, D., & Linder, C. (2010). Being a student again: A narrative study of a teachers’ experience. Teaching in Higher Education,15(4): 423-433.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Kumu-Yeboah, A., & Waynne, J. (2012). Transformation teaching Experiences of a Novice Teacher: A narrative of an award winning teacher. Journal of Adult Learning, 23(4): 170-177.

Mann, S. J. (2003). A personal inquiry into an experience of adult learning on-line.

 Instructional Science, 31, 111-125.

Post Structuralism and Deconstructionism In Education

This week’s supplemental reading was very informative and added to my overall understanding of chapter five of the book entitled “Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches” by Creswell. Chapter five of Creswell (2013) details the five qualitative inquiry types: Case Study, Ethnography, Phenomenology, Narrative Study, and Grounded Theory.  I, however, will not dwell on the five types of qualitative lines of inquiry in this reflection. I will mainly discuss two ideas that I found to be interesting in the supplemental reading. First, I found the post-structural theoretical approach to be very interesting and trans-formational. I have always had an inclination that inclusion practices in education were a problematic endeavor since my first encounter with the idea. My doubts for inclusion may have been caused by conflicting educational ideologies. My upbringing and the schooling philosophies I studied under while growing up in Tanzania were very different from the ones I found myself working under in the American schools.

I struggled with the inclusion ideology a lot in my first few years of teaching in Baltimore, Maryland. I do understand the importance of mainstreaming disabled students, students with color, and others in the general education classroom. However, I was somehow dismayed by the fact that administrators will put students who were 3 to5 grade levels below in reading, writing, and mathematics in the same classroom with those who are on or above grade level. The inclusion idea is a brilliant one in theory, but in practice, it is flawed in many levels. It is a challenge for teachers to differentiate instruction to 30 plus students who are 3 to 5 below grade level and who also happen to have varied learning styles.  Dunne (2001) points out that inclusion is seen as fundamentally a good idea in the inclusive education arena. However, post-structuralism lens provides us with the tool to question the practice. Post structuralism also helps us realize that inclusion is laden with many problems in practice. For me it was heartwarming to realize that there are qualitative research methods such as post structuralism and discourse based qualitative inquiries that can be used to illuminate/or critique the fallacies of inclusive education.

In addition, I found the article entitled “The Q Standards and Initial Teacher Training: The Discursive Formation of Teachers and their Trainers” by Bartle (2011) quite interesting. It had never crossed my mind that text can be hegemonic. According to Derrida (1978, as cited in Bartle; 2001) deconstruction is a useful means of understanding text and the world.  Using Derrida’s deconstruction method we will be able to deconstruct the binary opposition in the text for instance, power/powerlessness, groups/individuals, knowledge/ignorance and so forth.  A good example of current education policies text that is embedded with hegemonic languages is the No child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. The Race to the Top is littered with the language of power (the county, the state, and the nation) and the language of powerlessness for the teachers. The undemocratic nature of the Race to the Top policy is clearly laid out in its language regarding the teacher evaluation system that is tied to student achievement. The document leaves no room for teachers to be knowledgeable and empowered professionals. All the power is allotted to the politicians. Thus, deconstruction and post-structural methods of qualitative inquiry can be a powerful tool in understanding meanings embedded in text that perpetuate and promote hegemony.




Bartle, P. (2011). The ‘Q’ standards and initial teacher training: The discursive formation of teachers and their trainers. In J. Adams, M. Cochrane & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 31-46). New York, NY: Wiley.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches (3rd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dunne, L. (2011). How applying a discourse-based approach. . In J. Adams, M. Cochrane, & L. Dunne (Eds).  Applying theory to educational research: An introductory approach with case studies (pp. 123-138). New York, NY: Wiley.

Social Efficiency and Learner Centered Ideologies in Education

Reading through chapters 4 and 5 of the book entitled Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns by Schiro (2011), I gained an in-depth understanding of what the Learner Centered and the Social Efficiency ideologies represent. In this week’s brief reflection of the two chapters, I will base my discussion on how the two ideology views the child/learner and the teacher.

In the Social Efficiency ideology, the child is not the main focus. The focus is to develop skills necessary for society’s needs. The child’s is viewed as potential adult members of the society. The Social Efficiency ideology places less emphasis on the individual needs of the child. It places more emphasis on the capability of the child to fill social needs of the society.  I take issue with this approach of educating children. I believe in educating the whole child and that other aspects of the individual child are equally as important as the capability to fulfill social needs of society. Individual needs of the child need to be addressed in the process of teaching and learning.

On the other hand, the Leaner Centered ideology’s main focus is on the learner.  The child’s needs and interests are central to his/her learning and needs to be incorporated in the learning experiences. I agree wholeheartedly with this view. As a teacher, I spend quite sometime in the beginning of the semester to learn my students’ interests, prior knowledge, and abilities. I believe that in order to teach students (kids) effectively, we need to know who they are and what they like. Being aware of students’ interests and ability is useful in the process of creating the experiences from which students will create their own meaning of the curriculum content.

The Social Efficiency ideology views a teacher as a “manager of the conditions of learning (Gagne, 1970, p. 324; as cited in Schiro, 2011). In essence the teacher’s role is to implement curriculum developed by developers with little or no input of their own. As a teacher I feel that the role of the teacher in the Social Efficiency ideology is misguided. Teachers should be able to make needed changes to the curriculum to meet students’ needs and interests. This will help students to learn, create meanings, and the skills necessary to be fully functioning members in a democratic society.

The role of the teacher in the Learner Centered ideology is to provide consultations to the child. The consultation that will help the child to reach whatever destination s/he needs to go. I am in favor of this teaching and learning approach. I see myself in this role while teaching my courses. I create experiences and put myself in the background to watch and admire as my students create their own meaning from the experience.  In conclusion, I see the value on both ideologies and I tend to borrow the goods from both in my praxis.


Schiro, S. M. (2013). Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns ((2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. 

Virtual Labs: Are they as effective as face to face lab instruction?

Article Title: Investigating the Effectiveness of Virtual Laboratories in an Undergraduate Biology Course.

Name of Reviewer: Shaaban Fundi


            In his article entitled “Investigating the Effectiveness of Virtual Laboratories in an Undergraduate Biology Course”, Flowers asserts that most research has shown virtual labs to be highly effective with benefits equal to and in some cases better than physical laboratory activities (Dalgarno, Bishop, Adlong, & Bedgood, 2009; Dobson, 2009; Swan & O’Donnell, 2009, as cited in Flowers, 2011).  Studies by Allen & Seaman (2010) and Chen, Lambert, & Guidry (2010) indicate that web-based learning can positively impact student learning outcomes and promote student engagement.  However, a study by Stuckey-Mickell & Stuckey-Danner (2007) found that students perceived virtual labs less favorably than traditional, physical labs. To explore this potentially negative perception, Flowers conducted a study among university biology students to obtain their perceptions regarding the ability of virtual labs to teach them how to correctly use laboratory equipment and follow correct laboratory procedures. 

Study design and results

            For his study, Flowers recruited 19 undergraduate students from an introductory biology course.  The course included five virtual laboratories and five traditional face-to-face laboratories.  In the virtual labs, students designed experiments using computer mouse manipulations. Students’ understanding of scientific materials was assessed following their completion of the virtual labs. In addition, students completed a questionnaire at the end of the semester.  This questionnaire utilized Likert scales to measure students’ perceptions of the effectiveness of virtual labs at teaching biology concepts compared to traditional labs. Results indicate that the majority of students perceived that they learned more biology concepts from the virtual labs compared to the traditional labs and that they preferred to participate in virtual labs. However, students felt virtual labs were less effective at teaching them how to operate lab equipment compared to traditional labs.


            The findings from the Flowers’ study are consistent with many other published studies from college settings which have found that students prefer this mode of learning over traditional labs. Students also perceive higher learning gains when participating in virtual labs.  Some topics, however, are more effectively taught in a traditional laboratory setting including the proper use of lab equipment. As I think about how to apply these findings in my own classroom, I realize that I need to strike a balance between virtual and traditional labs in order to provide the most benefit to my students. I plan to use virtual labs to help teach scientific content, especially when traditional labs are either too expensive or dangerous for my students to complete, and use traditional labs to demonstrate the proper usage of lab tools and equipment.

            This study also gave me some ideas for my own research. I am starting to realize that I do not need an overly complex study design such as a randomized control trial for my dissertation.  Instead, I can use a relatively simple study design like the one used in this article to answer the question of whether virtual labs are a beneficial tool for teaching chemistry to high school students.  This more simple design will be more feasible for me to implement.  In addition, I plan to employ a survey with Likert scale items like the one used in this study to collect and analyze students’ perceived learning gains and their perceptions of virtual labs compared to traditional labs.         

In conclusion, I have obtained a number of ideas for my own dissertation after reading the five articles for this class.  I will continue to review the literature to identify and explore other possibilities for my dissertation research and to add to my arsenal of evidence-based teaching strategies. All in all, this exercise has opened up many possibilities for me as an educator and as a researcher.


Flowers L. Investigating the effectiveness of virtual laboratories in an undergraduate biology course.  The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning,2011; 7(2): 110-116.

Literature Review: Cognitive Functioning Models and Cognitive Brain Imaging

Currently, there are two fundamental approaches to cognitive science of modeling. The two approaches are the connectionist approach and the probabilistic or computational approach. The probabilistic or computational approach is viewed as the top-down approach of studying the mind whereas the connectionist approach is viewed as the bottom-up approach. Connectionist modeling begins with “the characterization of the neural mechanism and exploring what macro-level functional phenomenon might emerge” (Griffins, et al., 2010). In contrast, the probabilistic approach starts with “identifying the ideal solutions, then, modeling the mental process using algorithms to approximate the solutions” (Griffins, et al., 2010).  

For the purposes of this review, I will focus on the Box-and-Arrow concept as it forms the fundamental base to all three kinds of cognitive function models that I will discuss later in this review (Griffins, et al., 2010).  Box-and-Arrow information processing models are normally designed to follow the input-cognitive system-output logic. For a normal subject with intact cognitive functioning, input is sent to a specific area of the brain (cognitive system) to be processed.  This then results in a desired and correct outcome. Box-and-Arrow models are normally depicted using fairly generalizable verbal descriptions to yield what a normal individual with intact cognitive function would produce if given the same input words.

To detect cognitive impairments, a model designer can change the cognitive structures of the model to mimic that of a cognitively impaired subject but keep the input the same. Investigators can then compare the outcomes from this cognitively impaired model to the outcomes from the model with intact cognitive functions.  The difference in outputs between the two models help investigators detect the correct positioning of the impaired cognitive function area of the brain. Although the predictions based on the box-and-arrow models are fairly good for capturing the characteristics of normal and impaired cognitive function, they are “generally unreliable to account for detailed phenomenon” (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).

There are numerous types of cognitive functioning models in the literature. For the purpose of this synthesis, I have chosen to focus on three of these models including: 1) the prototype model of categorization, 2) the exemplar model of categorization, and 3) the artificial neural networks models.

In the prototype model of categorization (the nearest prototype classifier) the “learner estimates the central tendency from all the examples experienced from and within each category during the training” (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).  The learner is then able to “assign any new observed instances to the class of the prototype that is nearest” (Gagliardi, 2008) to the training data.

The exemplar based model (the nearest neighbor classifier) is referred to as the memory based model (Gagliardi, 2009). There is no learning phase in this model.  Instead, the learner memorizes all the category examples during the training and when a new stimulus is presented, the “category with the greatest total similarity is chosen” from the stored or memorized example (Ashby and Maddox, 1993).

The artificial neural network (ANNs) model has “small numbers of nodes particularly feed forward networks (with input nodes, hidden nodes, and output nodes) and simple recurrent networks (SRNs)” (Krebs, 2005). The feed forward and simple recurrent networks architecture have been used to “model high level cognitive functions such as detecting syntactic and semantic features for words” (Elman, 1990, 1993; as cited in Krebs, 2005), “learning the English past tense of verbs”(Rumelhart and McClelland, 1996; as cited in Krebs, 2005), and “cognitive development” (Schultz, 2003; as cited in Krebs, 2005).

The difference between the prototype models and the exemplar models are based on the assumptions they make regarding what is learned and how the category decision is made. For the prototype model, the assumption is that when identifying a category of objects, we refer to a precise object that is typical of the category (Krebs, 2005). Decision making in a prototype model is based on the similarity between the input target and the category prototype that was used during training. The category that is the most similar prototype is selected to match the input target. While in exemplar models, decision making is based on the memorized examples for each of the stored categories in the model. When a new stimulus is presented, the similarity of the target is computed against each stored example, and the example with the highest similarity will then be chosen. This is based on exemplar theory which states that “people increment the number of stored exemplars by observing different objects to the same category, and so they categorize new objects according to the stored ones” (Krebs, 2005).

The artificial neural networks (ANNs) are very different from the two models mentioned previously. There are two types of ANNs models including the feed-forward network model and the simple recurrent model. The feed-forward network model transfers information in a unidirectional way from input units to output units via a hidden layer. The simple recurrent networks are believed to be more appropriate since they have interconnections between the input units, the hidden layer, and the output units.  The ANNs are a “loose adaptation of the processes by which the brain is thought to operate” (MCMillen & Henley, 2001).  The operating processes of ANNs are analogous to learning by experience as the network “learns associations by modifying the strength of connections between nodes “(McMillen & Henley, 2001). Unlike the other two types of models described above, ANNs are robust and work well with problematic data such as missing data and data with high random variance.

All three of these cognitive models are similar in that they “must account for a common set of empirical laws or basic facts that have accumulated from experiments on categorization” (Krebs, 2005). In addition, they are all based on basic architectural structure derived from the Box-and-Arrow model (i.e., input, cognitive system, and output). Thus, all these models are employed to try to understand and detect cognitive functions of the brain. Furthermore, all three models follow the see-think-and-do architectural sequence. In this sequence, a new stimulus is received; a mental picture of the received stimulus is created; and a stored mental construct is used to predict and/or detect its representation.

The models have many aspects that are related to brain cognitive function and metacognition.  Elman (1993) posits “successful learning may depend in starting small”. This is true not just only for the models but also for the human child. It is believed that the “greatest learning in humans occurs during childhood” (Elman, 1993). This is because most dramatic maturational changes along with the ability to learn complex language patterns occur during childhood (Elman, 1993). Like the human child, “a model succeeds only when networks begin with limited working memory and gradually mature to the adult like state” (Elman, 1993). Consequently, the metacognitive ability of the model, like that of a child, will be more enhanced if the information (input) is restricted to mimic developmental restrictions necessary for mastering complex domains such as language acquisition (Domoney, Hoen, Blanc & Lelekov-Boissard, 2003). 

