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.

Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center Funding Proposal

Turiani is a small town located in Mvomero district of Morogoro. Turiani is comprised of six villages including: Kichangani, Mhonda, Kilimanjaro, Lusanga, Manyinga, and Komtonga. It is a diverse area with many tribes and composed primarily of low income residents. The majority are subsistent farmers and a few are cattle herders. There are seven primary schools and two secondary schools with approximately 5,000 students. Like many other rural areas in Tanzania, access to technology and quality education is a huge problem in Turiani. Out of 1200 students who complete primary school each year, approximately 150 students continue with secondary education (Tanzania National Examination Data, 2012).  At the secondary school level students’ achievement gains are atrocious. For example, in 2012, Lusanga Secondary School (the better of the two secondary schools in the area) had 109 students who sat for the Ordinary Level National Examination, however, only 5  students out of the 109 received enough credits to continue with high school (shule.info, 2013).

Because of these disappointing results, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc developed a survey to identify educational needs in the community. We learned from our household survey that students and the community at large are facing a number of challenges. First, the majority of our students come from poor families who cannot afford electricity in their homes. Out of the 200 students we surveyed, only 67 students had access to electricity supplied by TANESCO.  This access was often unreliable with frequent black-outs. Second, our survey found that only six out of the 200 students surveyed had a computer in their homes. However, none of the six computers was reliably connected to the Internet. Third, our survey found that only 17 out of 200 students had at least one book to read in their household. Fourth, our survey found that there was a shortage of qualified teachers and resources at all the schools.

Explain your Innovative Solution to the Problems

Kibogoji is an innovative organization that believes in equal access to technology and quality education for all children. To improve the quality of education and access to technology in Turiani, Kibogoji plans to use a two prong solution. First, Kibogoji plans to open an after school program called VIJANA POA to serve children ages 5 to 19 year olds in our community. This after school program will provide students access to computers connected to the Internet. The program will also offer qualified tutors to help students with homework. In addition, Kibogoji will offer books to improve students’ reading and comprehension in both English and Kiswahili. Second, we plan to use school visits to our center as an opportunity for teaching and learning using our innovative experiential learning approach. Our expert tutors will also visit the schools to train teachers on how to use the experiential learning approach in their classrooms to improve student learning, engagement, and achievement.


How will your idea improve the life of children, now and in the long-term?

Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc believes that the number of students who get selected to continue with secondary and high school level education in our community is unacceptably low.  Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc plans to increase the number of students who have the opportunity to pursue higher education by providing our young people with access to technology driven, brain based, developmentally appropriate learning through after school programs, school visits to our center programs, and teacher trainings. To meet the educational needs of our children and the challenges stipulated above, Kibogoji Experiential Learning, Inc has come up with the following solutions. First, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc plans to use solar power at our center to offer a conducive environment for learning with a reliable power supply. This will increase study time for students who are otherwise dependent on natural sunlight for most of their study time. In addition, the center will have tutors who are qualified teachers to help them with their homework in math, science, reading, and writing.

Second, in the 21st century computer technology is a very important tool for student learning and for developing work related skills. In realizing the importance of computer technology for our students and the community at large, Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc. has 10 computers obtained through individual donations that will be connected to the Internet for students and community members to access information and to also receive basic computer operating skills. In addition, Kibogoji plans to implement the flipped classroom model in order to help students master what they normally learn in class.  In the flipped classroom model, students study what they will be taught in class the following day so that they come prepared to learn the new material.  Furthermore, computers will be used as a tool for supplementing and complementing classroom instruction.

Third, the number of students that do not have access to books in their homes is troubling. Kibogoji recognize the importance of early exposure to reading and learning through books. Kibogoji plans to open a community lending program for books, games, and videos for students and the community to have access to quality books, games, and educational videos. So far, Kibogoji has received over 3000 books, 30 educational videos, and 15 different game boards from individual donations that we plan to use at our Reading and Lending Center. Students and community members can stop by Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc to read books, daily newspapers, play games, and watch educational videos. In addition, students and the community at large will be able to obtain books, videos, and games after paying a small membership fee. Kibogoji believes that this multi-prong approach will help our students improve their achievement at the primary and secondary levels now and in the long-term.


How will you develop, scale or replicate your idea so you are able to improve the lives of as many children as possible in the future?


Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc believes that its idea has the potential to meet the educational needs of students in rural areas across Tanzania. The educational challenges identified in Turiani are not unique to Turiani alone. These challenges are universal to most rural areas in the country. We believe that since it is hugely expensive to supply solar panels to every household, the idea of having a center where students can come to learn with a constant solar power supply, access computers connected to the Internet, and learn in the presence of qualified tutors is extremely important for improving students’ achievement. This idea can be replicated elsewhere in the country because Kibogoji believes that the same needs exist in rural areas across the country. To implement this plan, Kibogoji plans to start small with one center first.  This will give us the opportunity to learn from our challenges and mistakes. Then, we will use the lessons learned in the first year to scale-up our operation to the entire district of Mvomero. Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc sees itself in the next 3-5 years as having the potential to impact children in rural areas across the Morogoro Region.


How do you plan to finance the solutions?

Currently Kibogoji is exploring a four prong funding model.  First, we plan to submit funding proposals to several local and international organizations that support children’s equal access to education.  Second, Kibogoji plans to use volunteer retired teachers from the United States and other countries to lower the running cost of the center.  Third, Kibogoji plans to open an educational supply store and a chicken farm along with the center to generate income and profit.  Fourth, Kibogoji plans to run an educational consultancy business by developing educational assessment and management courses, creating education materials at the secondary and primary school levels, and writing children’s books to obtain additional funding. It is our belief that these four funding models will generate enough income to help the center be self-sustaining and allow expansion to additional centers throughout the District and Region. 


Describe your experience and personal skills that show that you can build and lead an organization that will make a difference in the world.


I have over 13 years of experience in education. For the first two years of my career, I worked with Frontier Tanzania to implement an environmental education program in the coastal areas of Mtwara and Lindi regions of Southern Tanzania. I organized and facilitated a marine environmental education program for 12 primary schools and one secondary school on marine resources and conservation methods that included 186 students and 36 teachers. In addition, I organized and facilitated a marine environmental education program for 19 local fishermen and 2 fisheries officers on marine resources and conservation, coastal zone management, power boat handling, and the collection and handling of fisheries data. Together with other Frontier Tanzania staff members, I wrote and developed a bilingual (Swahili and English) teaching manual for secondary schools on coral reefs, mangroves and sea grasses. This book was the first of its kind in Tanzania.

For the past 11 years, I have worked as an educator and educational consultant in the United States. I am a certified science educator in both Maryland and Georgia and have over 11 years’ experience teaching high school chemistry and physics.  In addition, I have an extensive background in the areas of planning, developing, monitoring, and managing educational programs for schools and for private organization. I have also worked as a consultant for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the Accomplished Science Instruction (ASI) project.  As part of this project, I helped develop, pilot, and evaluate an online science course for new science educators in the United States. I also work as a part time Trainer and Score Director for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a Scoring Director, I train educators on holistic methods for evaluating a variety of teacher certification examinations. My other duties are to prepare materials that exemplify state-specific standards, to orient educators on established calibration processes, to manage educators’ scoring sessions, and to serve as a content expert in the science teaching area.

I believe my past experience and education background has provided me with unique skills and leadership that will help me to develop and run a successful educational organization that will benefit many children in rural areas across Tanzania. The seed money from Reach for Change will give me the resources I need to empower rural Tanzanian children with the knowledge, exposure, and experiences that will help them realize the dreams they have for themselves.

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.

Phenomenological Study

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).  I will use the transcendental phenomenological approach for my pilot study.  


There are seven main features in a transcendental phenomenological study. These features include:  a) deciding on a phenomenon to be explored, b) identification of a group of individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, c) a discussion of the theoretical framework guiding the phenomenological study, d) a discussion by the researcher regarding their personal experiences with the phenomenon (known as bracketing), e) a data collection procedure commonly involving interviewing individuals who have experienced the phenomenon, f) data analysis procedures that move from narrower significant statements to broader units and, g) a description of the essence of the individuals ‘shared experience.


In the next several paragraphs, I apply these seven steps to my dissertation topic.  The phenomenon to be explored in my dissertation project is to investigate teachers’ shared experience using 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)                  How did you learn about virtual labs?

  1. When did you start using them?
  2. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?

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?


While conducting the pilot study, teachers’ experiences with virtual labs will be the main focus or what Creswell (2013) calls “the phenomenon to be explored.” I intend to use a sample size of two teachers who have experience using virtual labs with their students to explore this phenomenon. This number is well below what Creswell (2013) suggests in his book.  Creswell (2013)  advises that a phenomenological study should be conducted with a heterogeneous group of at a minimum 3 to a maximum of 15 individuals.  Given time constraints, I will only be able to interview two teachers.  I am concerned that this sample size will not be sufficient for me to determine the essence of the lived and shared experiences of teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  In addition, the teachers I have chosen are both new to the profession. They each have two years of teaching experience and therefore they have only two years of using virtual labs with their students. I am afraid that the two teachers I have chosen may present a homogeneous rather than a heterogeneous group. Therefore, the teachers I have chosen may not provide a comprehensive picture of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs. In other words, a larger sample size (more than two individuals) consisting of teachers with varied amount of experiences would have given me a richer understanding of teachers ‘experiences using virtual labs.  Despite these limitations, I feel that conducting this pilot study will give me the experience and skills I need to conduct a rigorous qualitative exploration using a phenomenological approach as part of my dissertation..


An example of a well-conducted study using a phenomenological approach can be found in the article entitled “A Phenomenological Study –Cognitive Representations of Aids” by Anderson and Spencer (2002).  In this study, the authors wanted to “describe AIDS patients’ cognitive representation of their illness.” The authors used a purposive sample of 41 men and 17 women. To be eligible for the study, participants had to:  have an AIDS diagnosis, be 18 years or older, be able to communicate in English, and have a mini-mental status exam score of greater than 22.  This study shows the rigor that must be met to conduct a phenomenological study.  In my study, I have also set clear inclusion criteria.  To be eligible for my study, teachers must have at least two years teaching experience, be currently using virtual labs in their classroom, be a high school science teacher, be able to communicate in English.  The sample size used by Anderson and Spencer (2002) is more aligned with the guidance given by Creswell (2013).  As previously mentioned, I plan to interview just two teachers for my pilot study.  If I use a phenomenological approach in my dissertation, I will need to increase the number of teachers that I interview in order to get a clearer picture of the range of teacher experiences’ using virtual labs.  


Since I am a researcher and also an educator who uses virtual labs in my classroom, it will be necessary for me to acknowledge and bracket these experiences during my study. Creswell (2013) states in conducting a phenomenological study it is necessary for the researcher to acknowledge their experiences, especially when the researcher has experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Anderson and Spencer (2002) acknowledged in their article that they provided health care to persons living with HIV and AIDS.  In addition, they explicitly stated that none of the participants in the study were and/or had been their patients. I found myself in a similar position with these ­­researchers in my attempts to conduct this pilot study. First and foremost I am an educator. I have a lived experience with virtual labs. Second, I am a researcher. I will be interviewing people that I work with on a daily basis. Therefore, it is essential for me to acknowledge these experiences so that I will be able to approach the lived virtual labs experience with a sense of newness (Patton, 2002b). This will help me to set aside the feelings and perceptions I have experienced with this phenomenon to be able to reach a better understanding of other teacher experiences’ using virtual labs in the high school setting.


During the data collection phase, I plan to interview high school teachers who have used virtual labs in their classroom.  These interviews will be my only source of data collection.  Creswell (2013) suggests using varied sources of data in a phenomenological study including poems, observations, and documents in addition to interviews. Anderson and Spencer (2002), in their phenomenological study with AIDS patients, used several methods of data collection including interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, drawings, journals, music, and other forms of documentation. These varied methods of data collection helped them to triangulate and validate their findings. Furthermore, it helped them to describe the essence of the lived experience for persons living with HIV/AIDS in a much richer way. I have learned from Anderson, Spencer, and Creswell that I must include varied methods of data collections to capture the essence of teachers’ lived experience with virtual labs in their science courses. In my actual dissertation, I plan to use a combination of data collection methods including in-depth interviews, paper-and-pencil questionnaires, and observations to increase my understanding of teachers’ experiences using virtual labs.


To analyze the data from my pilot study, I will transcribe the interviews verbatim.  On the transcripts of these interviews, I will highlight significant statements, quotes, and sentences. I will then use these statements, sentences, and quotes to build my understanding of how the teachers experienced virtual labs.  Finally, I will write a composite description of the similarities and differences in how the teachers experienced the use of virtual labs in their science classrooms.


In summary, there are many lessons learned from this analysis. First, the best sample size for a phenomenological study is between 5 to 25 participants. My pilot study only includes a sample size of two teachers.  Thus, I will need to increase the sample size of teachers that I interview for my dissertation. Second, I am relying on a single method of data collection for my pilot study.  However, I will need to use a variety of data collection methods during my dissertation to gain a richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  Third, since I will be using the transcendental phenomenological approach, it is imperative that I acknowledge my experiences with virtual labs (bracketing) so that I can be able to look at the participants’ experiences with a fresh set of eyes or what Patton (2002b.9) calls looking with “a sense of newness.” Fourth, to elicit a deeper and richer understanding of teachers’ experiences with virtual labs the set of questions I have developed needs to be streamlined. My questions are a little too broad and may need some refining for my actual dissertation study. I got some ideas for how to refine these questions during the interviews I conducted as part of my pilot study. 


For my next analysis, I will use a case study approach to guide my qualitative inquiry. This analysis will help me determine if a case study approach is better suited to explore teachers’ shared and lived experiences with virtual labs.




Anderson, E., & Spencer, M. (2002). A phenomenological study: cognitive representation of AIDS. Qualitative Health Research, 12(10), 1338-1352.

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

Patton, M. Q. (2002b). Variety in qualitative inquiry: Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

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. 