According to Elman, (1993) training “fails when models (networks) are fully formed and adult like in their capacity”. The reason for the failure may be attributed to the fact that two things are happening when learning complex domains such as language. The first is that we learn through incremental input of simple and childlike language and progressively increase the difficulty to achieve adult language skills. Second, a child’s memory increases in complexity as he/she undergoes developmental changes and matures. For models to be successful, they must take this same approach.  Starting with full adult-level words will lead the model to fail because the model is not given the opportunity to start small and increase in complexity.

There are several relationships between these cognitive functioning models and metacognition.  First, each of the models employs a sequence of “see-think-and-do” (Hudlicka, 2005) similar to a metacognitive process. The models “map incoming stimuli (cue) onto an outgoing behavior (action) through a series of representational structures referred to as mental construct” (Hudlicka, 2005). The mental construct created in the training cycle is then used to predict which action to take when a model encounters a new stimulus that resembles a particular mental construct. The subsequent encounter with stimulus resembles the feedback mechanism in a metacognitive process.  In addition, sequential procedural activities, like those used in these models, help with metacognition.  Finally, the cognitive system architecture of the models resembles metacognitive functions such as “attention allocation, checking, planning, memory retrieval and encoding strategies, and detection of performance errors” (Hudlicka, 2005).

I will now turn to discussing a neurological process that explains some aspects of cognition. According to Straube (2012) “memory formation comprises at least three sub-processes including encoding, consolidations, and retrieval of the learned material”. In other words, for a memory to happen the brain has to encode the incoming imagery, consolidate it, and then retrieve it. However, the processes of encoding, consolidation, and retrieval are prone to many types of errors that may lead to a false or true memory (Straube, 2012).

Declarative memory or long term memory in humans is associated with recall of facts, knowledge, and events (Straube, 2012). Declarative memory is “further divided into semantic memory and episodic memory” (Straube, 2002).  Semantic memory deals with “facts about the world”, while episodic memory “deals with the capacity to re-examine an event in the context in which it originally occurred” (Straube, 2012).  Human memory is governed by many factors including “prior knowledge, present mental state, and emotions” (Straube, 2012). What is retrieved from memory sometimes differs measurably from what was initially encoded. Thus, memory does not “reflect a perfect representation of the external world” (Straube, 2012).

Research indicates that processes like imagery, self-referential processing, and spreading activation at encoding may result in the formation of false memories (Straube, 2012). According to Straube (2012) memory of an imagined event or “fantasy” can later be falsely remembered as a “true” event and lead to the retrieval of a false memory. In brain imagery research, increased brain activity of the precuneus region is believed to “indicate the engagement of visual imagery during encoding which can lead to falsely remembering something that was only imagined” (Straube, 2012).  Brain imaging results have also indicated that “greater activity in the hippocampus was related to correct context”, while the “ventral anterior cingulate cortex was activated for subsequent inaccurate context memory” (Straube, 2012).  Similarly, a study using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) found that “activity in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and visual areas at encoding contribute to both true and false memory and the activity in the left posterior medial temporal lobe (MTL) contribute mainly to formation of true memories” (Kim & Cadeza, 2007).  These results suggest that activity in different regions of the brain is associated with creation of a false and/or a true memory.

Cognitive brain imaging (CBI) research, however, has many critics. Most criticisms relate to three main points: 1) resolution, 2) differences between individuals, and 3) reproducibility. Critics argue that most of the brain imaging technology (i.e., MRI, fMRI, and PET) lacks the ability to capture brain processes at the neuron level.  Instead, their magnification captures processes at the millimeter level, deemed by critics to be too large to detect neural brain activity occurring at the neuron level. Thus, brain imaging technology provides “an inaccurate reflection of the underlying activity” (Logothetis et al, 2001). 

Cognitive brain imaging has also been criticized for not accounting for the differences between individuals.  This issue was addressed in a brain imaging study by Miller and colleagues (2002) who found a lot of variability between individuals and stable variability within individuals. Miller (2002) suggests that brain functions related to memory are not localized and may differ significantly between individuals.  If true, this suggests the need to be cautious when interpreting the results of studies involving the use of brain imaging technology to study memory formation.

The issue of reproducibility has also been a contentious issue in cognitive brain imaging research. Reproducibility is the idea that if you repeat an experiment under the same conditions, you should be able to reproduce the same results as the original investigator. Reproducibility is the hallmark of scientific experimentation that allows researchers in the field to validate or invalidate the results of other researchers and to build on each other’s work.  Critics have argued that results from cognitive brain imaging studies are difficult to reproduce.  As stated by Marshall et al., (2004) the “generally poor quantitative task repeatability highlights the need for further methodological developments before much reliance can be placed on functional MR imaging results of single-session experiments”.

In conclusion, cognitive brain imaging techniques can be plausibly used to study some aspects of brain function (e.g. patterns of activity associated with the basic learning mechanisms which are believed to be localized) but are not as effective at studying more complex brain functions (e.g. memory formation which is not believed to be localized). Caution needs to be taken when interpreting the results of cognitive brain imaging studies until issues of resolution and reproducibility have been addressed. 





Ashby, F. G., & Maddox, W. T. (1993). Relations between prototype, exemplar, and decision bound models of categorization. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 37(3), 372-400.

Domoney, P. F., Hoen, M., Blanc, J. & Lelekov-Boissard. (2003). Neuralogical badis of language and sequential cognition: Evidence from simulation, aphasia, and ERP studies. Journal of Brain and Language, 86, 207-225.

Elman, J. L. (1993). Learning and development in neural networks: the importance of starting small. Journal of Cognition, 48, 71-99.

Gagliardi, F. (2009). The necessity of machine learning and epistemology in the development of categorization theories: A case study in prototype-exemplar debate. In AI* IA 2009: Emergent Perspectives in Artificial Intelligence (pp. 182-191). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Gagliardi, F. (2008). A prototype-exemplars hybrid cognitive model of “phenomenon of typicality” in categorization: A case study in biological classification. In Proc. 30th Annual Conf. of the Cognitive Science Society, Austin, TX (pp. 1176-1181).

 Griffiths, T., Chater, N., Kemp, C., Perfors, A., & Tenenbaum, J. (2010). Probabilistic models of cognition: exploring representations and inductive biases. Journal of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 357-364.

Hudlicka, E. (2005). Modeling interaction between metacognition and emotion in a cognitive architecture. In Proceedings of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Metacognition in Computation. AAAI Technical Report SS-05-04. Menlo Park, CA: AAAI Press. pp. 55-61.


Kim, H. & Cadeza, R. (2007). Differential contributions of prefrontal, medial temporal, and sensory-perceptual regions to true and false memory formation. Journal of Cereb Cortex, 17(9), 2143-2150.

Krebs, P. R. (2005). Models of cognition: Neurological possibility does not indicate neurological plausibility. [Conference Paper]

Logothetis, N. K., Pauls, J., Augath, M., Trinath, T., & Oeltermann, A. (2001). Neurophysiological investigation of the basis of the fMRI signal. Nature, 412(6843), 150-157.

Marshall, I., Simonotto, E., Deary, I. J., Maclullich, A., Ebmeier, K. P., Rose, E. J., … & Chappell, F. M. (2004). Repeatability of motor and working-memory tasks in healthy older volunteers: Assessment at functional MR imaging1. Radiology, 233(3), 868-877.

MCMillen, R. & Henley, T. (2001). Connectionism isn’t just for the cognitive science: neural networks as methodological tools. Journal of Psychology Record, 51(1), 3-18.

Miller, M.B., Van Horn, J., Wolford, G.L., Handy, T.C., Valsangkar-Smyth, M., Inati, S., Grafton, S., & Gazzaniga, M.S. (2002). Extensive individual differences in brain activations during episodic retrieval are reliable over time. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1200 – 1214.

Straube, B. (2012). An overview of the neuro-cognitive processes involved in the encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of true and false memories. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Functions, 8(35), 1-10.

The Critical Pedagogy in Me

Learning to read may take many paths. There are those who learn to read from the whole to the parts and those that learn to read from the parts to the whole. I found my experience to be the former. Growing up in the East African country of Tanzania, I experienced a number of challenges in learning to read. Like in American schools, reading is approached from the parts to the whole in Tanzania. The appropriate route to learning how to read involves teaching the student first the sound, then the letter, and finally the words (Wink, 2011). However, I learned how to read using cartoon characters in the newspaper to understand a story. In her book, Wink calls students like me the “others” because we learn to read from the whole to the parts. I found meaning on what mattered to me first. The sounds, letters and words were not meaningful to me. The big picture or “whole” as told through the cartoon characters was.

Growing up in a village in rural Tanzania, there was no kindergarten and therefore I did not attend one. I learned to read through collecting and reading the cartoon sections of old discarded newspapers. There were no books to go around and the fact that my parents could barely read and write themselves did not help either. Therefore it was through my own efforts and watching others read that I learned to read. Because of the interest I had to read the cartoon characters and to understand what they were saying, I was able to look at the whole picture and then put the pieces together. Thus from my own experience, I believe that children have many paths through which they can learn to read. It might be true that most children learn how to read through the sounds, letters and words first, but many other children learn to read through the whole to the parts. Therefore, one size or methodology does not fit all children when it comes to teaching them to read.  Teachers must be aware of this fact and offer their students a range of options in their course instruction.

As we learn and grow as individuals, our social and cultural context plays a major part in our learning. I learned this concept the hard way in my first two years of teaching. Teaching is my second career. Prior to teaching, I worked in the environmental field for many years. I had the content knowledge and believed that this was all I needed to go into a classroom and be a successful educator. However, I did not realize that students also have their own social and cultural context that influenced their learning. It was not long before I realized that content without pedagogy, methodology and a deeper understanding of my students’ social and cultural context was a recipe for disaster.

I started teaching in the Baltimore City Public Schools System through their Baltimore City Teaching Residency. As a Baltimore City Teacher Resident, I was enrolled at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education and was also assigned a faculty advisor. In my first few weeks of teaching I had to go through the process of “learning, relearning and unlearning” my previous assumptions about teaching. I came to realize that content alone would not help me prosper as an educator. I did not really understand the culture, social interactions, and belief systems of my students. Moreover, I had no solid methodologies for how to teach nor did I have a theory of teaching and learning to ground my praxis. I was completely lost. This is what Wink calls “Contradictions and Change”. According to Freire and Macedo, 1987 (as cited by Wink, 2011) reading the world is as important and more so as reading the word. I had not read my world. I knew the word (the content to teach) but I was clueless as to my world (my students’ social and cultural perspectives and beliefs in education). I had to learn, relearn and unlearn quickly.

The student population at my school was 100% black, low income and low socio-economic status. Coming from Tanzania I thought I was black and I understood what it meant to be black, poor, and of low socio-economic status. I came from those humble roots. I understood early on that education was the only route I had to climb the socio-economic ladder and free myself from the shackles of poverty. This point was emphasized to me repeatedly by my impoverished parents who never had the opportunity to go to school beyond the second or third grade. I thought my students and I were on the same page on the role education could play in their lives. I assumed that because we were all black that we all shared the same culture and beliefs. But, I was very wrong in this assumption. I had to relearn and unlearn my philosophical and cultural position. As Wink (2011) states “in this enlightened-and often uncomfortable-educational space, relearning and unlearning begins.”  I realized we were all black but we all held very different philosophical and social and -cultural positions regarding education. As Vigotsky (as cited in Wink, 2011) puts it, “language and culture drives our thoughts processes”. Through the process of learning, relearning and unlearning, I was able to understand that “culture is not singular, nor is it fixed; it is multiple as in multiculturalism” (Wink, 2011). In order to be an effective educator for my students, I had to challenge my own belief system and begin to understand their thoughts and beliefs.  This is a process I began many years ago and which I find myself continuing to perform with each new class of students that I face. 

Now, I will turn to discussing the three models of teaching. During my education in Tanzania, I was exposed exclusively to the transmission model of learning. According to Wink (2011) the characteristics of the transmission model of learning are that: “The teacher is standing in front of the classroom, and the students are at their seats, which are in rows. They listen to what (s) he says and they write it down in their notes”. This is how I was taught and that is the only way I knew how to teach; thus, this is how I initially taught my students. This model of teaching was boring for my students and was mostly unsuccessful.  Again, I had to learn, relearn, and unlearn my world views on the proper way to learn and teach.

To learn, I had to first name my problems, critically reflect on these identified problems, and then act on my problems to create solutions.  After much reflection, I decided that my main problems were that: (1) I did not know enough about my students to engage them in the learning process and (2) I lacked a solid praxis based on practice, methodology, and theory to guide my teaching. To better understand my students, I conducted some research to find out how kids in urban environments, particularly black kids of lower socio-economic status, learn.  I needed to know which teaching methodologies and practices had been shown to work with these types of students. 

In the course of my research, I found an interested study by Young, Wright and Laster, (2005) entitled “Instructing African American Students”.  Young and colleagues found that there are two types of learners – the global learner and the analytical learner. A global learner (right brain) is visual, tactile and kinesthetic. According to the study, “she/he visualizes what has to be learned, touches what has to be learned and also moves a lot during the learning process”. The authors concluded that most, if not all African American students, are global learners. The authors also argued that instructional variability (movement, oral traditions, visual and touching) are key to ensuring that African American students are successfully engaged in the learning process. Another study by Castle, Deniz, and Tortola (2005) found that need based instruction strategies and grouping students according to their needs was a more effective instructional strategy compared to grouping students by ability in urban school settings. Finally, a study by Heystek (2003) indicated that parental involvement in schools with large African-American populations is limited. They concluded that the “limited involvement in turn, leads to low achievement in most of these schools”.

Presented with the findings from this research review, I had to change the way I taught. Through the process of naming, critically reflecting and acting, I was able to move from the transmission model of teaching to the generative model of teaching. I also believe that the process of critical reflection helped me gain the cultural capital I needed to meaningfully engage my students. To be a generative teacher, I had to learn a number of new teaching techniques including the Socratic dialogue. I learned how to develop questioning techniques (the oratory traditions) that helped my students gain a deeper understanding of the content. For example, during the time I was going through this learning, relearning and unlearning processes, I developed a lesson plan on the concept of carrying capacity (Appendix 1). In this lesson, I wanted my students to understand: 1) what plants needed to survive, 2) what will happen to plants if we vary their requirements, and 3) the overall concept of what the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is (see Appendix I). I used a series of directed questions to help my students gain this knowledge in a way that kept them engaged and let them be discoverers of their own information.  It also helped foster their critical thinking skills. 

In another example, I developed a lesson entitled “Where O’ Where Is All of the Water” (see Appendix 2) to help my students understand how the water cycle was relevant to their lives and not just some abstract concept that they had to learn in science class (Appendix 2). Through the lesson, my students learned how water is distributed around the world. They also learned how they could conserve limited water resources in their own homes and community. Though a letter writing exercise to community leaders, students had the opportunity to use the information they had learned to advocate for environmental protection.  This exercise helped students develop critical thinking and communication skills while arming them with the information they needed to make a persuasive argument.