A Reflection on Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design

While reading through chapter three of the book Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, Creswell raised two points that I found to be very informative in conducting qualitative inquiry.  The first point was that there are varied designs that can be used to frame a qualitative inquiry. Creswell, however, finds it useful to design a qualitative inquiry following the scientific method; an approach to which I agree. I work better when I have a set of guidelines to follow. I believe the scientific method provides the skeleton onto which I can anchor the meat of my research – from stating the research questions and hypothesis, through data collection and analysis, to discussion of the implications of the findings. While I prefer the scientific method to anchor my research, it is up to the individual researcher to choose the design that best fits his/her philosophical framework. On the other hand, as I read chapter two of the book Strategic Themes in Qualitative Inquiry I came to realize that maybe seeing the world as one, my own, may not be enough. Therefore I need to learn and become familiar with the multiple realities of the world I live in and the varied qualitative research designs that will help me understand those worlds better.  Having an open mind will help me to study the real world situation “without interjecting predetermined constraints on the findings” (Patton, 2002a).

Secondly, Creswell states that qualitative researchers need to be sensitive to vulnerable populations and to take great care not to place participants at risk from imbalanced power relations (Hatch, 2002; as cited in Creswell, 2012). I find the advice to be very useful especially for a beginner researcher like myself. As I continue to learn the ethical issues related to conducting qualitative research, I must also learn to be mindful of the nature of power balances I might find at my research site. Respecting the native culture and whatever power relationship they have within themselves and the wider community is paramount. A qualitative researcher, therefore, must tell the multiple stories they find in their research in a way that does not compromise the power relationship found in vulnerable populations. Our research should not in any way compromise and/or jeopardize further the relationship and power imbalances our participants are already experiencing. However, critical pedagogy and critical theory as described in Part II of the book Paradigms and Perspectives in Contentions, (Olesen as cited by Denzin and Lincoln, 2011), argues that “getting mad is no longer enough.”  Qualitative researchers need to learn to act and expose the injustice and power imbalance in marginalized societies so that hegemony can be stopped.

In chapter four, Creswell discusses the five approaches to qualitative inquiry.  I am relatively new to most of the approaches i.e. narrative approach, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case studies.  There are many similarities and differences amongst the five approaches. I will however, reflect on one of these approaches namely the case study approach. I was introduced to the case study approach when I was taking a classroom management course for my graduate degree in education. I have used the case study approach before to study whether utilizing an inquiry method for learning lessens incidents of misbehavior in my classroom. When I started teaching in the Baltimore City Public Schools, I had major problems with classroom management stemming from students’ misbehavior. As a way to lessen the incidents (i.e., fighting, classroom disruptions such as table banging, and lack of participation in class activity) I developed two inquiry based unit plans geared to helping students create their own meaning of concepts and topics. It was a case study approach and I tracked the number of incidents in each period while using the inquiry learning approach. I realize now after reading Creswell’s chapter four that my case study approach was lacking in many levels. I only used one method of collecting data which was observing the type and frequency of disruptive incidents. Creswell suggests using several methods of data collection including interviews, audiovisual, documentation, and artifacts to capture data that will help to develop a detailed analysis of the problem. Thus, reading these two chapters has broadened my understanding of the various approaches, designs, and ethical issues related to qualitative research.


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

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, T. S. (2011). Paradigms and Perspectives in Contention. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (pp. 91-94). New York, NY: SAGE.

Patton, M. Q. (2002a). Strategic themes in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative research & evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

A Reflection on Curriculum Theory

Reading the first two chapters of the book entitled Curriculum Theory: Conflicting Visions and Enduring Concerns I gained three major ideas that I will discuss in this reflection. In chapter one, Schiro briefly discusses the beliefs that people have about the American school curriculum and the four curriculum ideologies namely: the scholar academic, the social efficiency, the learner centered, and the social reconstruction. Even though Schiro did not offer an in-depth introduction to the four curriculum ideologies in the first chapter of the book, I was able to identify myself with both the scholar academic and the social efficiency curriculum ideologies. I agree with the premise that curriculum should foster the acquisition of knowledge and provide students with the experiences, skills, and traditions needed to become practicing professionals. Anything short of that is a disservice to students. In other words, when I teach Chemistry, I strive to provide students with the experiences, skills, and traditions needed to become actual chemists if they so choose.

Despite my firm beliefs in the scholar academic ideology, I also find myself being in favor of training students in the skills and procedures necessary for the workplace, home lives, and in meeting their democratic functions to society. This belief of mine is in line with the social efficiency curriculum ideology. In addition, I tend to side more with the views that the classification system that categorizes educators into one of four distinct groups (i.e. academic, social efficiency, learner centered, and social reconstruction) is flawed. I believe that many educators, myself included, have a strong affinity to one of the curriculum ideologies, but may also have an affinity to elements of the other types of curriculum ideologies. Therefore, we may be considered eclectic in how we align ourselves with the curriculum ideologies.

In chapter two of the book, Schiro discusses the scholar academic ideology in detail. I will mainly reflect on the teaching methods used by educators who subscribe to the scholar academic ideology. The three teaching methods Schiro discusses in this chapter include didactic discourses, supervised practices, and Socratic discussions. I find myself using almost all of these teaching methodologies in my teaching.  As I develop my 5E lesson plans, I normally think of the best ways and/or teaching methods I can employ efficiently and effectively to convey concepts to students.  For example, I may ask myself “is guided practice the best way to present this material to my students” or “will power point presentation (didactic) or Socratic questioning be more helpful?”.  Teaching is more than knowing the content; it also involves knowing the pedagogical processes of presenting the information to students who naturally have varied interests, abilities, and backgrounds. Thus, to effectively teach students new concepts, you have to constantly think about the best way to present the information.

In conclusion, chapters one and two were very informative. I gained a lot of new information including the different curriculum ideologies, the problems associated with classifying educators into these ideologies, and the teaching method and evaluative tools associated with the scholar academic ideology.


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.

The Politics of American Education: My take on Joel Spring’s Book

By: Shaaban Fundi
Growing up in the East African country of Tanzania, attending school was the only way I knew to escape poverty. My parents and teachers emphasized to me from an early age the importance of remaining in school so that I could gain the skills necessary to get a high-paying job.  In my view, the main socio-cultural factor driving this belief was the lack of a social safety net for the elderly.  This was especially true for individuals working in informal sectors like agriculture and day labor.  Since 70% of Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, including my parents, there was a strong belief that you had to earn as much money as you could during your prime working life to have the money and resources you needed when you could no longer work.  Culturally, children were also expected to help take care of their elderly parents.  Therefore, educating your child was seen as an investment not only for the child’s future, but also for the parents’ golden years.

Moreover, as a child, the only people I knew who were not subsistence farmers, and who appeared to be “rich” to me, were those who went to school and were able to secure lucrative positions with the government. Thus, when I read the quote from Spring (2011, p 141) that “schools can help people escape from poverty by teaching the knowledge and skills needed for employment and instilling values of hard work and discipline”, I knew it to be true from my own life experience. What was interesting to me after reading Spring’s book (2011) was that since my early childhood, I had been indoctrinated to embrace a conservative view regarding the human capital ideology of education.

Human capital ideology is very appealing to parents, politicians, and business leaders. It assumes without question that teaching students the skills they need to be competitive in the world market is the primary reason for education. However, Spring (2011, p 11) posits that education has many objectives including “nationalism and patriotism; active democratic citizenship; progressive education; social justice; environmental education; human rights; arts education; cultural studies; consumer and critical media studies; and the social reconstruction of society.  I agree with Spring’s argument and would further state that if we center the purpose of education and schooling only on the human capital ideology, we miss the opportunity to raise the next generation to be well-rounded with strong grounding in ethical, moral, cultural, and patriotic values.

Other criticisms of the human capital ideology center on the fact that there are “not enough jobs in the knowledge economy to absorb school graduates into skilled labor presently” (Brown & Lauder, p 320; as cited in Spring, 2011).  In addition, Hacker (p.38; as cited in Spring, 2011) argues that capital education ideology has been oversold, and that “the number of jobs operating high-tech instruments will outnumber jobs requiring college trained scientists and engineers in the future.” These jobs require only a high school graduation diploma or associate’s degree.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 introduced data-driven decision management.  The NCLB legislation “sought to close the achievement gap between the rich and the poor students by creating common curriculum standards, closing failing schools, and introducing the public reporting of student test scores” (Spring, 2011, p 36). In my 8 years as an educator, I have witnessed the pendulum shift introduced by the NCLB.  Before the Act was introduced, educators had the ability to choose instructional strategies for their classroom, to create their own lesson plans, and to design appropriate evaluations to test student knowledge and understanding.  While teacher accountability may have been difficult to measure under that system, the pendulum has swung so far over that I now feel, like Spring, that the current model of teaching consists of “scripted lessons created by some outside agency” and that teachers are increasingly forced to teach to the requirements of standardized tests (Spring, 2011, p 11).

This is what I refer to as the “standardization of the curriculum”.  In my view this standardization has narrowed the focus from educating students to be thoughtful, productive citizens with the skills necessary to successfully compete in the global marketplace to teachers concentrating on “teaching to the test”.  The consequences for teachers who fail to reach the targets outlined in NCLB are dire including job loss or failure to receive a pay raise under the newly proposed teacher merit pay system that ties students’ scores to teachers’ salary. I fear that one unintended consequence of NCLB may be that teachers will lose the ability to utilize alternative teaching styles and strategies that actively engage students in the learning process and that are fundamental to the development of skills that students need to be successful in the 21st century (i.e., critical thinking, analytical, problem solving, etc.).  America may then lose its historical advantage in producing the world’s technological entrepreneurs and innovations.   

Another issue that Spring (2011) discusses in his book is the idea of brain gain, brain drain, and brain recirculation. Before reading this book, I was unaware of how the human capital ideology had impacted the relationship between developed and developing countries.  I did not know, for example, that the World Bank – an organization that provides loans to resource limited countries from capital provided by resource rich countries – was supporting education in poor countries to create a skilled labor force.  This is known as “brain gain”.  Unfortunately, the motive behind these loans was not entirely altruistic as this skilled labor force was meant to help supplement the dwindling workforce seen in many resource rich countries due to declining birth rates. The resulting “brain drain” has led many of the brightest, most highly educated citizens from resource limited countries to seek opportunities in resource rich settings, leaving behind indebted nations unable to compete in the global workplace without their skilled laborers.

Countries hit hard by the brain drain phenomenon in sub Saharan Africa include Sierra Leone (52.5%), Ghana (46.9%), Mozambique (45.1%), Kenya (38.4%), Uganda (35.6%), Angola (33.0%), and Somalia (32.7%). These are countries from “a region that is struggling with poverty, health problems, and wars” that have lost most of their educated population to resource rich countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and Canada (Spring, 2011, p 233). However, there is evidence that instead of a “brain drain” there may be a “brain recirculation” as many migrants are beginning to travel back and forth between the richer countries and their countries of origin as the economies of their home countries grow.  Upon their return, these migrants pass the knowledge and wealth they gained during their years abroad with their fellow citizens. 

The “brain drain” discussion hit especially close to home for me since I was educated in both Tanzania and the United States and I currently live and work in the United States.  I see myself as a “brain gain” for the United State and a “brain drain” for Tanzania. I received my undergraduate education in Tanzania free of charge since the government pays all college tuition.  I then immigrated to the United States and have lived and worked here for over a decade while pursuing three graduate degrees.  Eventually, I would like to be part of the “brain recirculation” by returning to Tanzania and sharing the knowledge and skills I have acquired during my time in the United States.  In the meantime, I have already started a program in my home village called the Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center.  Each summer, I go back to Tanzania and provide seminars for teachers on the latest evidence-based teaching and learning strategies (e.g. experiential learning and project based learning) so that they can utilize this information to teach the next generation of Tanzanians.

In his book, Spring (2011) also discusses how local education standards are increasingly being supplanted by global standards, leading to the rise of multinational companies seeking to exploit this burgeoning market.  Moreover, in developing countries like Tanzania, the ability to speak and write English is viewed as essential for securing high paying employment.  In many former British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, the primary language of instruction and of commerce is English.  As a result, students learn math and science and all other subjects in English.   The local language is taught as a subject.  Parents support their children learning English as they view it to be a necessary skill to help their child compete successfully in school and in the marketplace, a view based on human capital ideology.

Many multinational corporations have seized on this demand for English as a Second Language to develop curricula, computer-based instruction, and resource books that are marketed globally.  According to Spring (2011) global testing producers such as “Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Educational Testing Services benefit from educational systems that rely on standardized testing for promotion, graduation, and college entrance, and on English as a Second Language commerce”. Multinational Corporations promote the idea of human capital ideology and the standardization of curricula and standards so that they can create and market textbooks, tests, and other resources not only to American schools but also to education systems throughout the World.  In my view, these for-profit educational companies are contributing to the over-emphasis on “teaching to the test” as it benefits them financially.  However, unless the pendulum begins to swing towards a balance between accountability through standardized testing and utilization of teaching strategies that provide students with the high level skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace (e.g. synthesis, analysis, problem solving), I fear that the options for teachers will continue to be limited and our students will be increasingly unprepared to be true global citizens.

In summary, my take home messages from reading the “Politics of American Education” (Spring, 2001) are that: (1) education is very complex; (2) politics and commerce play a major role in our current education system; (3) human capital ideology is flawed; and (4) multinational for-profit corporations have an interest in maintaining and even increasing the use of standardized curricula and testing both in the United States and globally. As an educator, I now realize that I will have to plan and develop curricula that meet the needs of diverse stakeholders including students, teachers, administrators, politicians, parents, and Multinational Corporations.  I also realize that I will have to continue to advocate for student-focused teaching strategies (e.g.  experiential and project based learning) in my lecture hall and in other classrooms across the country to ensure my students leave my classroom with a love of learning and with the skills they need to be productive global citizens.  I will end with words of wisdom from Freire and Macedo, 1987 (as cited by Wink, 2011) “reading the world is as important and more so as reading the word.”



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


Spring, J. (2011). The Politics of American Education. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.


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

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.

Summer Vacation: St. Simons, Jekyll, and Savannah, Georgia.

Pili and Rick

We usually take our June vacation somewhere by the beach in the hot and swampy Florida. This year I was in for a change. Not changing the beach scene, but changing the vacation location altogether. It gets boring going down to the Sunshine State when you have already seen and done all the beaches and coastal towns. We made a decision to go to the beach off course, but in the home state of Georgia. So, we decided to go for a week at St. Simons Island.

The Bridge to Jekyll IslandDeciding where to go was easy, but not enough in and by itself. We had to also decide on where we would stay for the whole week. The house or hotel where we would stay had to be next to the beach and also had to have an easier access to other places in our hit list (i.e., Savannah, Jekyll, and St. Simons Islands). We ruled out hotels, condos, and apartment complexes. The reason for ruling out these places was simple—too much traffic (tourists) as we needed a secluded place just for ourselves.