Along with improving my teaching techniques, I also tried to improve how I assessed my students’ understanding of the material.  After reading Wink’s book, I believe that critical pedagogy runs counter to how we currently assess students in today’s classrooms (Wink, 2011).  Most assessment is currently done through standardized tests. Standardized testing does not assess students’ critical thinking skills nor does it assess higher level skills such as “synthesizing” or “analyzing” information, two skills needed in our increasing technology-oriented society.  A multiple choice test simply is not designed to get at these higher level skills.  Instead, standardized testing focuses on measuring basic understanding of materials (facts) and concepts at a given point in time, and thus, does not adequately prepare students for the work environment.  Moreover, current assessment tools are not suitable for measuring the success of critical pedagogy instruction techniques. Instead, critical pedagogy instruction should be assessed using performance based assessment that “calls for students to typically display fairly high level skills” (Popham, 1997).  In my own classroom, I have tried to supplement required standardized testing with performance based assessment methods to get a clearer understanding of my students’ progress. 

In summary, I found this text to be extremely helpful to me.  I enjoyed how the author used a story telling style to write the text. Often, academic books are written very matter of fact and as a result can be dry and somewhat boring. However, I found this book to be different; the author invites you to create your own understanding of the text through her story telling. I found this approach refreshing. In addition, I was not aware of the term “critical pedagogy” before I read this book.  However, as I read the book, I was happy to discover that I often employ critical pedagogy techniques in my own teaching. This book has empowered me to continue to use these techniques and has given me even more ideas on how to integrate critical pedagogy into my instructional and assessment strategies. As Wink points out, learning does not start and end in the classroom. I want my students to connect their learning experiences with what is happening in their homes, community, and globally. To do that, I will continue to utilize critical pedagogy in my classroom.



American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Castle, S., Deniz, C.B., and Tortola, M. (2005). Flexible grouping and students seanring in a High-Needs School. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(2): 139-150.

Heystek, H., (2003). Parents as governors and partners in schools. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(4): 371-397.

Popham, W. J. (1997). What’s wrong- and what’s right-with rubrics. Journal of Educational Leadership, 55(2): 72-75.

Young, Y.Y., Wright, J.V., and Laster, J. (2005). Instructing African American students. Journal of Education and Urban Society 125(3): 516-524.

Wink, J. (2011). Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World (4th ed). New Jersey, PA: Pearson Education, Inc.




Appendix 1: A Socratic Dialogue on Carrying Capacity in Ecology

Q: Question

EA: Expected Answer

EX:  Explanation

Q:  We are going to explore an ecological idea called carrying capacity. Does everybody see what I have in front of the class?

EA: Yes, you have a jar with a plant in it

Q: What does a plant needs to survive?

EA: It needs food, water, shelter and good weather (many different answers were offered, I only used the correct ones based on the book we were using)

Q: What will happen if I added 400 more seedlings in the same jar?

EA: Some plants will survive and some will die (again, different answers here as well)

Q: Why do you think some plants will die and others will survive?

EA: Because there will not be enough food, shelter, and water to support all the plants.

Q: Let say I increase the space of the container and the amount of water while keeping the same amount of food. Will all the plants survive because they now have enough space and water?

EA: No

Q: Why do you say no?

EA: Because the amount of food is not going to be enough to support all the plants

EX: No matter how much shelter, water, and other resources there might be, the population will not grow much higher because it has reached its carrying capacity. The largest population that an environment can support is called its carrying capacity.



Appendix 2:Where in the World Is All the Water?


Grade level: 9th –Grade: Environmental Science




Students will be able to:

1)      Construct a model illustrating the distribution of the earth’s water.

2)      Graph the distribution of the earth’s water.



Water is the most abundant, unique and important substance on Earth. It is essential to life and is a major component of all living materials. Approximately 1,520 billion liters of water exist on Earth. The earth has been called the water planet. Pictures taken from space show the earth as a big blue marble because of the amount of water found at the surface. The earth’s water, however, is actually found in, on and above the surface in three physical states: solid, liquid and gas. The following is a breakdown of the earth’s water supply: Oceans (97%), glaciers/icecaps (2%), groundwater (0.7%), atmosphere (0.3%), freshwater lakes (0.01%), saline lakes/inland seas (0.01%), soil moisture (0.01%), and rivers (0.001%).



  • ocean
  • glacier
  • icecap
  • groundwater
  • ponds
  • lakes
  • reservoirs
  • rivers



  • 1000 ml beaker
  • 5 cups or small beakers
  • 1000 ml tap water
  • medicine dropper



1)  Introduction (15 minutes)       


Today, we are going to talk about how we conserve water so that we always have enough to drink.

Write the following paragraph on the board and have a student volunteer read it.

“Water is the most abundant, unique and important substance on Earth. It is essential to life and is a major component of all living materials. Approximately 1520 billion liters of water exist on Earth. The earth has been called the water planet. Pictures taken from space show the earth as a big blue marble because of the amount of water found at the surface (show picture). The earth’s water, however, is actually found in, on and above the surface in three physical states: solid, liquid and gas.”


2)  Small group activity (60 minutes)


Break students into groups of six.  Pass out materials to each group.  Instruct each group to fill their 1000mL beaker with 1000mL of tap water. Label the large beaker “ocean” and the 4 cups as follows:

§  1-glaciers/icecaps

§  2-groundwater

§  3-atmosphere

§  4-Surface water

The students should then pour water from the ocean into each of the cups in the proportions they think the water on Earth is distributed. Allow each group to report their distributions.  Pass out the “Did you know” worksheet showing the actual distribution of water.  Have students distribute their water in the correct percentages.  Discuss with students how only a small percent of water is suitable for human use and that it is important to conserve the water that we use in order to ensure that we always have enough.

Distribute graph paper to each student.  Ask them to create a pie chart showing the distribution of water.  Next to their pie chart, have them write some ways they can conserve water. 

3)      Discussion (15 minutes)


Ask students to share some of their ideas for how to conserve water.  Write their suggestions on the board.  Add to list as needed.  Post students’ pie charts outside in the hallway.

4)   Homework


Students should select one of the ways for conserving water and try it at home.  They should record their experiences in their journal for two weeks.



  1. Have students research a water conservation method and present their findings to the class.
  2. On an overhead, show students a list of organizations that are available that offer information about protecting the environment. Allow students to choose one organization they would like to write to receive information. Assign students as homework to write a short letter requesting information from a specific organization. Have them explain in their letters why they are requesting the information (what they are studying). Send home a letter to parents requesting a stamped envelope if possible. Have the school as a return address and mail the letters.
  3. Have students write a letter to a local or national politician (e.g. their Congressman or even the President) stressing the importance of conserving water. 









A Critique: ChemVLab+: Evaluating a Lab Tutor for High School Chemistry

Title of the Article: ChemVLab+: Evaluating a Lab Tutor for High School Chemistry


In the article entitled, “ChemLab+: evaluating a virtual lab tutor for high school chemistry” by Devenport and colleagues., the authors argue that teaching high school chemistry typically involves quantitative problem solving activities with the assumption that students will learn core concepts through manipulation of numbers and symbols. Another assumption is that students who are able to successfully perform complex calculations have mastered these core concepts and this mastery reflects conceptual understanding. Research in chemistry education, however, questions these assumptions. For example, it is unclear if quantitative ability is an indication of conceptual understanding and even high achieving students may lack basic knowledge of core principles.
In their article, Devenport et al., provide several examples to illustrate the lack of validity in the assumption that quantitative ability reflects conceptual understanding. In their first example, they cite a study by Smith & Metz, (1996) which found that students performed well in traditional acid/base assessment using quantitative assessment methods, but failed to identify strong versus weak acids when shown examples in diagrams and/or graphic forms. They argue that this example indicates “that definition terms were used without true comprehension of the concept”.
In addition, the authors argued that the current emphasis on algorithmic problem solving does not adequately prepare students with the conceptual understanding they need to reason in chemistry. To support this view, they use a study by Nakhleh and Mitchel (1993), which found that “when students are given both algorithmic and conceptual items paired for identical concepts, more students were successful on solving algorithmic items rather than conceptual items”. In this study, half of students with high algorithmic performance had low conceptual performance indicating difficulty connecting the mathematical representations with the underlying chemistry concepts. From this study, the authors conclude that the “current emphasis on algorithmic problem solving does not prepare students well with the conceptual understanding needed to reason properly in the world of chemistry”.

Study Design

Due to the mounting evidence (e.g., Bodner & Herron, 2002; Gabel & Bunce, 1994; Nakhleh & Mitchel, 1993; Smith and Metz, 1996) discrediting the assumption that quantitative abilities reflect conceptual understanding, the authors of this study designed an experiment to test an intervention aimed at improving chemistry students’ conceptual knowledge in addition to their quantitative skills. The intervention, ChemCollective Virtual Lab, engages students in meaningful problem solving of complex chemistry concepts to improve their conceptual understanding of core concepts. The authors employ a mixed-methods approach involving classroom observations (the student engagement aspects), pretests and posttests (cognitive and conceptual achievement of both quantitative and conceptual skills), log-file analyses (an instrument to analyze learning as it occurs through repeated student learning growth), and teacher interviews (soliciting input from teachers on what worked and what needed improvement) to evaluate the effectiveness of ChemCollective Virtual Lab.

Strength of the Article

The authors provide a strong justification for their assertion that quantitative ability does not necessarily indicate conceptual understanding of core concepts in chemistry by providing several examples from the literature. Conceptual learning, the authors argue, can only be achieved through authentic manipulation of real world examples, informed negotiation, short-term feedback, and live tutoring. They test this hypothesis by evaluating a chemistry teaching tool they developed, ChemCollective Virtual Labs, which includes exercises to improve both quantitative skills and conceptual learning, the two skills necessary to master chemistry. Through ChemCollective Virtual Labs, students have the opportunity to apply chemistry knowledge to real world examples and receive immediate, individualized feedback
while the system estimates their proficiency in understanding core concepts. The results of the mixed methods evaluation suggest that students were actively engaged with the tool and that they improved their understanding of chemistry. Teachers also found the activities to be worthwhile.
Overall, the authors make a strong case to discredit the assumption that quantitative ability reflects conceptual mastery in chemistry. Their argument is further strengthened by providing evidence of the effectiveness of the ChemCollective Virtual Lab at improving students’ understanding of chemistry by focusing on both quantitative skills and conceptual learning. This article is a good example of how to develop an intervention based on an identified gap in the literature, to test that intervention using a rigorous evaluation, and report the results of the evaluation in a way that can be useful to other educators and researchers.

Weakness of the Article

While I agree mostly with the authors’ argument that quantitative skills do not necessarily reflect conceptual understanding, I question their assertion that virtual tutoring alone can lead to sustained student motivation and engagement over long periods of time. I feel as though a teacher’s role in motivating, monitoring, and explaining the activity and what students need to get from the activity is also important and is insufficiently addressed in this article.
I also question the assertion that computer tutoring alone can improve students’ conceptual understanding of chemistry concepts. Students misunderstanding of key chemistry concepts often arise from deeply held beliefs that they have developed over a long period of time. A single lesson from a computer with simple explanations may not be able to sufficiently address and correct these misconceptions. Teachers, through ongoing observation and engagement with students, can identify and correct these misconceptions. Therefore, while I value the ChemCollective Virtual Lab as a teaching tool, I do not believe that it is a substitute for quality teaching. Without teacher input and engagement, I do not believe that ChemCollective Virtual Lab and tools like it will be successful in the long run. Thus, while ChemCollective Virtual Lab may be an important tool in my arsenal for teaching chemistry, it can’t be the only tool.

Lessons Learned

Since I am interested in evaluating the effectiveness of virtual labs in improving students’ understanding of chemistry concepts for my own thesis, I found this article to be very useful for several reasons:
1. It has provided me with some insights on how I should approach my literature review and in the writing of my conceptual framework. I have discovered that searching the reference lists of relevant articles can help me discover articles directly related to my thesis.
2. I also liked how they used a mixed methods approach including: a) student engagement, b) pretests and posttests, c) and teacher interviews to evaluate their intervention. In my own study, I intend to look at engagement, student achievement on virtual labs versus paper and pencil instructional approaches, and student perceptions to compare the two teaching methods.
3. This article also helped me think about my data analysis plan. The authors used a paired-samples t-test to compare student pre and posttest scores. I may use a similar approach in my thesis. Therefore, I have enhanced my understanding of various approaches for data analysis that I might employ in my own thesis study.
Devenport, J. L., Rafferty, A., Timms, M. J., Yaron, D., & Karabinos, M. (2012). ChemLab+: Evaluating a virtual lab tutor for high school chemistry. The Proceedings of the 2012 International Conference of the Learning Sciences.

High Stakes Standardized Testing in America: The History

Are they being tested too much?
When is enough is enough?

This essay will explore the history of testing in American education, the introduction of standardized testing in American Secondary Education, the philosophical underpinning of these events, the historical perspectives, and the ethical standpoint that led to where we are today. In addition, the essay will also touch on the ontological perspectives, axiological perspectives, and the epistemological perspectives regarding testing and what it means for students to KNOW something that they were taught and how we measure/define knowing.

The frequency with which students are assessed for content understanding and general attainment of information has been rising in the American Education System (Madaus & Clarke, 2001). Currently in Most County Schools students are tested 8-14 times per semester. Those are just state and county mandated tests including benchmarks, Students’ Learning Outcomes (SLOs), and high school graduation tests. When teacher created tests and quizzes are included, an individual student taking a four class load in a block schedule would have been tested 20-25 times by the end of each semester. It is my belief that this frequency of testing is excessive. Subjecting students to this high frequency of testing and the magnitude some of these tests bear each testing period is ridiculous to say the least. In my view, I do not believe that the high-stakes tests and the frequency in which they are offered improve accountability for teachers, administrators or school districts. If this was the case, Finland would not be ranked number 1 in the world for science and mathematics since Finland only test its secondary students just twice in their secondary education careers (Washington Post, 2012).

In America, policymakers argue that in-order to improve students’ performance teacher, administrators, and school districts need to be held accountable for students’ achievement (Ravitch, 2002).  However, the frequency under which these tests are offered has been found to be associated with students not taking testing in general seriously anymore (Ravitch, 2002). Despite of the increase in testing frequency, American students’ scores when ranked with their peers in the developed world around the world has been declining steadily (Washington Post, 2012).

Testing and methods for measuring students understanding of content can be traced to the Socratic era in ancient Greece. During the Socratic era, students were asked to respond to questions posed by their instructor to gauge their understanding of concepts and to encourage their critical thinking. Socrates used a dialogue between himself and his students to gauge their understanding and to help them create their own understanding of concept. Even before Socrates, conversational dialogue was used to assess students’ understanding and knowing (Frost, 1989).

Testing in the American Education System was modeled after education systems in Europe.  Colonists brought the idea of testing with them when they founded schools in the newly formed United States (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). Testing can be traced directly to the one-room schools and the church schools in colonial America (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). Even apprenticeship schools used testing to gauge mastery of student’s learning. Testing was never used to evaluate the teachers’ effectiveness at that time and students who failed were deemed to be incapable of learning and therefore were subsequently left behind (Madaus & Clarke, 2001).

In the late 1800s, prestigious universities including Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Yale introduced college entrance examinations as a basis for admission.  Other universities did not have this requirement.  To further complicate the issue, each prestigious university had its own separate entrance exam.  The different requirements for admission at each of the universities, led school principals and parents to complain that is was difficult to prepare students for the multitude of college entrance exams at these universities.  To harmonize the process, the College Entrance Examination Board was created to prepare and oversee a single test for college admission (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). This was the beginning of the standardized tests phenomenon that we see today in the education system in America.

In the early 1900s teachers also were required to take entrance exams. But, once they were interviewed and offered a job with an interviewing panel that included a clergy and the local school board members, a teacher would never again be subjected to testing related to their performance, suitability and/or capacity to teach. Testing for results based accountability in the American education is a contemporary phenomenon (Ravitch, 2002).

Moreover, the early 1900s was a tumultuous time in education. This is the time when educational psychology was introduced into the education field. Education psychologists believe that there is a need to justify education as a scientific endeavor. Thus, demonstrating that education can be measured through experimentation and testing was a major aim of educational psychologists at the time.  The leading educational psychologist of the early 20th century, Edward L Thondike, was determined to demonstrate that education is an exact science through education testing. Most education psychologists of the 1920s and the 1930s were heavily interested in devising a testing instrument to help teachers diagnose students’ understanding of concepts and consequently to develop interventions based on data. However, the educational psychologists of the time never intended for their tests and data accumulated from the testing to be used for educational accountability.

The 1930s witnessed the Great Depression. Due to e economic hardship of the period, education progressives gained huge influence. They wanted schools to be friendly to students who were not interested in traditional schooling. Educational progressives of the time cared more about students’ adjustment in schools. The emphasis on a child’s social adjustment took the front seat over grades, subject mastery and discipline (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). They started using the testing instrument developed by educational psychologists to identify and develop remedial education for disinterested kids in schools. These educational progressive felt that education was a right for all children and believed in the philosophy that every child can learn. This era was the beginning of social promotion as we know it today. All these events happened at the time when there were no job to be had by high school dropout during the peak of the depression and therefore keeping kids in school was a better option at the time. The testing that was done during this period was mainly to inform teachers where students were and how to device learning goals to help them learn. The data collected had no bearing to student’s promotion nor was it used as a tool for evaluating the performance of teachers, administrators, or school districts.

The 1950s and early 1960s were a special time in American education. From the Sputnik report, the decisions of Wade vs. Board of Education, and the release of the book “What Ivan knows that Jonny Doesn’t?” created an atmosphere for educationists and policymakers to try to find answers to what was perceived to be going wrong with the education system in America (Urban & Wagoner, 2009). The reports, the book, and the decisions for equal education opportunities for all Americans lead in one way or another to the introduction of data driven accountability in the American Secondary Education System.

The report by sociologist James Coleman in 1966 entitled “Equality of Educational Opportunities” was the landmark report that started to pique the interest of policymakers in using achievement data to hold teachers, administrators, and districts accountable for student’s low performance. The report was significant in many ways including its emphasis on a shift from input oriented education system to results oriented education system. Prior to this report, educationalists believed that many of the low achieving problems in the school systems will eventually be eliminated through more funding. The Coleman report shifted the emphasis onto accountability. This shift led many policymakers to start examining how school resources affected student’s performance and achievement. The 1960s was a very interesting time in America. Events such as the civil rights movement provided most of the impetus to what was happening in the education system. The drive for education equality and opportunities for all Americans led to more scrutiny on student’s score data. The gap that existed and that continues to exist between white Americans and other minorities groups especially African Americans, pushed for accountability in education to improve achievement for the racially disadvantaged groups.

The establishment of the National Assessment of Education Progress and the Department of Education in the 1970s also led to a shift from inputs (resource) to outputs (results).  This shift was fueled by the readily available testing data which allowed policy makers to compare student achievement across regions and ethnic groups.  The international testing of mathematics and science provided even more data on how American secondary school students faired when compared to students from other industrialized nations. The fact that American students performed poorly on mathematics and science tests when compared to other industrialized countries added more pressure for policymakers to tie student’s achievement to teachers, administrators, and districts and to hold them accountable for poor student performance. 

The 1960s and 1970s also witnessed a growing tension between the professional educators who believed in the input model (resources will solve the underachievement problems) and the policymakers’ output model (results and accountability will drive instruction). Public pressures from parents, stakeholders and policymakers to see improvement in the low achievement scores among minority groups have kept the focus on using standardized testing for accountability. In the 2000s, laws like “The No Child Left Behind Act” and “Race To The Top,” new evaluation systems such as Teacher Keys were introduced.  These laws and evaluation systems placed renewed emphasis on using standardized testing as a mechanism for accountability.

Currently, there is a war between these two camps or paradigms in the American Education System. On one hand, the results from accountability and data driven evaluation have shown some promise in states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, and North Carolina (Ravitch, 2002). The achievement gap between blacks and white students in these states has narrowed after the introduction of results based assessment for teachers, administrators, and school districts. However, elsewhere in the country the results are mixed, and in many states and districts across the country, the achievement gap between the racial groups—whites and Asians on one hand and blacks and Latinos on the other—is widening even faster.  On the other hand, professional educators argue that more resources are needed to narrow this achievement gap as educational budgets have been continually slashed over the past decade.

Presently, American education will continue to be dominated with these two paradigms: the professional education paradigm who believes increased resources will solve the problems and the policymaker paradigm who believes public education should follow the business model of incentives and sanctions based on performance. As the war wages on, whatever paradigm wins will determine the direction that the American education system will go. In my view, it is going to be very difficult to change the current testing culture to include performance-based assessment that measure what students’ can do. The pressure put forth by the testing companies, businesses and universities who are profiting magnificently from the current testing environment is too great for policymakers to ignore. I am most definitely sure that all the testing companies will join hands to fight tooth and nails whoever is trying to change the current system that is benefiting them greatly (Frediriksen, 1984).

While the battle rages on, both camps need to realize that:

  • Throwing money at education by and in itself rarely produce results. To achieve improvement system-wide, focused approach and long-term strategies are needed.
  • Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Treatment of teachers as valuable professionals including a living wage will be helpful.
  • The cultural assumptions and values surrounding education can do more to support or undermine it.
  • Education system should strive to keep parents informed and work with them. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviors of education.
  • Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly. Teaching for the present job opportunities is a disservice to our young people because most of jobs they will be working on are possibly not created yet.

There is no argument that knowledge is important.  The question, however, is how we assess that knowledge.  While in today’s school environment standardized testing is the main method utilized for assessing students’ knowledge, Socratic dialogue and other dialogue techniques is a better method for assessing student knowledge.  For the Greeks being able to articulate concepts and being  able to do the task or the skills associated with the learning experience was  a basis for ensuring students had adequately grasped the concepts conveyed by the teacher (Frost, 1989).  In contrast, standardized tests merely diagnose what students have learned on a prescribed curriculum rather than what they can do or perform (e.g. report writing, synthesizing information, conducting basic and advanced research topic).  These tests are therefore, limited in their ability to truly measure what students have learned during a course (Madaus & Clarke, 2001).

For me, the pendulum has swung too far over to using standardized tests as measures of accountability.  Instead, I would like to see more performance based testing used in the classroom which measures what students can do with their knowledge and less standardized testing which only simplistically measures recall of basic information.  Others, however, have argued that performance based assessment also has limitations including time constraints, resource constraints, and the training required to effectively assess students’ knowledge with these methods (Linn, 2013).  While I acknowledge these potential limitations, I firmly believe that performance based assessment is a critical component of a comprehensive assessment of student achievement based on my years of teaching. The use of standardized testing as the sole method for assessing student performance is inadequate and short sighted.  If we truly want to understand if students have absorbed the material and are able to apply this knowledge in their everyday lives, we need to include performance based testing as part of a comprehensive assessment strategy. 




Best Education in the World: Finland, South Korea Top World Rankings, U.S. Ranked Moderate (2012). Washington Post: Accessed: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/best-education-in-the-wor_n_2199795.html

Frederiksen, N. (1984). The real test bias: Influences of testing on teaching and learning.

          American Psychologist 39(2), 78-81.

Frost, S. E. (1989). Basic teachings of the great philosophers. Garden City, NY: Random House, Inc.

Madaus, G. F., & Clarke, M.(2001). The adverse impact of high stakes testing on minority students: evidence from 100 years of test data. In G. Orfield and M. Kornhaber (Eds.), Raising standards or raising barriers? Inequality and high stakes testing in public education. New York: The Century Foundation.

Ravitch, D.(2002). A brief history of testing and accountability. Accessed: http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/7286

Urban, J. W., & Wagoner, L. J.(2009). American education: A history. New York, NY:  Taylor & Francis.

Wiggins, G. (1989). A true test: Toward more authentic and equitable assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 70(9), 703-713.

Wiggins, G. (1988). Rational numbers: Scoring and grading that helps rather than hurts learning. American Educator, 20(25), 45- 48



Student Survey: Predictors of Students’ Scores on the Biology and Physical Science EOCTs in Georgia.

Student Survey: Predictors of Students’ Scores on the Biology and Physical Science EOCTs in Georgia.

Ethnicity and/or Race

Check the box next to the correct term that correctly describes your race or ethnicity.

Black/African American 

Latino/Hispanic 

Caucasian 

Asian 


Parents’/Guardian’s Income

Do you receive free or reduced lunch and/or breakfast?

Yes 



Check the box that correctly describes your gender.

Male 


EOCT Scores

Be honest in reporting your EOCT score for the following subjects.
Check the appropriate box.
a) I passed my Biology EOCT the first time I took it. 

Yes   


b) I passed my Physical Science EOCT the first time I took it. 

Yes   


In Nothingness Is Nothing

Nothing happens in a vacuum as they say. What happens in the education system is always a reflection of what is going on in that society—socially, economically and otherwise. What type of education do we want for our youth? What knowledge is of most worth in our society? Who should get it? These are some of the questions we need to ponder as a society. Passing blames to teachers and parents after the facts is not going to cure the ailment.

The last week’s form IV results did not just happen from nowhere. These results are a products of ill-conceived policies from Kigamboni that were years in the making. The passing on of blames like we always do will not cut this time around. Too much is at stake here. The country’s security is at stake. Here are the historical failure trends from 2009 to present: 2012 Form 4 results

DIV 1: 1,641 (0.4%)
DIV 2: 6,453 (1.6%)
DIV 3: 15,426 (3.9%)
DIV 4: 103,327 (26.0%)
DIV 0: 240,903 (60.1%)

2011 Form 4 results

DIV 1: 3,671 (1.09%)
DIV 2: 8,112 (2.41%)
DIV 3: 21,794 (6.84%)
DIV 4: 146,639 (43.60%)
DIV 0: 156,085 (46.41%)

2010 Form 4 results

DIV 1: 5,363 (1.53%)
DIV 2: 9,944 (2.83%)
DIV 3: 25,107 (7.14%)
DIV 4: 136,777 (38.9%)
DIV 0: 174,407 (49.60%)

2009 Form 4 results

DIV 1: 4,419 (1.78%)
DIV 2: 10,493 (4.21%)
DIV 3: 27,310 (11.2%)
DIV 4: 130,651 (52.61%)
DIV 0: 65,708 (26.46%)

 For starters, most teachers are ill prepared to teach the content they are teaching and parents are ill prepared to supplement the gap. So talking about parents’ involvement is just something I do not see value in right now. The pass rate numbers in Tanzania has been dwindling and going backwards for the past decade. No one was even looking at the trend and creating solutions to the impending disaster. You know the song: KINGA is better than CURE!

 Here is a personal example: I myself went to school all the way to UDSM in Tanzania. Never one time had my parents looked at my notebooks (the parents’ involvement piece). My parents are illiterate, not by choice, but victims of their times (Many of the students in Tanzania from rural areas and even the cities fall under this category). But, I was able to go to school and do well because the education system was a flat system back then. If the system is working as it is intended to, parents involvement is not such a significant factor.

The other issue back then was Equal resources in most schools which is not the case today. Some of the ward schools don’t even qualify to be called schools. Some have one teacher for 300 students. What kind of a miracle worker do you think these individuals are? What is the likely outcome?

Tanzania Form IV Results 2013: The Saga Continues!

The Tanzania form IV results 2013 are out and the picture they paint isn’t pretty. Let me get straight to the numbers first. The breakdowns by divisions are as follows:  division I-1,641; division 2-6,453; division 3- 15,426; division 4- 103,327, and division 0-240,903.  And the breakdown by gender for those who received divisions 1-3 are as follows: girls =7, 178 and boys = 16, 342.

Once again I have written and spoke about this trend for the past 3 years on the kibogoji blog. I guess you can read some of my previous posts on this issue to better inform yourself about the factors that have led to the scores to drop over the years. In some of those posts I attempted to offer solutions to this problem. Increasing the budget to education isn’t the solution, but most politicians in Tanzania seem to think and believe that it is.

On the numbers above, I feel like it is a letdown to women in Tanzania who have against all odds worked so hard to compete with men over the years and they had been doing really well on the education front. Looking at the gender disaggregated data, less than one half of the students who received divisions 1-3 are females. This is pathetic and is a major letdown to the women in Tanzania.

In this article I will not discuss what needs to be done from now forward. What I will say is this, action is needed and now.

Tanzanian Kids Going to School
Tanzanian Kids Going to School

This trend of failures cannot be sustained if the country wants to stay in the race to compete with other nations—academically, economically, and socially. I am damn sure that these results will prompt a knee jerk reaction through which committees will be formed and none in terms of their recommendations will be implemented.

It is high time for a reshuffle at the ministry level. The president cannot keep quiet no longer on the future of Tanzania, which is education to the youth. The minister and his high ranking files have failed to offer solutions to this problem for the past three years. Some heads need to roll.

Who will stand up and take responsibility for this if the president can’t do it? Can the good and law abiding citizens of Tanzania demand accountability? Accountability on how their tax money is spent? who spends it? and for what? To be exact, only 5.6% of those who sat for this exam got divisions 1-3 and the rest failed. That is 94.4%. Getting a division IV is equivalent to failing in my book—I do not know about you?

Swahili To Be The Language of Instruction in Tanzania.

Not so fast!!!

This debate comes and goes. The debate normally arise whenever secondary schools results comes out. And, it is especially true when students achievement scores are terrible. Educationists in Tanzania will normally and easily point their fingers to English as the culprit. The argument always goes like, “see, I told you so, we can’t test them in English. It is unfair to them. They don’t know English. Let us switch to Swahili alone as the medium of instruction.”

The argument above is flawed in several ways. One way of debunking this argument is by looking at primary school results. The pass rate there is not great either. In 2011 the numbers were 30% passing to 70% effective failures. In primary schools Swahili is the only medium of instruction for all subjects. If English is the only reason for all these massive failures at the secondary level, then, why are the primary school students failing miserably despite the fact that all subjects are taught in Swahili?