Dolphin Tour Jekyll Island

We decided to rent a house. There are many rental house options in St. Simons. We wanted a house that had a pool to sock in after long bike rides in the hot afternoons. We were able to get a house three blocks from the beach which was really nice. The house had an authentic island vide with bougainvillea drapes and the best part of all it was three blocks from a serene beach. We could watch the sunset by the beach every night just by taking a shot five minutes walk. The atmosphere was very relaxing, romantic, and secluded.

So, we spent about two days in each of our hit locations. The first day, which was a Saturday, we just lounged at the pool and made some barbeque for dinner. The next day (Sunday), we went to the main street St. Simons and spent a couple of hours there riding bikes, walking at the fishing pier, saw the lighthouse,  saw the bloody marsh, and then we retreated for a swim at the main attraction swimming pool next to the Atlantic Ocean. It was so much fun.

Century Old Oak Tree

We spend the next two days visiting Jekyll Island. It is a very small version of St. Simon but packed with a lot of activities. We did the wharf boat tour. We were able to see tones of dolphins along the way. We also did the Sea Turtle Center where we saw firsthand the work that the center does to protect the marine environment and its creatures. As a marine scientist I was very impressed with the center and with the types of sea turtle species they had there. Then, we decided to see the Summer Waves Water Park. This park is kind small but the waves are worth all the money. It was really fun to hit the water again. And to finish off, we went took a tour of the historic Jekyll Island. Now I know why the rich and famous loved this island in the early 20th century.

Migrant Birds StopMy Future Parking Spot

Wednesday and Thursday, we went to Savannah. Unlike St. Simon and Jekyll Islands, Savannah is a big city. It was not possible to cover the entire city of Savannah in a single day. We had to be strategic. We decided to only do two things: 1) take the bus tour and a walking tour in the first day, 2) do shopping along the river the next day. The bus tour was fantastic. Savannah is rich of history and culture. Later on we walked the trail following the civil war battles that ended in Savannah. Tired and ready to sleep we drove back to St. Simon for our night. We concluded our vacation by seating back and relaxing at the pool.

The Beach

Till next time………

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.

Tanzania Education System: Why Change It?

Each year and each time the National Examination results (Standard Seven, Form Four, and Form Six) are announced, the discussion regarding the failures of the education system in Tanzania pops up.  The central question in these discussions is whether or not the education system is meeting its goals of educating the Tanzanian youth? TWAWEZA’s  data (2011-2012) from a cross-sectional studies in over 38 districts of the Tanzanian education system highlights some of the issues and the difficulties facing the system. Access the report here. Findings from this cross-sectional study paints a gleam picture. At the primary, secondary, and high school levels, majority of our children are not learning and not acquiring practical  and problem-solving skills needed to be successful in life and for post primary education. The skills gap is much wider between rural and urban primary, secondary, and high schools. This skill gap has created a rural-urban divide on how children access quality education in Tanzania.

Major Issues Facing the Education System in Tanzania

Tanzania has a K-13 education system. It starts with the kindergarten level for one year, the primary level for seven years, the secondary school level for four years, and the advanced secondary school level for two years.  Currently, there is a multifaceted primary school education in Tanzania composed of English Medium Schools (the very minority) from political and affluent families and those attending regular primary education (the majority). And Within the regular education system, the facility and staffing quality differences between schools in rural areas and those in urban areas are quite staggering.

Those attending regular primary schools in rural areas normally lack books, teaching aids, and are schooled in dilapidated teaching environment. Furthermore, they have teachers who are ill-prepared to teach the courses that are assigned to them to teach. Furthermore, there are no professional development opportunity for the teachers to engage in professional learning and development. Professional development activities that will enhance proficiency in their teaching, teaching methods, in the medium of instruction, and  finally mastery of content.

The teaching culture also needs to change to reflect the changing student needs. It should be reasonable for student to engage in a discussion with the teacher and other students without fearing retaliations. The fact that students are scared to ask questions in class is very troublesome. Teachers are supposed to be facilitators of children’s search for knowledge. It is the duty and responsibility of each teacher to encourage children to ask questions, to guide children in their thirsty and hunger for knowledge. How are children going to learn if they do not have the opportunity to ask questions? What type of citizens are we producing? Citizens who cannot ask questions? Citizens who cannot analyze issues? I always ask myself why we entirely depend on the people who failed to teach our kids. Failures produce failures in my book.

Change Requires Clear Vision

To counteract these issues, the government of Tanzania needs to be at the forefront. The government needs to develop goals on how the educations system in Tanzania should look like for the short and long term.

Questions like:

What knowledge is of most worth to the youth in Tanzania?

What research based-teaching strategies are best for achieving this knowledge?

What educational management model would be best for achieving the knowledge we seek to impart to our children?

Who will pay for the cost of providing this knowledge?

These questions needs to be asked and thoroughly explored. Without a clear plan, it will be impossible to measure if the education system is actually addressing the needs for the short and long terms. In assessing the education program we need to ask ourselves:

What our standard seven graduates need to know and  be able to do?

What our form four graduates need to know and be able to do?

What our Form Six graduates need to know and be able to do?

Further Issues to Explore: Why are Tanzanian Youngsters not Learning?

There is not a single answer to this question. Several factors contribute this issue in one way or the other.

Learning Activities

Learning activities used in most classrooms do not reflect the interests of children. We are still using teaching strategies that are outdated, non-engaging and based on memorization to teach children whose attention spans have changed over the years. Most of the digital-age children have very short attention and memory spans. Lecturing for hours without interactive activities, hands-on-activities, and experiential learning activities will not be beneficial to them. In my opinion, we cannot continue to teach non interactive lessons, lessons that don’t address children brain development theories, motivation theories, cognitive theories, and expect our children to learn. In addition, teacher absenteeism, lack of classroom resources, and pathetic salaries contribute to the failures seen.

Research to what interests our kids to learn is needed

I plea for Colleges “UDSM , SUA, and UDOM” to do research aimed at finding out what exactly interests our young people today. Our this is known, these colleges could be at the forefront in the development of curricula that reflects these interests. A bottom up approach  for developing curricula from the the school level, the district level, the regional level, and the country at large needs to be used. Matching students interests, intelligences, learning style preferences with instruction has been shown to improve students’ interests and academic performance.

Curricular Should be Regional Rather Than National

Tanzania is a huge country. Curricula diversification is very important.  What kids learn in Mtwara should reflect the challenges and opportunities available to them. Kids should learn through solving real life problems facing their community. What kids learn in Tabora, should reflect issues that are directly linked to their own society. We need to move past the one-size-fits-all mentality in education policy formulation, delivery, and especially the curricula itself.

The Age Factor

For primary education the age factor needs to be seriously discussed. In my views, Standard Seven graduates are indeed too young to participate meaningfully in any civil and citizenship responsibilities. For example, getting a job at the age of 13-to-14 years is almost impossible in the current work-force-system or structure in Tanzania. I certainly believe that raising the end of school age to Form Four for all will adequately help to give our youth enough time to grow physically, mentally, and academically for them to participate fully in their nation building work and in realizing their potentials.