This shows  that it isn’t the language of instruction alone that is causing these massive failures.

As an educationalist myself, I knew all along that there are many variables that co-vary with the language of instruction. These may include: 1) teacher absenteeism, 2) a disconnect between the test and material taught, 3) lower pay, 4) instructional strategies used, 5) language of instruction, and the list doesn’t end there. Watch my Factors Affecting the Education System in Tanzania video on you tube under Kibogoji Conversations and read my other articles on the state of the education system in Tanzania here. In some of these articles I attempted to explain in detail the solutions to this year in and year out problem in exam achievement.

Here is a blog post with more information on the same subject. Click here to read the post.

To add salt to a wound, here are this year’s standard seven results as broken down by the IPP MEDIAs’ newspaper. Of-course, standard seven students are all taught in Swahili except for the subject of English. Below are the numbers showing how they did in the examination.

Total number of students who took the exam: 456,082.

Breakdown by gender: girls (52.68 per cent) and 409,745 boys (47.32 per cent).

Of those who passed: 3,087 candidates scored grade A, 40,683 grade B, 222,103 grade C.

Total pass rate: 265,873 (30%).

Of those who failed: 526,397 grade D, 73, 264 grade E.

Total failure rate: 599,661 (70%).

From all this data, one can conclude that the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence clearly indicate that English is not the only variable that is ailing the Tanzanian education system. Maybe it is the right time to say that Swahili is the cause of all these massive failures. I believe it is high time to ask ourselves what are the causes (a variety of them) of the under-performance rather than looking for a single cause. When we ask ourselves the right questions, we normally come up with the right answers to complex problems such as this one.


Andragogy: My Education Philosophy

I believe that education is a collaborative process between the educator and the students. I feel that educators should recognize that students bring their own experience and skills to the classroom. In other words educators should view their students as active partners in the learning process and not as passive participants. In so doing, the educator and the students can learn from each-other to enhance content and general knowledge understanding for both parties. In this essay, I will present a brief overview of my personal belief about education and educating students, I will explain my views on what roles educators should play and what roles students should play to making learning a meaningful experience for both students and educators.

First, I believe that the role of an educator is to introduce students to new ideas and skills and then assist them in integrating those ideas and skills into their own experiences. I am not fond of the uni-directional learning approach whereby the educator imparts knowledge to the learner. Instead I subscribe to the bi-directional learning approach whereby the educator and students work hand in hand/together to discover knowledge and meaning. In this era of multiple accesses to information, educators cannot be and should not try to be the sole source of information to students. In fact, educators should use different type of presenting information to students such as lecture, video, computer related technologies, guest speakers and field trips.

In addition, educators should help students to think through issues critically. And challenge students to see the relevance of education to their lives. By doing so, the educator would cultivate a student culture that values new information and also are able to integrate the skills and ideas they have learned into their own world view and perspectives. In addition, educators should foster a lifelong love of learning in their students that will continue on long after class has ended.

Second, educators have a responsibility to create an environment in the classroom that encourages students to actively participate in their learning. Students should be made to feel that it is safe to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of reprisals from either the educator or other students. I strongly believe that this is one of the responsibilities of a reflective and professional educator. And again, without creating an environment of mutual respect between the educator and the students; and amongst the students themselves, no real learning will happen. Therefore it is paramount for educators to take their responsibilities serious and to create a classroom environment and culture that is conducive and receptive to learning for all. For instance, the educator is responsible for setting the tone of all discussions as one of mutual respect where everyone’s ideas are viewed as important contribution. It is important that the educator create an atmosphere where certain students-whether because of race, gender, national origin, or educational attainment- do not feel marginalized. All students should feel equally valuable to the learning process.

Third, educators also have the responsibility to come fully prepared for the classroom session. I believe that educators have the responsibility to fully research the topic and have a good grasp of the subject matter before making any demonstration and/or presentation to the students. Being well prepared helps an educator to reduce a lot of the commotion and misbehavior issues that impedes students’ learning. Educators have the responsibility to develop clear, straightforward presentations of material that can be easily understood by students. Educators should facilitate student participation by encouraging students to ask questions throughout the presentation and by pausing at specific junctures to ask students their thought and/or opinion on the material. The learning material needs to be chunked-up and delivered in a way that meets the multiple learning styles and needs of the students. Educators should make their lessons and all the learning activities relevant to their students’ lives and interests.

Undoubtedly, technology and other social media usage in the classroom help students to stay engaged and on task throughout the lesson. Therefore, educators should use multiple teaching strategies to meet all their students’ learning needs inside and outside the class sessions. Tapping into the social media can potentially be a helpful learning experience for both the students and the teachers. Currently there are several social media gadgets that are educator and student friendly. These gadgets can be used to provide instant assessment and feedback to student and also to keep students interest in the lesson for the entire length of the period.

In terms of students’ responsibilities to the learning process, first, I think that students have a responsibility to be prepared when they come to class by doing the necessary readings, and bringing the required supplies. I also believe that they have the responsibility to be active participants in their own learning. Students who are well prepared for class by doing the necessary reading and by attending tutorials generally do better on tests and quizzes. They also appear to really enjoy the course and the material presented in class. This is just speaking from my own observations and experience as a classroom/lecture hall educator.

Second, students must also be willing to critically examine their own attitudes and be open to new ideas and ways of viewing the world. Students, who are open to new information, will likely be able to integrate the new information into their own realm of thinking. Therefore, it is crucial for students to not be closed minded as in doing so they fail to acquire new skills and information necessary for them to grow academically and professionally.

Third, students must be willing to engage in the discussions and work together with the teacher and other students to challenge their pre-conceived notions and expand their knowledge base. It is imperative for students to be able to share their experiences among themselves and with the teacher during group discussions. This will not only foster a sense of belonging in the class but will also help the students to integrate the new skills into their own frame of reference and therefore building a deeper meaning of what they are learning.

Thus, learning in one hand is a collaborative process in which students and educators have unique roles to play. The educator must be well informed about the subject matter and the pedagogy that drives the instruction. In addition, the educator must be able to create a conducive and respectful environment for-all-in-the classroom and should foster students’ learning using a variety of learning and teaching strategies. On the other hand, students should be willing to critically examine their own altitude and be open to new ideas and ways of viewing the world around them. For example, students should be willing to engage in the discussions and work together with each other and the teacher to challenge their pre-conceived notions and expand their knowledge base.

Historical Examples of Scientific Cheating: The Mismeasure of Man

Chapter one of the book entitled The Mismeasure of Man discuss various issues related to the concept called biological determinism. According to Gould (1996) biological determinism is a belief that races, classes, and sexes are biologically determined. This concept tries to justify that “social and economic differences between human groups” are inheritable, inborn, and that “people at the bottom of the social economic ladder are constructed by poor materials i.e. poor brains, bad genes, or whatever”. In addition, the author caution against an over-reliance on data collected by socially biased scientists to justify the existence of biological determinism. He argued that scientists are subjected to an undue influence by their own culture. Therefore, whatever scientific truth the scientists tries to seek, how they go about collecting data, and how they go about interpreting the data–is somewhat influenced by their social and cultural prejudices. Overall, objectivity and truth are highly influenced by societal norms and cultural context.

Several scientists in the history of science have cheated in one way or another. I will mention some of them in the following paragraphs.
The first instance of scientific cheating either intentionally or unintentionally mentioned in the book was by Cyril Burt who documented fabricated data compiled by a nonexistent Ms. Conway on IQ of identical twins (Gould, 1996, p. 52 &59). The second scientific cheating mentioned in the book was by Goddard who altered photographs of the Kallikaks to suggest mental retardation. According to Gould (1996), Goddard’s fraud was mainly caused by social prejudice and clearly demonstrates a conscious attempt to falsify data to fit societal expectations. The two examples of historical scientific cheating are all mentioned the first chapter of the book.

In chapter two, the author discusses the craniometrical theory—“the first biological theory supported by an extensive amount of falsely collected and interpreted data in favor of biological determinism (Gould, 1996, p. 63). The cultural and political milieu of the eighteen and nineteen century hugely influenced the views on race. In this era most people believed on racial ranking “with Indians below whites and blacks below everybody else” (Gould, 1996, p.63). Within this context, two groups existed in the western world, the so called hard-liner who believed that blacks were inferior. In their views this was justification enough for blacks’ enslavement and colonization. The other group, the so called the soft-liners supported the views that blacks were inferior, however they were in favor of people’s right to freedom despite their societal prejudice against blacks.

Another instance of scientific cheating was that done by Etiene Serres, a famous French medical anatomist who collected data on the distances between the navel and penis during human development–from childhood to adulthood. He found out that the navel migration was longer for whites than in blacks. He therefore concluded that backs were inferior to whites. Based on the data, he came up with the theory of recapitulation—“the idea that higher creatures repeat the adult stages of lower animals during their own growth—suggesting that blacks are still in the babe stage and Chinese were at the juvenile stage ” (Gould, 1996, p. 72). In addition, Charles White, an English surgeon used craniometrical data to support the idea of polygeny—origin from many sources—in his 1799 book called the Account of Regular Gradation in Man. He abandoned Bufoni’s definition of species based on interbreeding resulting to viable offspring and rallied on the idea that climate influenced racial differences” (Guild, 1996, p. 73).

Louse Agassiz was another scientist who spent a lot of time as a spokesman for the polygenic theory. He never generated any data to support his claims on the theory. I think he was either pressured by his colleagues at Harvard or his encounter with blacks in America made him abandon his biblical orthodox of a single Adam in favor of many Adams—one for each race.

Other scientists who intentionally cooked the book to advance the societal norm of black inferiority in the western hemisphere are Samuel George Morton and S.A. Cartwright. Cartwright Identified two diseases for black slaves, 1) drapetomania—“the insane desire for slaves to run away” and 2) dysesthesia, “a disease of inadequate breathing”. He used the two diseases as criterion for keeping slaves into permanent enslavement. Lastly but not least, Morton painstakingly collected skulls to measure brain volumes. He collected craniometrical data from skulls of whites, blacks, Indians and Mongolians. He found that the brain sizes were highest for whites and smallest for blacks hence justifying the ranking of the races. Conversely, he had major flaws on how he collected the data—“procedural omission, subjectivity directed to prior prejudice, inconsistencies and criteria shifting and a lot of miscalculations” to making data fit his predetermined notion that black were inferior to all the races (Gould, 1996).

Gould, S. J. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York. United States: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Zitto Kabwe: The Bottom 30 Millions.

Generations left behind
Generations left behind

A few weeks ago Mr. Zitto Kabwe wrote an article on his blog “Kabwe na Demokrasia” entitled “The Bottom 30 Millions”. This article gave a succinct analysis of the deliberate policies and priorities put forth by the government at Magogoni that aim to keep the 30+ millions of poor Tanzanians in the rural areas in abject poverty. It is not rocket science to see the facts in their misplaced policies and priorities. If you look at education, the expansion of school buildings and enrollment at the secondary level is commendable but it has failed to meet the quality education delivery expectations of the students and the country.  This misplaced policy alone is leaving millions of poor children at ward schools unprepared, uneducated, and unemployable each year. This is what I call a deliberate “mis-education” process of the poor masses in rural Tanzania.

Targeted policies are needed to reach the bottom 30 millions
Targeted policies are needed to reach the bottom 30 millions

The education policy is just one among many policies put forth by the Magogoni government. Other policies include the famous “Kilimo Kwanza.” This beautiful policy on paper has not been well executed in the rural areas. There are very good languages in the policy like lending farmers tractors and farm implements to help them increase productivity. However, the realities in the villages are quite different. Very few farmers (peasants) can afford to buy a tractor outright at Tshs 30,000,000. Furthermore, many do not know and/or have the information on how the banking system works.

kids left behind
kids left behind

For the banks to lend you money, you need to have collateral. Collateral can be a house or a titled deed of your piece of land. Since many peasants don’t have titles to their land and also don’t have houses that are valuable for the loans—they end up not receiving the tractor and farm implement loans. In addition, it is hard and sometimes completely impossible for the ministry of land employees to come to a village and issue land titles to these poor souls.  Therefore the whole policy is self defeating.

Kilimo Kwanza
Kilimo Kwanza

To sum this all up, only the rich and the well connected can actually take advantage of the Kilimo Kwanza policies. And they are doing just that. Thus supporting Kabwe’s saying that these policies are deliberately designed to leave behind 30+ millions real people that would otherwise benefit from these policies and in return benefit the nation as a whole. My point here is that–we have seen these shenanigans over and over again. When id enough is enough for gods’ sake? What are Tanzanians doing to change the status quo?

Targeted policies are needed to reach the bottom 30 millions
Targeted policies are needed to reach the bottom 30 millions

left behind by kilimo kwanza

Left Behind

Will the “Kiswahili only” Language of Instruction Model be the Answer for the Massive Failures in Tanzania?

This debate come and go every year when the dismal pass rates of our secondary and primary school students are announced. This year, this same debate came with a twist. The guardian newspaper reported recently that the Deputy Minister for Education and Vocational Training Philipo Mulugo and the government of Tanzania are in the process of drafting a new policy to make Kiswahili the language of instruction in both primary and secondary schools in Tanzania.

It is indeed true that the current system is not working. Everyone agrees with this premise. To make this situation worse, there is no ideal solution to the problem. This problem is so complex and multi-faceted.

While I see the value of a Kiswahili only model in improving students’ scores and comprehension for all the subjects matter, I fear that this new system will only perpetuate the already existing stratified education system in Tanzania between the very few “ the haves” and the majority of the “have-nots”. The “haves” will continue to send their children to English Medium Schools while the poor will be stuck with the Swahili only schools, creating a country of masters and slaves in the not too far future. If we are not already there?

Is this what we really want?

the path to improving the system relies on a strengthened bilingual education system model.  A strengthened bilingual education system model will put enough resources to colleges to be able to teach teachers the current research based teaching methods which will not only benefit educators but, students as well. To provide professional development opportunities for teachers by improving their working conditions, to pay them a livable wage, and to attract more people to become teachers. Furthermore, to encintivise the good teachers to stay in the profession for a long enough time for them to become competent and efficient educators. Without those kinds of incentives, the change of language of instruction alone will not yield anything worthwhile.

The argument that changing just the language of instruction will yield the desired results is flawed. Don’t we already have English teachers in these schools? Why then are the students not learning English proficiently?The problem impacting the education system in Tanzania is not largely due to the language of instruction.  If that was the case, we would see a huge pass rate in primary schools where mostly everything is taught in Kiswahili. The TWAWEZA report on this matter last year point to the contrary. Kids are not learning anything worthwhile in primary school either.

Resources needs to be improved, from teacher quality, the teaching environment, and to teaching tools.

I realize that there is a huge difference between learning English and being taught in English. Switching just the language of instruction will not be the solution to the massive failure rates in both primary and secondary schools. The problem is deeper than that. Huge systematic and policy changes need to happen before we see a real and meaningful uptick in the pass rates. Maybe pairing our existing teachers with teachers from abroad over a long time “ten years” could be something to be explored. The East Asian countries used this model and they are doing very well. Maybe we can learn from them this time around.

Tanzania Form IV Results 2011: Abysmal Again.

Once again, it is that time of the year when the Form IV results from the Tanzania National Examination Council comes out.  To be specific, the 2011 Form Results were officially announced yesterday.  This is the time when I post the snippets of what has happened with the numbers. My prediction looking to the future last year was that, the pass rates percentages will remain largely low in the foreseeable future.

The major factors contributing to the low performance are many. I will list just a few: 1) The Ward school’s lack of well qualified staffs and resources and 2) The social promotion of those who failed Form II Examination is catching up with the ill-advised policy, 3) Lack of English proficiency for the language of instruction for both students and teachers, 4) Lack of content knowledge and  pedagogical skills for the teachers (quality instructional practices).

Here is the breakdown (Tanzania Form Four, Pass Rates 2011a) of the number for the 2011 just announced results. Out of 459,324 students who registered to take the examination, 426,314 students took the exams and 53.37% of them passed it.  There was a 2.63% uptick in pass rates for this year comparing to last year’s results of 50.74%. The 2011 results are still approximately 20% drop from the 2009 pass rate of 72.51%.

Just looking at the numbers on the attached Excel graph, there is no significant performance improvement graphically speaking. Failure rate stabilization is the correct term to use in this year’s characterization of the Form IV results.

The results provided by NECTA did not provide a meaningful disaggregation of the 53.37 pass rate for this year. Meaningful numbers of the 53.37% who passed the exams; how many got division Ones, twos, threes and fours? Those numbers would offer a better picture than the pass rate comparison that is currently used. Here is graphical representation of the(Kwiro Center Form IV Results 2011 ) in Mahenge-Ulanga, Morogoro.

Maybe the failure rates have hit the bottom, but I would not say that there was a performance improvement in exams results this year. The numbers will largely stay at this level for years to come until the four factors I mentioned earlier have been addressed.

Tanzania STD 7 Results 2011: The ups and the downs.

How Can They Cheat
How can a student cheat under these conditions?. Leaking exams–maybe the culprit.

There is a Swahili saying that goes like “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers”. This saying came to my mind today as I was reading articles and comments related to the release of the 2011 Standard Seven Examination results in Tanzania. A total of 983,545 students sat for Standard Seven Examination in 2011. It is true that some gains have been made on the pass rate of standard seven graduates from 2010 to 2011. There has been a 4.76% jump over the one year period from 53.52% in 2010 to 58.28% in 2011. That in itself is commendable.

On the flip-side, cheating incidents have increased 78.5 times over the same period. From 124 cancelled student’s results in 2010 to 9,736 cancelled student’s results in 2011. Student cheating during examination in the Tanzanian education system is not a new phenomenon. Leaking of examination papers goes way back since the time I was in primary school.

The question is “who is leaking exams at the Ministry, the regional, and the school levels?.” There is no need to be complacent. Leaked examination papers always shows up each year close to the testing period. It is a huge business and almost everyone in the education field in Tanzania knows this. At times, three to five exam papers maybe circulating all over the country. Do we also blame the pupils for that? I also find the mass punishment of the pupils and parents caught up in this mess is excessive. Adults need to be held accountable here and not children. However, I do agree with the suggestions to establish a “Form One” entrance exam to all incoming Form One students to assess their abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics.

What Made 2011 Special for Me?

This was an incredible year. I finally had the opportunity to visit Soweto. It was an incredible moment for me to see the houses of both my favorite South African leaders, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. 

I also had the opportunity to work with my co-workers to organize an event to raise funds for the Mutombo Dikembe Foundation. I have always thought that I was of a decent height, until Dikembe Mutombo towered over me at the event. The whole experience resulted into a sore neck at the end. Is this how short people feel standing next to me?

I just had to take this photo. The girls were such a beauty along the side of the beach in Nungwi Village, Zanzibar. Aren’t they cute?

 This is the view over a window at the Zanzibar Museum in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It was too beautiful. I had to grab my camera and shoot this amazing scenary.

I had an amazing walk in those sweaty and humid narrow streets in Mji Mkongwe (Stone Town), Zanzibar. The shops are everywhere and the shop keepers are eager for you to unzip your wallet. 

I took the three shots below in the Rock City (Mwanza), Tanzania. I fell in love with Mwanza. The temperature was just right and the price was also right. The city was very gentle to my wallet. I will be here again in the near future.

 I just could not resist remembering this small restaurant just on the outside of the main bus stop in Shinyanga. The menu tells it all. I had to test the “LOST KUKU” and amazingly it was really good for the price. I will indeed eat there next time. Hopefully, I will find myself in this party of the country soon.


These three shots were taken in Meatu, Shinyanga, Tanzania. This is the only superstore in Town. Despite the lack of necessities in Meatu, I met the friendliest people on earth.

Kibogoji, what else can I say about it. This is the village that I humbly borrowed the name for my blog. The village is located somewhere between madongo poromoka in Morogoro, Tanzania.

 The three shots above shows some of the residents of Kibogoji.  The next two pics below shows the mountains surrounding the village of Kibogoji.

 Back in Dar Es Salaam. It was such a joy to meet and take photos of the people I love and remember as the year comes to an end. Merry Xmass, hear!!.

Enough with Tanzania and now back to reality-my reality that is.

This woman wanted to take a picture of me at the DICOTA convention in Washington D.C. and I was like ooh no babe! I have to take yours as well. I have no idea who she was, but her image is still fresh in my memory.

2004-2005 Garrison Middle School’s Maryland Report Cards.

Grade 6  Grade 7
Year Advanced Proficient Basic Advanced Proficient Basic
2004  6.6% 24.6%  59.5%  1.9%  29.5% 61.5%
 2005  9.1%  31.6% 68.9%  3.8%  34.7% 68.7%
 Diversity: 99.3% Afrikan American Student’s Mobility: 30%

Garrison middle school is a title 1 school in the Baltimore city public school system. 99.3 % of the students were African American according to the school systems website. The rest (0.7 %) were Hispanic, Asian and Whites. 93 % of the students received free lunch and breakfast. The student enrollment for the 2004/2005, 2005/2006 school years were 808 and 876 respectively. The school had a total of 56 teachers.

Garrison middle school was performing poorly in reading and mathematics. The school had failed to meet the states’ Adequately Yearly Progress for three years (2004 to 2006). The data on the table shows the performance levels in reading for the six and seventh graders at Garrison middle school for two years (2004 and 2005).

I believe strongly that the performance levels at Garrison is Influenced largely by the lack of commitment by parents and teachers towards students success. Conducive learning environment where the learning process is uninterrupted by students misbehavior is an essential component for students to demonstrate the highest levels of  understanding. When this is lucking, the result more often appear in the students’ mediocre performance in standardized tests at all levels.

The chaotic nature in the classroom is directly linked to how the parents value education. Whenever children are constantly told the strong value of education by the parents…..most often they come to school well prepared and hence allowing the process of learning to take its course. This has been lacking at Garrison  Middle school for the past few years and is reflected of the students’ performance on the Maryland  State Assessment report-card.

The other factor affecting reading performance at Garrison is student mobility. The Baltimore city school system students are highly mobile and that affects their learning process. They move from school to school with teachers of varying levels of teaching ability. This interferes with their progress in learning.

Furthermore, Garrison middle school is a revolving door for teachers. Most teachers spend one to two years and then  move on to do other things or to teach at less stressful schools. This leaves Garrison with less qualified teachers and veteran teachers who are “burned out” and could careless with what is happening to their students in terms of learning.

Garrison had only 45 % of highly qualified teachers for the three years (2004 to 2006). Most classes were taught by unqualified teachers working on conditional certification. This had negative consequences in terms of student performance levels as reflected by the Maryland State report card.

Resources and Opportunities for African-Americans

Here are some great resources and opportunities for African-American individuals to go to undergraduate and graduate school for free to some of the top American Universities. Have fun with it!

1. Wake Forest University has an opportunity for minority students to attend its MBA program for FREE, and so far, the response has been very poor. Please pass along this opportunity to your friends, families. This is a great school and a tremendous opportunity to attend a top graduate school. See the details below, the contact person is: Derrick S. Boone, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marketing, Rm. 3139 Worrell Professional Center, Babcock Graduate School of Management – Wake Forest University_ WINSTON_SALEM N.C 27109-8738 email:derrick.boone@mba.wfu.ed​u or visit http://www.wfu.edu phone# toll free (866) 925-3622

2. Black Male Teachers needed. Do you know any Black Males who are seniors in high school who want to go to college out of state for FREE? The CALL ME MISTER program offered by 4 historically black colleges in South Carolina, Benedict College, Chaflin University, Morris College, and South Carolina State University – visit the www.callmemister.clemson.edu/i​ndex.htl details online application or call 1.800.640.2657

3. Harvard University is offering free tuition to families of HONOR STUDENTS whose income is less than $125,000 per year. Visit www.fao.fas.harvard.edc or call 617.495.1581.

4. Syracuse University School of Architecture is desperately seeking young women and men of color interested in pursuing a 5 yr. professional degree in Architecture. Contact: Mark Robbins, Dean School of Architecture, 201 Slocum Hall, Syracuse , NY 13244-1250 (315) 443-256 www.soa.syr.edu/indes.php

5. A free pair of eyeglasses from Target for any child ages 12 and under brings a valid prescription for glasses from their doctor. You can find stores with optical departments at www.target.com

6. APPLY NOW – If you have/know young adults between the ages of 18-31 with a High School Diploma. Can earn up to $100,000 and earn benefits. The Federal Aviation Association is taking application for Air Traffic Controller School visit the website www.faa.gov/jobs_opportunities​/airtrafficcontroller/

Effective Teaching Ideas from an Educator.

By Shaaban Fundi,

I have summarized the three most effective teaching ideals that I find useful in my daily duty as an educator.

1.People learn to do well only what they practice by doing.

With regard to the above mentioned effective teaching idea, I have always tried to incorporate some hands on activities in my lesson plans and delivery. For instance, last week when my students were learning about the menstrual cycle, I used data from the internet that shows how luteinizing hormone (LH) levels changes before and after ovulation.

This helped my students to not only learn how to draw line graphs but also to interpret what is represented by the data. It was not the perfect way of showing them the hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle, but it just help them to visually comprehend the abstract idea I was presenting to them.

2.Expectations affect performance.

I always expect high performance in whatever my students are engaged in. This is not only for my students, I strive to be a better educator for them and I will not accept less than what I am confidence they are capable of.

This should not be translated as lamping all students in the same category but to recognize their individual potentials as well. I do realize that students learn and perform differently, but they all have to conform to the same standards regardless of their individual capabilities in learning. Therefore, whenever opportunity arises I do try to help each and every student to realize their full potentials without demanding for something that they might not be able to achieve otherwise.

3. Use of team approach.

Regardless of my struggle with teaching and learning, I have always tried to involve my students in group work especially during interactive lessons. I believe that it is paramount for students to gain experience for sharing responsibility for learning with each other. I do use name cards for each students with their specialties for that particular lesson in order to reduce confusions and increase efficiency in the flow of the lesson or experiment.

I know the strategy does limit the students to a particular function each day and there is no room for them to explore other functions, but at least the classroom environment becomes less confusing. I will try to rotate the students’ functions as much as possible to be in line with the best learning environment I am developing for my students.

Educating Black Kids: What Does the Research Say?

I was reading a few peer reviewed articles in my educational research class and found some interesting information that I would like to share with you all. If you are interested in how students learn and the strategies that research has proven to help all students learn, you will more than likely be informed by reading through the annotated bibliography I painstakingly created below.

And, if you are not interested in the process of educating the minds, you will also learn something about yourself through reading these articles as well. All in all, happy reading and I hope you discover something new from the research.

Shaaban K. Fundi
Annotated Biblography

1.Young, Y.Y., Wright, J.V., and Laster, J. (2005). Instructing African American Students. Journal of Education and Urban Society 125(3): 516-524.

This peer reviewed paper identifies and examine research based findings on effective instructional practices in the context of their applicability for classroom teaching-learning situations. The research paper has identified two types of learners, the global learner and the analytical learner. A global learner (right brain) is visual, tactile and kinesthetic. She/He visualizes what has to be learned, touches what has to be learned and also moves a lot during the learning process.
Most, if not all African American students are global learners and tend to be uncomfortable in an academic setting because their learning styles are not met.

Analytical learners (left brain) recall facts and dates with relative easy as well as process information linearly. They can process information that is written or orally. Most analytical learners are American students with European descent. Based on the aforementioned information, this style of learner tends to be comfortable in an academic setting (Angro-American Centered Classroom) because their learning style is most often addressed.

In order to teach African American students successfully, instructional variability is a key. Instructional strategies need to incorporate movement, visual and touching to address the learning style needs of African American students.

2.Castle, S., Deniz, C.B., and Tortola, M. (2005). Flexible Grouping and Students Leanring in a High-Needs School. Journal of Education and Urban Society 37(2): 139-150.

This peer reviewed paper studied the impact of flexible grouping on students learning during a period of 5 years in a high-needs school. The researchers tracked non-transient, below goal elementary students on multiple literacy assessments using flexible grouping strategies. Results from the study showed that the percentage of students attaining mastery increased in 16 of 19 over-time comparisons.

Flexible grouping is a classroom organizational strategy that is designed to address a broad range of students needs within a single classroom. To meet the need of contemporary classrooms that are characterized by widely diverse student population with varying academic, language, social, and cultural needs, need based instruction strategies are paramount. Additionally, grouping students according to their needs is more effective instructional strategy than ability grouping.

3.Westhuizen, V.P., Mosoge, M.J., Swanepoel, L.H., and Coetsee, L.D. (2005). Organizational Culture and Academic Achievement in Secondary Schools. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 38(1): 89-109.

This peer reviewed paper looks at factors affecting performance negatively in lower achieving schools and positively in high achieving schools. The researchers have identified several factors that affect academic achievement of learners. These factors include organizational culture and school culture. Organizational culture seems to be a key factor for under-achievement in schools.

The findings in this research indicate that a healthy and positive organizational culture exists in high achieving schools whereas the same cannot be said for low achieving schools. A positive organizational culture seems to exercise an exceptionally positive influence on the members of a school and is instrumental in directing their behavior in achieving the stated goal of the school.

4.Shulman, V., and Armitage, D. (2005). Project Discovery: An Urban Middle School Reform Effort. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(4): 371-397.

This peer reviewed study reports on a 5- year project to improve urban, middle level student achievement through the implementation of two initiatives. (1) Teachers at participating New York middle school were engaged in weekly curriculum planning workshops to reformulate classroom curricula into interdisciplinary, discovery learning oriented activities. (2) Undergraduate college students from urban public colleges were recruited to work as teaching scholars in the middle school.