Secondary School for All Kids

The money factor and the school structure needs to be discussed openly. Like I said earlier a bottom-up approach will do more good than harm. It will be a huge undertaking but it would be worth the effort in the end. Indeed, a whole generation of talented Tanzanians  are left behind with the current system. For example, I was one of those luck persons who passed the Standard Seven examination alone in my school. I do not believe that I was the smartest. I have no idea where the standard seven friends I left behind are doing right now. It is a shame that I left a lot of them behind to fend for themselves at the age of 13-to-14 years old.

Probably knowing the life time income differential between a primary school graduate and a secondary school graduate in Tanzania will help in narrowing down the options on which way to go. There are no data at the moment, however, I believe those who attends secondary schools will have an upper hand on this. Once it is known for fact that secondary school graduates earn more on average that primary school graduates, then, the government can be compelled to allow secondary education for all kids. If indeed, secondary school graduates make substantially more income over the course of their lives, then I am for expanding those opportunities to all our young men and girls.

Ms. Magreth Mushi’s First Year Doctoral Studies Reflections: Join the Conversation.

I am starting a conversation here with students who completed their first year of studies in a doctoral program. My hope is that through a deep reflection of their experiences, I will be able to help others who are interested in this joyous, but thorns-laden-journey. If you are a PhD student anywhere in the world feel free to share your reflections on the three prompts below. The expectation is that you will have taken time throughout the year to consider these items and to process deeply their implications in your personal, family, and professional growth.

Today I am officially starting this conversation with Ms. Magreth Mushi, a doctoral candidate at the North Carolina State University.


How has the doctoral program curriculum and experience stretched you professionally?

It has being a year now and I am glad to say that it was a challenging and a rewarding year both professionally and culturally. Before talking about my professional experience, I would like to first talk about the cultural experience shift I have encountered this year. I believe the cultural shift has influenced my perception on how I view my the profession growth I have seen this year.. You will agree with me that there is a big cultural difference between the so called Developed Countries and Developing Countries. Coming from Tanzania, it was challenging for me to keep up with the classwork and research workload in my first semester. I had to work twice as hard and with a family of three children- it wasn’t easy! Being in a PhD program as you know requires extended study times and intense intellectual effort. Without a doubt my professional experience has taken a leap forward. Professionally, I was a lecturer at a university in Tanzania. I spent most of my teaching time standing in-front of my class teaching, giving homework, exams, and doing research. Therefore, starting a PhD in the United States where you have to start from taking foundational courses, was revolutionary to me. This year the only thing that did not change was the research part in my life, everything else changed. I had to sit in classes, listen, do homework, and exams— it was like a parent becoming a child again. The whole point of it is the hands-on experience I get all the way from class sessions to the labs where you have to apply what you learned in class to live systems and simulated life-experiences. As a teacher I wasn’t doing much of the application side of teaching in my home institution. All of these new experiences were challenging at the beginning, but now I am used to doing them and it has become fun. From knowing the theory part of teaching, now I know more and I am starting to combine practical part of what I used to teach in class and much more.

Any crossroads have you encountered that have caused you to re-situate your thinking about a topic or issue?

I have come across many cross-roads. I believe this is very common in a PhD journey. I am not sure if crossroad is the right word, but it is rather a result of me gaining more knowledge and adapting to the new experiences. As explained above, what I was thinking before coming to the United States and starting my PhD is quite different from what I am thinking right now. A good example is the research statement I wrote during my PhD application. The title of this statement has changed twice over this year. This is due to me gaining more understanding in my area of research interest and I believe it is not final yet. It is possible that it will change again as I gain a deeper understanding in the area. I still have a long way to go.

What are your future plans post-doc and how do you imagine the next three years preparing you for those plans?

After my PhD study I am planning to do a post doctoral in order to enhance my professional experience. After that I plan to go back to Tanzania to continue with my carrier as a researcher and an educator. I believe there is so much improvement to be done in the education system in Tanzania. In five years to come I see myself in one of the top positions in the education system in Tanzania. I have many ideas on how to change the education system from the elementary level, secondary, and all the way up to higher education. I worked with the Tanzania Education and Research Network (TERNET) as deputy executive secretary since the day it was founded in 2007 until 2012 when I joined my PhD studies. I understand the challenges we face in our education system. Those that are easy to solve and those that are not but, challenging nonetheless. I know it only need honesty, knowledge, exposure, and will power change to change the way educational policies will impact the future of our education system in Tanzania.I am aware that for the rest of the years in my PhD and my post doctorial experiences, I have to enhance my technical and research skills to achieve all my goals. Furthermore, what is most important to me is developing leadership skills. I am glad that the university I am studying at (North Carolina State University (NCSU)) is giving me all the opportunities to advance in these areas. I believe at the end of my studies, I will be able to accomplish my plans and goals. Starting fall 2013, I am going to be involved seriously in research work in the area of computer networking (specifically fiber networks). I expect to sharpen my research and technical skills all the way through. I believe in enhancing my leadership skills through participating in different professional and community groups. For example right now I am a member of Women in Computer Science (WiCS) group at NCSU where we take a leading role in supporting, promoting, and retaining women in Computer Science, as well as encouraging other women to join computer science and engineering fields. I am also a member of NCSU STARS Student Leadership Corps (SLC) providing students with the opportunity to learn more about computer science careers, participate in service and outreach programs to local schools, engage in research, meet with leaders in the computer field. This entire involvement is meant to sharpen my technical, research, leadership skills for today and the future.

My advice to prospective PhD students in Tanzania.

My advice to anyone who is interested to embark into the PhD journey is to prepare to work hard and to also think through thoroughly before applying. They should prepare to meet and solve many challenges along the way while maintain a positive outlook of the situation. The article that helped me to get through all the PhD madness in my first year is included here. This article was (and still is) very helpful to me in several situations when I have to rethink my PhD path. I believe it will also help (and I recommend this to) all who are looking forward to start their PhD journey. I promise you, there are some times along the way you will have to stop and say “wait, am I sure I want to continue with this?” these are checkpoints where you have to think maturely and get advice from trusted sources. It is not something to be proud of, but several times I have visited flight booking websites wanting to book my flight back home, seriously! But few hours of rethinking and getting advice, will get you going. The good side of all of that is, others did it, others are doing it, and others will do it! Why not you? Wishing you good luck and welcome aboard!

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and Ballet Recitals

Image There are so many ways to spend your week-end here in Atlanta without going into your wallet. Don’t take this literally though, because you will have to shell some cash for gas, drinks, and food. For starters, there are numerous outdoor festivals going on each week-end; the many parks, lake Lanier activities, and the nearby (Smokey) Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. You can do it all if you happen to like a week-end filled with fun and excitement.Image

It has become our tradition to spend a week-end away from home every now and then during spring, summer, and fall. The weather is just too nice to spend the whole week-end in the gloomy and traffic ridden Atlanta. I am not trying to say that Atlanta’s week ends aren’t fun. I live in the city each and every-day and therefore a change of venue now and then is warranted.  I feel like week-ends are times well spent somewhere close to Mother Nature. Week-ends are timesImage to explore a different landscape, a different way of earning a living, a different of way of approaching the daunting task that is life.Image

Thus last week-end was no different. We took off Friday evening for a time on the slopes of the Smokey. A great a place to visit and to distress. There are plenty of hiking trails, river flows, and water-falls to see and indulge on. We had a blast! Probably we might consider the Smokey again before the summer gets-out.Image

On another note, yesterday evening was my daughter’s recitals for her ballet classes. So we rushed down from the Smokey after an early lunch so we can be with her and her friends. It was awesome. The dancers represented not only ballet dance but also all sorts of dances from around the globe. So, I will leave you with the photos of Pili from the recitals.