The results showed a gain in student achievement which was demonstrated by a significant increase in the number of students meeting state standards on standardized test score in mathematics and English.

5.Heystek, H., (2003). Parents as Governors and Partners in Schools. Journal of Education and Urban Society, 37(4): 371-397.

This peer reviewed study looks at parental involvement as a factor for academic achievement of students. Parents and schools are partners in the education of children because schools are a formalized extension of the family. Schools can not function properly void of parental involvement.

In spite of this demand on parental involvement in schools, this research in black schools indicates that parental involvement in school activities is limited. This in turn, leads to low achievement in most of these schools.

The Turning of Leaves Color in Atlanta

Leaves changing color

Once again, fall is upon us-the temperature is dipping
by the day.  I saw a weatherman today, predicting the temperature will continue to fall and by next week’s end we might be in the 20’s. It is amazing how temperature changes here, without notice we will be back in the 20F’s again and walking to our mail boxes in the after-work hours to pick up those astronomical winter gas (electricity) bills. It seems like there is no end.

The summers are extremely hot in the Hotlanta, and the winters are mildly colder. Hence, there is no break from Georgia Power. I was just thinking (wishful thinking here) maybe fall should stay for awhile. That will indeed give us a break from these back to back gas (electrical) bills.

On the other hand I feel like we put ourselves in this situation. What happened to just owning homes that are relative to our family sizes?  Less space equals to lesser space to warm up during the winter and less space to cool down during the summer months. What I am trying to say is that, Atlanta has a median of 3 people per family. Surprisingly, the average house in Atlanta suburbs has a median of 4 rooms and 3.5 bathrooms. Why do we need all this space? OR Just filing-up our egos I presume.!!!

I guess it is a choice people have to make, but in this one I truly didn’t have a choice.  I just had to swallow it, as there are no in betweens. I am one of those people who think dollars and cents before doing anything. I am among the people who would criticize people who drive huge SUVs (bad for the environmental, taking up two parking spaces and all the other tree huggers’ cries) but I have fallen with the masses in this one.  Why? Even if I chose to buy a small house where would I find it? Everything is big here-cars, motorcycles, bicycles, human and even cats and dogs are all big.

Am I complaining? Not even close.  I do really love my house except for them “summer and winter” electrical bills. Thinking of it, TANESCO would be a welcome  break here. But, Georgia Power is always on and so are their bills, always on time.

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Neutrinos: Is “physics as we know it” nearing an end???

By: Shaaban Fundi,

The end of Einstein era?I read with interest the article by Charles Krauthammer on the www.nydailynews.com today about the discovery of neutrino particles that travels faster than the speed of light.

If this experiment and the discovery happen to be correct, then most–if not all of the Einsteinian theories in physics will be absolute. It will set a precedence to the dawn of new physics laws and theories.

It is hard to imagine that what we have been made to believe for almost 100 years was (or might be) fundamentally incorect. What is next for physics? Are there other flaws to other sciences that we’re unaware of?

It is the waiting game now for more scientists to replicate the experiment and come up with same or different results.

At the end, we will always love you Einstein (in Whitney Houston’s Voice).

Click here for original article.

A Ship Wreck in Tanzania:Again?

People waiting to be rescued
Another maritime tragedy in Tanzania
It is with sorrow I write this as my countrymen and women are grieving the loss of another too many lives wasted. My deepest condolence are to those who lost their loved ones.

A word of mouth from the survivors ……..” many of the people who died in the accident are  children and women.” Thus, many of the died are going to an early grave.

I write with the realization that it is hard to supervise and monitor all marine and fresh water means of transportation in Tanzania. But, the facts still remain — we should at least have learned our lesson from the MV. Bukoba accident that killed over 1000 people in 1996.

While all this is happening, and after the fact–we hear that the Tanzania government is thinking about creating a “National Emergency Preparedness Task Force”.  Don’t we have one already??? This should have been created and/done with — in 1997 after the MV. Bukoba catastrophic accident. Did we learn anything from accident?

In my views I do not see the need for another bureaucratic organ. It is indeed not needed considering the amount of resources available. We do have a traffic police force and road accidents are happening in a daily basis. The issue here is not lack of an organ to rescue people but lack of enforcement of the preventive steps to insure accidents do not happen in the first place. That is what is lacking!

What needs to be done is concentrate more on the prevention side of the preparedness and enforcement of the already established prevention measures such that accidents rarely happens. Having routine ship engine checks, ship body checks, life boat checks, making sure that ships owners adhere to loading capacities of their vessels etc, etc should be the first priority.

Always–prevention is better than a cure and it is cheaper at the same time. Most of the accidents that are happening in Tanzania are avoidable. It’s just common sense. Why do they allow un-maintained, over-loaded-ships to operate on our waterways?

How many accidents will it take for the “senses” to be “common” again?

Maybe  ship-owners need to carry high premium insurance for the cargo and human life they waste every now and then. That would put them on notice and on the right path thinking-wise. They need to be taken to court and if found guilty–spend time in jail and pay both the dead and the injured handsomely.

I believe their bottom-line (profits) is merely affected when these types of accidents happens—because when people die due to negligence the people who profit from these types of negligence are not taken to account. This in turn creates no incentive to change what they are currently doing–that is killing indiscriminately in the name of accidents.

It is not Allah or Jesus that kills in most of these accidents, it is just negligence and negligence needs to be seriously confronted.

This accident has happened in the Zanzibar route which is a much safer route than the Mtwara –Dar Es Salaam route. It is quite common for ships in this route to stall (engine actually lose power in high seas) sometimes two times in a one way journey from either Mtwara –Dar or vice versa.  Ill-maintained ships, over-loaded passengers and excess cargo are a norm in this route as well.

It is just a matter of time an accident like the one in Zanzibar will happen in this route as well if necessary preventive steps  like the ones mentioned above are not going to be taken sooner.

In Pictures: The Zanzibar Ferry Disaster–Source BBC News.

Note: I use the word accident very lightly here as most of these so-called accidents are avoidable.

Tanzania: President Kikwete Denies WiKiLeak Cables

1.In an outrageous cable reported by Wikileaks, the former US Ambassador to Tanzania, Michael Retzer is reported to have said in his cable reports that President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete has accepted gifts from the owner of the Kempinski Hotel chain, who is a citizen of the United Emirates.

2.This is, according to Ambassador Retzer, from a conversation he had with the Manager and Publicity Director of the former Dar es Salaam-based Kilimanjaro-Kempinski Hotel, Miss Lisa Pile.

3.This cable is as untruthful as it is outrageous. It is full of lies and innuendoes seeking to tarnish the good image and name of the President. It is unfortunate and highly disappointing that an ambassador worth his name could engage in this kind of lazy gossip.

4.The Directorate of the Presidential Communications would like to deny these lies in the strongest terms possible as follows:

5.We would like to state categorically that there has never been a time when the President received gifts from Ali Albwardy. This is definitely an outrageous claim and if there is evidence to the contrary, we would like to challenge Mr. Ambassador Retzer to produce it for the public to satisfy itself that what he is claiming are mere lies.

6.That there has never been a time, ever, when His Excellency Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, during his time as Foreign Minister or currently as President of the United Republic of Tanzania, was flown by anybody to London on a subsidized shopping expedition to buy five suits. All his travels to London or any other places in the world have been duty assignments paid for by the Government of Tanzania. The matter of him being flown to London for subsidised shopping of five suites is outrageous.

7.That during his entire life, as Foreign Minister or as President, the President has never met in London nor travelled with Ali Albwardy to London on a shopping expedition. In any case as Foreign Minister he is given adequate clothing allowance. And, now as President his clothing is the responsibility of the state. He does not therefore need to be flown by anybody for subsidized shopping of suits.

8.That the President was not responsible for raising nor receiving campaign funds for CCM Party during the 2005 General Elections. He was simply the flag bearer of the Party. However, he is privy to information that Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel was never asked nor contributed a single cent towards CCM campaign. Therefore the allegations that Kempinski Kilimanjaro Hotel contributed one million (USD 1,000,000) toward CCM campaign are baseless and unfounded.

9.That the Government permission for possessing of the Kilimanjaro Hotel by Kempinski Hotels and the subsequent permission to Kempinski to build two new hotels – one on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater and another on the Serengeti plains overlooking the main animal migration routes were issued by the Third Phase Tanzania Government and not by Mr. Kikwete’s Administration.

10.However, President Kikwete declined to grant permission to Kempinski Hotels permission to build on the right of the Ngorongoro Crater on the strength of environmental concerns. How come then that the President who had been offered so many favors such as suits and election money, took this principled position? This therefore testifies to the fact that, claims that the President has received favours are a concoction with malicious intentions from the authors.

11.That it is a lie that Mr Kikwete has frequented Kilimanjaro Kempinski Hotel in his personal capacity. The records are very clear; the President has never, ever on his own visited that Hotel except on official duties or when he has escorted official state guests or attended meetings.

12.It is unfortunate that the distinguished Ambassador would believe and transmit such baseless lies and hear-says from a single source. The Office of the President takes strong exception to such behaviour which seeks to tarnish the name and person of the President.

Here is the link to Swahili version of same.

Released by:

Directorate of Presidential Communications,

State House,


05th September, 2011

Telephone: 255-22-2114512, 2116539

E-mail: press@ikulu.go.tz

Fax: 255222113425

P.O. BOX 9120,



The Evolution vs. Creationism Controversy in America

Shaaban Fundi, Ph.D.

Evolution vs creationismGoing through the articles regarding creationism vs evolution has made me aware of the existence of the great debate that is boiling between the creationists and the evidence based supporters of the evolution process. I understand the fear that is held by the creationists about evolution and the significant challenge it possess to the creation only idea. As a science instructor representing the larger scientific community in a classroom, I feel that curriculum decisions based on the belief of creationism have no place in determining science standards.

To me, science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are limited to those based on observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Explanations that cannot be based on empirical evidence are not a part of science. Thus, creationism, that provides explanations based on faith and not on empirical evidence has no part in science and no part in the science classroom.

Moreover, progress in science consists of the development of better explanations for the causes of natural phenomena. Scientists never can be sure that a given explanation is complete and final. Some of the hypotheses advanced by scientists turn out to be incorrect when tested by further observations or experiments. Yet many scientific explanations have been so thoroughly tested and confirmed that they are held with great confidence. The theory of evolution is one of these well-established explanations. An enormous amount of scientific investigation since the mid-19th century has converted early ideas about evolution proposed by Darwin and others into a strong and well-supported theory. Today the theory of evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology and is universally accepted by scientists as the engine for speciation.

However, creationists in their bid to get equal time in the science classroom, deliberately mislead the public by trying to present evolution as a controversial theory. I simply don’t understand why it is that today, more than 150 years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, we are still fighting over evolution. The Catholic Church has endorsed evolution; every competent biologist relies on its theoretical framework; and its mechanism and its consequences have been thoroughly documented. The theory of evolution has become the central unifying concept of biology and is a critical component of many related scientific disciplines. In contrast, the claims of creation science lack empirical support and cannot be meaningfully tested. These observations lead to two fundamental conclusions: the teaching of evolution should be an integral part of science instruction, and creation science is in fact not science and should not be presented as such in science classes.

The claim that equity demands balanced treatment of evolutionary theory and special creation in science classrooms reflects a misunderstanding of what science is and how it is conducted. Scientific investigators seek to understand natural phenomena by observation and experimentation. Scientific interpretations of facts and the explanations that account for them therefore must be testable by observation and experimentation.

Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science. These claims subordinate observed data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief. Documentation offered in support of these claims is typically limited to the special publications of their advocates. These publications do not offer hypotheses subject to change in light of new data, new interpretations, or demonstration of error. This contrasts with science, where any hypothesis or theory always remains subject to the possibility of rejection or modification in the light of new knowledge.

No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal material rather than scientific observation, interpretation, and experimentation should be admissible as science in any science course. Incorporating the teaching of such doctrines into a science curriculum compromises the objectives of public education. Science has been greatly successful at explaining natural processes, and this has led not only to an increased understanding of the universe but also to major improvements in technology and public health and welfare. The growing role that science plays in modern life requires that science, and not religion, be taught in science classes.

I am not advocating that students not have the right to believe in creationism. I am simply arguing that in the science classroom students be allowed to explore the truth about their own origin and the origin of their universe based on scientifically collected and proven evidence. In the science classroom, we teach students that all good science is based on the scientific method. Based on this method, we form hypothesis that we later test with experimentation. The evolutionary theory has undergone much experimentation over the past 150 years since Darwin first outlined his theory and for the most part this experimentation has upheld his ideas. Creationism, however, by its very nature, resists attempts to explore its validity using the scientific method. It is impossible to test this theory using experimentation. Thus, I believe that it has no place in the science classroom. I have no problems with it being taught as part of religious instruction or even in a philosophy class. However, I do not think it belongs in a science classroom simply because we cannot use scientific tools to understand and explore the idea.

I strongly reject the Creationists’ claim that if one believes that the theory of evolution is true then one necessarily must believe that there is no God, no meaning or purpose to life, and thus no moral accountability. This statement is completely wrong due to the fact that believing in evolution and believing in God are not mutually exclusive beliefs. The dilemma creationists have for themselves of being unable to reconcile science and religion should not be imposed upon the rest of world populous, and particularly not on educational systems. The courts have consistently ruled that “creation science” is actually a religious view. Because public education must be religiously neutral under the U.S. Constitution, the courts have held that it is unconstitutional to present creation science as legitimate scholarship. I believe that these court rulings should be upheld and creation science kept out of science instruction in the public education system.

Over the past 50 years, our world has become increasingly more technological and the need for students to understand scientific principles has become increasingly more important. If we want our public school students to compete on a global level it is essential that we teach them sound scientific principles and keep creationism out of the science classroom.

Suggestions for Teaching English to Native Swahili Speakers.

Shaaban Fundi,

Last week I conducted several interviews with Swahili speaking students at a local community college in Atlanta. Amongst the interviewees: three were from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one from the United Republic of Tanzania and four were from the republic of Burundi. The eight students spoke Swahili with different dialects.

By definition, Swahili or Kiswahili is a “Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups inhabiting a large Indian Ocean Coastal stretch from Mozambique to Somalia”. The countries include: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Comoro, Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, and Congo DRC.

I learned from the interviews that Standard Swahili has 5 vowels phonemes. The vowels are: a, e, I, o, u. And that the vowels are never reduced, regardless of stress. The vowels are pronounced as follows:

“a” is pronounced like the “a” in pasta
‘e’ is pronounced like the “e” in bed
‘i’ is pronounced like the “i” in ski
‘o’ is pronounced like the “o” in “or”
‘u’ is pronounced like the “oo” in “bassoon”.”

I also learned that like in numerous Bantu languages, Swahili arranges nouns into a number of classes. The ancestral system had 22 classes. Counting singular and plural as distinct according to the Meinhof System. Most Bantu languages share at least ten of these noun classes. Swahili employs sixteen nouns classes: six classes usually indicate singular nouns, five classes usually indicate plural nouns, one class for abstract nouns, one class for verbal infinitives used as nouns, and three classes to indicate location.