                  “While others accumulate things, I chose to accumulate memories

Predictors of Student’s Likelihood of Passing the Biology End Of Course Test (EOCTs) by Gender, Race and Economic Status in an Urban High School Setting.

Gender, race, and the economic statuses of students are directly associated with students’ achievement in mathematics and reading in urban schools (Southworth, 2010; Lubienski & Crane, 2010). The achievement gap associated with these factors has persisted in the American education system for 59 years since the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Moreover, it has been 47 years since the Coleman Report of 1966 (Southworth 2010), which implicated race and income as predictors of student achievement.

Over the years, educational policies have changed in the United States. The introduction of the “No Child Left Behind Act” in 2000 led to staffing each school with highly qualified teachers in the hope of reducing it (Konstantopoulos & Chung, 2011). However, evidence in related literature illustrates that race, economic status, and gender continue to impact a student’s achievement (Van de Gaer et al, 2008).

The present study will investigate the roles that race, gender, and students’ economic statuses play on whether or not a student passes or fails the End of Course Test Scores (EOCTs) in Biology in a suburban high school in the southeastern United States.

Search Strategies

For the content of this paper, the Google scholar search engine was used in the initial searches of utilized. All resources were published between January 1990 and June 2012.  The articles were identified through a comprehensive search of four electronic databases: Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), Education Journals (ProQuest), Omnifile Full Text (Wilson), and Research Library (ProQuest). After an initial search, additional sources were found by searching the bibliographies of the chosen articlesThe search terms used during the computer-based searches included: gender effect on learning and achievement; parental income and student achievement; race and student achievement; income, race, and EOCT scores; students’ learning outcomes; achievement; achievement gap, student and/or pupil.

To be eligible for this review, the article had to meet the following four criteria: 1) include race, gender, and family income as a predictor of student achievement; 2) been published in a peer-reviewed journal; 3) be published between 2000 and 2012; and 4) Only studies published in English were reviewed.  In addition, the study must assess the effect of gender, race, and family income on student achievement.

Research questions:

Is race a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology?

Is gender a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology?

Is parental income a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology?

Null hypotheses:

Race is not a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology.

Gender is not a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology.

Parental income is not a statistically significant predictor of a student passing the end of course test (EOCT) in Biology.

Data Collection

The data used in this authentic project was collected from the DeKalb County Public School’s website on student achievement. The database consists of student achievement scores in Biology, Mathematics, Physical Science, and Writing as measured by the End of Course Test (EOCT). I selected only the data pertaining to the names of students that I teach this semester in the Instructional Data Management System (IDMS Database).  The information available via IDMS was incomplete due to missing information. To fill in the gaps of missing information, I developed a survey for my students to complete which included questions pertaining to:  race, gender, and parents-income [measured by whether they received free and reduced lunch or not (see Appendix I)]. The pre-existing data and the survey data were both examined for accuracy and for filling in the information gap that existed between them.

The data collected was used to determine whether gender, race, and a student’s family income are predictors of their EOCT score in Biology. Various literature (Southworth, 2010; Van de Gaer et al, 2008 & Lubienski et al, 2010 & Dulaney & Banks, 1994, Desimone, L. 1994, Patterson, Kupersmidt, & Vaden, 1990) published in regards to a student’s achievement in urban schools has linked gender, race, and student’s economic statuses to the student’s achievement. However, few studies have looked extensively into these predictors in suburban high schools. Therefore this authentic study will assist to culminate the existing information gap on the effect that race, gender, and family income has in the American suburban schools.


            The authentic study used both existing and survey data. The study participants’ population included a total of 90 high school students of whom 50 were males and 40 were females. The racial distribution of the student participants included; 28 Hispanics, 35 African Americans, 21 Caucasians, and 6 Asians. Of the total 90 students surveyed, 55 did not receive free and/or reduced lunches while the remaining 35 did. The analysis solely included Biology EOCT scores taken in the Fall semester of the 2012-2013 school year.

Measures of Low income, Race, Gender, and Academic Achievement

            For the purpose of this research paper, low income was defined as the percent of students who received free or reduced lunch. The definition was consistent with past research on measures of low income in secondary education in America (Abbott & Joireman, 2001). Race was categorized into four groups: African American/Black, Caucasians, Hispanics, and Asians. Students chose the race category that they belonged to based upon their own understanding of racial identity. Student gender data was extracted directly from the IDMS website. Furthermore, academic achievement was categorized into two groups; students who passed the EOCT or those who did not.

Data Analysis

            The data collected in the authentic study were analyzed using SPSS statistical software. Binary regression was used to perform the analysis. The data was first entered manually into the SPSS statistical program. There was no continuous data in any of the predictors’ outcomes variables. Therefore all data was entered as categorical data. Since all the predictors’ variables contained categorical data, there were no linearity or multicollinearity assumptions to be met before the binary regression statistics were run. In addition, since the participants in the IDMS database were randomly selected, I assumed independence of errors. The significant level was decided based upon the p values. If the p value was greater than 0.05, then the null hypothesis was rejected. And, if the p value was less than 0.05, then the null hypothesis was accepted.


            The logistic regression results indicated that gender and race were not statistically significant predictors of a student having passed the EOCT exam in Biology. The parental income, however, was a significant predictor, p < .001 and therefore its null hypothesis was rejected (see Table 1). Based on the results of the logistic regression, both null hypotheses for gender and racial identity were accepted since the associated p values were greater than .05, at .315 and .257 respectively. The summaries of findings are the following:

  • The odds of a male student having passed the EOCT in Biology were 1.74 times greater than that of the odds of a female student passing the EOCT in Biology; however, the odds was not statistically significant, p values was greater than .05.
  • The odds of a student who was not receiving free and reduced lunch having passed the EOCT in Biology was 9.37 times greater than that of a student who was receiving free and/or reduced lunch. The odds for the predictor were statistically significant, p < .001.
  • The odds of a student who was an African American passing the EOCT in Biology was .53 times less greater than the odds of a Caucasian student passing the EOCT test in Biology; however, the odds was not statistically significant, p value was greater than .05.
  • The odds of student who was Hispanic passing the EOCT test in Biology was .19 times less greater than the odds of a Caucasian student passing the EOCT test in Biology; however, the odds was not statistically significant, , p value was greater than .05.


Table 1

Logistic Regression Predictors of a Student’s Passing Biology EOCT test in Biology





95% CIs for OR





Parental Income




Did not Received   Free Lunch



[2.61, 33.58]
















[.59,   5.15]

Racial Identity



African     Americans                        











[.04,   6.64]


–    1.67


[.02,   2.41]





Nagelkerke   R2              








  • Note. N = 90
  • p < .05*, p < .01**, p < .001***.
  • a Reference category.




Tables Associated with the Logistic Analysis are Listed Below:

Table 1           

Case Processing Summary


Unweighted Casesa



Selected Cases

Included in Analysis



Missing Cases






Unselected Cases







a. If weight is in effect, see classification table for the   total number of cases.