Some examples of the nouns classes are presented below:
“class semantics prefix singular translation plural translation
1, 2 persons m-/mu-, wa- mtu person watu persons
3, 4 trees, natural forces m-/mu-, mi- mti tree miti trees”

As seen above, Swahili is a very complex language and differs significantly from the English language. The vowels are pronounced the way they are written while in the English language the vowels carry different sounds from the written expression. This difference in particular causes a huge challenge to students who are learning English as a second language from the Swahili speaking cultures. Students from Swahili speaking countries struggle with intonation and word sound relationships in English because this is a very different system from that of Swahili or Kiswahili.

Implication in the classroom instruction

It is very important for educators to understand the linguistic similarities and differences between Swahili and English to have an opportunity to help students like the ones I interviewed. In addition, Swahili has a different system for singular and plural to that used in the English language. The addition of vowels to words does not exist in the Swahili language. Thus, making it harder for Swahili speakers to learn the English language.

Opportunity in classroom instruction:

It would be helpful to educators who teach content specific course to understand the linguistic similarities and differences between Swahili and English. This understanding will help them to anticipate when and where Swahili speaking students will have challenges learning the English language. This understanding will provides educators with an opportunity to help students for Swahili speaking nations to be engaged in their own learning and also in using the new language for other content specific courses.

Educators need to develop lessons that will focus more in helping students new to the English language understand the differences and similarities between the two languages and use the opportunity to highlight how to overcome those differences. For example, educators can start by teaching the students the English alphabet, vowels and word sounds. This will help the students to understand where the two languages are similar and where they differ.

After students have mastered word sounds, educators can go further into reading, writing and comprehension of the English language. The step by step instruction will help many ESOL students to become fluent English speakers and writers and in turn this will have a significant impact on how the ESOL students excel in the content classrooms.

1.Prins, A.H.J. 1961. “The Swahili-Speaking Peoples of Zanzibar and the East African Coast (Arabs, Shirazi and Swahili)”. Ethnographic Survey of Africa, edited by Daryll Forde. London: International African Institute.
2.Prins, A.H.J. 1970. A Swahili Nautical Dictionary. Preliminary Studies in Swahili Lexicon – 1. Dar es Salaam.
3.Whiteley, Wilfred. 1969. Swahili: the rise of a national language. London: Methuen. Series: Studies in African History.
4.Brock-Utne, Birgit (2001). “Education for all — in whose language?” Oxford Review of Education 27 (1): 115–134.

An Old Primary School Right of Passage.

The first thing I heard from the Head Teacher when I went to register to start my primary school education was— “raise your right hand over your head and touch your ear on the other side.” It was a heart breaker for many children those days. If your right or left hand couldn’t touch the tips of your ear on the opposite side, it meant you was not old enough to start a primary education.

It actually happened to me twice before I was formally registered. Two years in a roll, going to that long line, with my peers and being rejected at the end of the line—just because my fingers could not touch the tips of my ear. I guess the first time I was a little younger, but the second time I was really 7 years old. It was humiliating in both cases.

My mother was and continues to be a law abiding citizen. Most parents whose kids were rejected due to the hand over head to ear rule, would go to the district office and just buy a birth certificate for their kids. My mother kept me home for two years so that I could start primary school at the right age.

I knew all my A, B, Cs for gods sake! I could count to a hundred in Ones and in tens in Swahili, but, that was not enough. I had to touch the ear, because that was the rule of the land. For most of us who did not have a birth certificate to prove that we were indeed 7 years old, we had to wait for the next round–which was next year. The lack of birth certificate was very rampant during those days. Even though I was delivered in a regional Hospital “Kitete Regional Hospital” I still lacked one.

It is still a mystery to me to why we had to do that? I have not been able to find any logical explanations to collaborate the relationship between age and hand over head touching your ear on the other side preposition. If you know anything as to the origin of this rule—please share!!

Random Thoughts!

Girl Peeing on the side of the roadWhile holidaying in Tanzania I had to take the bus from Mwanza to Shinyanga. The bus was going all the way to Dar Es Salaam. We left Mwanza before sunrise and we had to travel for about an hour for the sun to start coming up. It was a beautiful morning, there were No clouds on the horizon. You could see the sun rising from the ground-up, first pinkish-yellow in color, then slowly turning into that warm red African hot sun. It was simply beautiful!

The bus was traveling at a very high speed. Everyone had a seat and some of the seats on the back of the bus remained empty. We continued to stop here and there picking up passengers going to Dodoma, or further ahead to Dar Es Salaam. I was in a bus, comfortably seated, the passengers spoke loudly and I could hardly understand the language. It was mostly Sukuma mixed with some Swahili words. I could see the pride in them, these people were very proud to be Sukumas.

Before we arrived at Old Shinyanga, we stopped for all the passengers to go out and relieve themselves. Everyone jumped out of the bus and off into the side of the road’s bushes. Some went further afield; I guess some were “taking a dump” and some were just going out to pee. I was just wondering what you would do if you really had to go poop in the bushes while you had forgotten to pack your toiletry?

I remember when I was a kid; we used to use tree leaves or corn cobs to wipe our asses with after we went pooping into the bush. I remember in those times, you would go into the bush and hold on a small bush trunk to let it out. Grab some tree leaves “soft ones off-course” and wipe your butt with. I am not exactly sure how clean you would get while doing this, but it was how things were done back then.

No digging holes to poop in, just on top of the dirt. The hole in the ground type was a way to advanced sanitation system. The hole on the ground toilets were 5-10KM away sometimes. I just had to do what I had to do! answering mother nature’s call.

This post is inspired by the little girl taking a dump at the side of the road on my way to Shinyanga from Mwanza. The father (seen on the picture) did exactly what I described above. He picked some young tree leaves and used them to wipe the kid’s bummy after she was done pooping. It was hilorious to see that done on the side of the road.

Nairobi Westgate Mall Bombing, Kenya

This is what I wrote two years ago about Somalia. Is it still relevant?? Is this a continuation of the indecisive political capitals in East Africa? Is Dar Es Salaam prepared for the incoming terrorist act?

By Shaaban Fundi,

I deeply regret the loss of lives and the senseless injuries caused by the bombings in Kampala. I wish the injured a speedy recovery and the dead mercy from the creator. And to the relatives of the victims, time will heal the wounds and sorrows. The killing of innocent people should be forcefully condemned.

What should Uganda do now? The issue of dealing with al Shabaab should not be left to Uganda alone. If they can bomb Kampala, then they are indeed capable of bombing Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or Kigali at any time in the future. It should be a collective gesture by the East African Community to show al Shabaab that East Africa is fed up with this barbaric and nonsense killings of innocents.

Somalis terrorists have now become a regional nuisance that needs to be dealt with decisively. Forces should be combined (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda etc) to uproot them from their bases in Mogadishu and wherever they might be hiding in the countryside. Their acts and existence are destabilising the region and hindering further investment in East Africa from outside investors.

As East Africans are trying to build an integrated East Africa, we can’t lose sight of the problem of piracy, terrorism and refugees streaming from Somaliland. It is in the interest of East African nations to deal with this problem now, once and for all. These resolutions after resolutions by the AU of sending peacekeepers to keep nonexistent peace in Somalia should end.

We East Africans actually need to go into Somali, create peace by disarming all the fighting factions and then keep the peace until Somalis are ready to lead their own county.

We have been watching Somalis kill each other for far too long, over 20 years in fact. The fact of the matter is they seem incapable of figuring out solutions to their problems. It is now time for neighbours to intervene. We are not going to intervene just because it is morally right, but because we will also be preventing future attacks.

If Tanzania, with the support of Ugandans, was able to uprooted the ruthless regime of Idi Amin Dada, three countries or more in the East African bloc should be able to do the same in Somalia with the help of moderate Somalis.

This is our problem and we need to deal with it as East Africans. America and the West will not be fully engaged in this as their interventions around the world usually involve the presence of oil or minerals resource in the country in question, and Somalia has neither.

As the AU head of states gather in Kampala from July 25, this issue needs to be at the top of the summit’s agenda. The Somalia problem cannot be left to take its own cause any longer and needs to be dealt with forcefully and conclusively.

Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal

By Shaaban Fundi

It has been all over the news channels for the most part of last and this week. It is a huge scandal involving 178 teachers and administrators in 44 different schools.  Some of the accused have already confessed to changing student’s test answers and doing special arrangements to raise students’ achievement in their schools.

In following this issue, I came across an article on the internationalguy’s blog that talks in detail about what happened (an inconvenience truth in his views). I do not agree entirely with the author but there is some truth on what he is saying (despite some racist vernom in his writings). Read the article here and arrive at your own conclusion.

A story about appreciation

Unknown Author,

One young academically excellent person went to apply for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the first interview; the director did the last interview, made the last decision.

The director discovered from the CV that the young man’s academic achievements were excellent all the way, from the secondary school until the postgraduate research, never had a year when he did not have high scores.

The director asked, “Did you obtain any scholarships in school?” the youth answered “none”.
The director asked, “Was it your father who paid for your school fees?” The youth answered, “My father passed away when I was one year old, it was my mother who paid for my school fees.

The director asked, “Where did your mother work?” The young man answered, “My mother worked as clothes cleaner.

The director requested the youth to show his hands. The young man showed a pair of hands that were smooth and perfect.

The director asked, “Have you ever helped your mother wash the clothes before?” The youth answered, “Never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books. Furthermore, my mother can wash clothes faster than me.

The director said, “I have a request. When you go back today, go and clean your mother’s hands, and then see me tomorrow morning.”

The youth felt that his chance of landing the job was high. When he went back, he happily requested his mother to let him clean her hands. His mother felt strange, happy but with mixed feelings, she showed her hands to the kid.

The young man cleaned his mother’s hands slowly. His tear fell as he did that. It was the first time he noticed that his mother’s hands were so wrinkled, and there were so many bruises in her hands. Some bruises were so painful that his mother shivered when they were cleaned with water. This was the first time the youth realized that it was this pair of hands that washed the clothes everyday to enable him to pay the school fee. The bruises in the mother’s hands were the price that the mother had to pay for his graduation, academic excellence and his future.

After finishing the cleaning of his mother hands, the youth quietly washed all the remaining clothes for his mother.

That night, mother and son talked for a very long time. Next morning, the young man went to the director’s office.

The Director noticed the tears in the youth’s eyes, asked: “Can you tell me what have you done and learned yesterday in your house?”

The youngman answered, “I cleaned my mother’s hand, and also finished cleaning all the remaining clothes’
The Director asked, “Please tell me your feelings.”

The young man said, Number 1, I know now what Appreciation is. Without my mother, there would not the successful me today. Number 2, by working together and helping my mother, only I now realize how difficult and tough it is to get something done. Number 3, I have come to appreciate the importance and value of family relationship.

The director said, “This is what I am looking for to be my manager. I want to recruit a person who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the sufferings of others to get things done, and a person who would not put money as his only goal in life. You are hired.
Later on, this young person worked very hard, and received the respect of his subordinates. Every employee worked diligently and as a team. The company’s performance improved tremendously.

A child, who has been protected and habitually given whatever he wanted, would develop “entitlement mentality” and would always put himself first. He would be ignorant of his parent’s efforts. When he starts work, he assumes that every person must listen to him, and when he becomes a manager, he would never know the sufferings of his employees and would always blame others.

For this kind of people, who may be good academically, may be successful for a while, but eventually would not feel sense of achievement. He will grumble and be full of hatred and fight for more. If we are this kind of protective parents, are we really showing love or are we destroying the kid instead?

You can let your kid live in a big house, eat a good meal, learn piano, watch a big screen TV. But when you are cutting grass, please let them experience it. After a meal, let them wash their plates and bowls together with their brothers and sisters. It is not because you do not have money to hire a maid, but it is because you want to love them in a right way. You want them to understand, no matter how rich their parents are, one day their hair will grow gray, same as the mother of that young person.

Student Wasting Valuable Time in Tanzanian Schools.

By Shaaban Fundi

If education and how we educate our children is paramount to you, you may find Mr. Daudi Msseemmaa’s (of lenana blog) excellent analysis of Twaweza recent report to be very insightful. Kudos to lenana blog for sharing this very interesting report and story.

Uranium Mining in the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

By Shaaban Fundi


Selous National Park
Selous National Park

Once again the government of Tanzania is embarking into Uranium mining without a sound environmental impact assessment. While environmental impacts associated with the construction of a highway through the Serengeti National Park have not been completely and dully resolved, the same government is now proposing the mining of Uranium in the Selous Game Reserve which is one of the very few world heritage sites in Tanzania.

Monkeying around
Monkeying around

Just to recap the facts. When mining uranium, even the utmost grade deposits have less than 1% . Therefore,  to obtain enough and useful amount of uranium, a vast amounts of ore have to be processed.  In addition, the leftover (waste) rocks also known as tailings are nearly as radioactive as uranium itself. These tailings need to be secluded from the environment to avoid a cancer epidemic for 25,000 years or more.

roads to the park
roads to the park

I guess the minister in charge is not aware or chose to forget the facts.

Moreover, one of the elements along the uranium radiation chain is radon, a radioactive gas which can travel for hundreds of kilometers prior to decaying. Radon gas contamination issue actually happens at the mining site and its surrounding environment and not when uranium is enriched. Mine workers, villagers and animals near the mining site who breathe in this gas risk developing lung cancer and other kinds of lung diseases. Some vivid examples of health issues associated with uranium mining “tailings” are still evident in the Grand Canyon Region of the United States today.

One member of the so called big five
One member of the so called big five

In addition to polluting the air, water and earth with radioactive chemicals and heavy metals which can never be completely cleaned up, Uranium mining is also related with poisonous process chemicals, heavy metals and the use of vast quantities of water (read my previous article entitled “Uranium Mining Resource or Curse for Tanzania” to understand more about the water issue).

In the short-term, uranium mining sites ruin the ecology of the local region; in the long-term they pose a risk to a much wider area for thousands of years to come.

elephant zone
elephant zone

The health risks of uranium mining are by now fairly well-known, although still highly disputed by governments and the mining industry itself. It is a known fact that, uranium miners, the locals and the animals near the site suffer the maximum radiation doses of all in the nuclear fuel chain.

The major problems are inhalation of dust and radon gas, which leave alpha radiation emitters lodged in the body where they can do serious harm. As the pollution from the mines spread away from the mine site, local people and animals are also exposed to contamination. While uranium mining is highly related to cancer, low-level radiation is also associated with birth defects, high infant mortality rates and chronic lung, eyes, skin and reproductive illnesses.

What plans does Tanzania have in place to make sure that all these dangers are addressed, avoided or minimized before mining commences? What are the short and the long-term plans to mitigate or reduce the impact to human health, the environment and the beauty of the Selous Game Reserve?

Again…..just me thinking!!!!! What are your thoughts?

Gabon:The impact of Areva’s uranium mining by france24english