 Table 2

Dependent Variable Encoding


Original Value

Internal   Value






















Table 3



Categorical Variables Codings




Parameter   coding










Black/African American
















Does Not Receive Free and Reduced Lunch





Receive Free and Reduced Lunch

















Table 4


Omnibus Tests of Model Coefficients







Step 1

















Table   5



Model Summary




-2   Log likelihood

Cox   & Snell R Square

Nagelkerke   R Square






a. Estimation terminated at iteration number 5 because parameter   estimates changed by less than .001.



Table 6

Classification Table







Percentage   Correct




Step 1










Overall Percentage





  1. The   cut value is .500












Table 7



Variables in the Equation








95%   CIs EXP(B)



Step 1a

































































a. Variable(s) entered on step 1: Gender, Parental_Income, Race.





















Desimone, L. (1990). Linking parent involvement with student achievement: Do race and income matter? The Journal of Educational Research, 93(1), 11-30.

Dulaney, C., & Banks, K. (1994). Racial and gender gaps in academic achievement (E&R Report No. 94.10). Raleigh, NC: Wake County Public Schools System, Dept. of Evaluation and Research. (ERIC Document ED380198)

Konstantopoulos, S. & Chung, V. (2011). Teacher effects on minority and disadvantaged students’ grade 4 achievements. Journal of Education Research, 104(2), p73-86.

Lubienski, S. T., & Crane, C. C. (2010). Beyond Free Lunch: Which family background measure matter? Education Policy Analysis Archives, 18(11), p1-39.

Petterson, C. J., Kupersmidt, J. B., & Vaden, N. A. (1990). Income levels, gender, ethnicity, and household composition as predictors of children’s school based competence. Child Development, 61, 486-494.

Southworth, S. (2010). Examining effects of school composition on North Carolina student achievement over time. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 18(29), p1-42.

Van de gaer, E., Pustjens, H. & Van Damme, J. (2008). Mathematics participation and mathematics achievement across secondary school: The Role of Gender. Sex Roles, 59(7/8), p568-685. DOI: 10.1007/s11199-008-9455-x





Appendix I


Student Survey:

Predictors of Students’ Scores on the Biology and Physical Science EOCTs


Ethnicity and/or Race

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

  • o Black/African American
  • o Latino/Hispanic
  • o White
  • o Asian


Parents’/Guardian’s Income

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

  • o Yes o No


Check the box that correctly describes your gender.

  • o Male
  • o Female

EOCT Scores

Be very 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.

  • o Yes   o No

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

  • o Yes   o No




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



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.


Scientific Cheating Catalog: The Mismeasure of Man

Scientific Cheating Catalog: The Mismeasure of Man

The book “the mismeasure of man” chapters 3 and 4, Gould discusses further some of the ways that scientists have cheated either intentionally or unintentionally. I have cataloged some of those instances I found to be fascinating in these two chapters below.
1) Francis Galton (1822-1911) was Darwin’s cousin. He used numbers to construct the so called beauty map of the British Isles and he also suggested a method for quantifying boredom. He could back up his methods by numbers; however as we all have come to know–interpreters of numbers as Galton was are often times trapped by their own priori convictions (page 107).
2) Robert Bennett Bean in 1906 published a long technical article comparing the brains of American blacks and whites. He was a practicing physician and through his research he found –according to him, meaningful differences in that black are inferior to whites. He used the relative sizes of the parts of the corpus callosum to justify that blacks are inferior to whites since they have smaller genu, hence less brain in the front seat of intelligence (page 109).
3) Paul Broca (1861) was a professor of clinical surgery in the faculty of medicine and the founder of the Anthropological Society of Paris in 1859. He was the strongest supporter of the ideas that brain sizes constituted the differences in intelligence among the races. Again, even after extensively restudying Morton’s method, Broca still was another victim of his own preconceived notion about blacks. He and the society he lived in held deep beliefs that blacks were an inferior race (page 114-125).
4) E. D. Cope was the most celebrated American paleontologist who came up with the idea of recapitulation. In recapitulation the idea is that adults of inferior groups (i.e., blacks) are like children of superior groups (i.e., white male). Cope identified 4 groups of human forms following this criterion: nonwhite races, all women, southern as opposed to northern European whites, and lower classes within superior races (page 144).
5) B. Kidd used the recapitulation argument to justify colonial expansion into tropical Africa. He wrote “dealing with peoples who represent the same stage as that of children in the history of the development of individuals in the white race. The tropics will not, therefore, be developed by the natives themselves”. To that end, recapitulation is indeed still used in many circles in the west as a justification for imperialism and economic colonization of Africa (page 147).
This does remind me of the many things I have heard and seen on TV this and many years past. I will use the past presidential election as an example. If you happened to watch MSNBC and Fox news simultaneously, you would have thought the election was too close to call. Each of these TV news channels had their own statisticians manipulating the numbers to meet the expectations of the pre-conceived notions of their viewers. For Fox news, Mitt Romney was a winner long before the election-day and for MSNBC news, Obama was a declared winner weeks ahead of the election-day. This shows how prior convictions can have a huge impact on the way data is collected and computed to fit the fore mentioned prior notion.
In addition, another contentious today’s issue that priori conviction is at play is global warming. Global warming is one of those issues that scientific consensus has almost been reached. However, you still have few scientists who are using data from geological times to justify the fact the earth has cooled and warmed in times past and that, perhaps what we are experiencing now—might just be one of those natural circles. Therefore, there should be no cause for concern.
On the other hand you have scientists who have accumulated great amount of data supporting the argument that global warming is caused by excessive burning of fossil fuel causing the accumulation of greenhouse gasses. I am leaning on the latter camp. It might be just because of the environment awareness time that I am in and if the former a proven to be collect—future generations will debate this issue in light of our prior conventions the same way we are talking about scientists such as Broca and their ideas regarding biological determinism and inferiority of the blacks and other minority races to whites.
To conclude, most of the research we are conducting as researchers today are somewhat clouded by our own views and the societal expectations of the time—our time. Yes, better scientific method have been developed to minimize the effect of priori conventions in data collection and interpretations through the development of the scientific method, but still as we are humans, our prior notions most times shows up in the results sections. Therefore, numbers alone are not all that important at all if confounded with prior-convictions.
Gould, J. S. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York: NY. W.W. Norton &Company, Inc.

Transformation Theories: A Reflection

By: Shaaban Fundi
In this essay I will discuss transformative theory of learning through four different lenses or approaches. These approaches include Mezirow’s psychocrtitical approach/theory, Daloz’s psychodevelopmental perspectives, Paulo Freire’s sociocultural theory and Boyd’s psychoanalytical approach. I will then, discuss the similarities and differences among these four lenses of transformative learning. Furthermore, I will discuss my views regarding the theories of transformative learning and to whether or not the theories have changing my world view (epistemology) over the years.

Mezirow (1997) defines transformative learning as the process that affects change in persons’ frame of reference. He argues that adults have over the years developed experiences that define their world. Because of this body of experience we tend to “reject ideas that fail to fit our preconceptions” (Mezirow, 1197, p.5). In Mezirow’s psychocritical approach, meaning structures are differentiated into three categories–frame of reference, habits of mind and point of view. In addition, for transformative learning to take place Mezirow argues that transformation must take place in our belief system, attitude and our entire perspectives. And, experience, critical reflection, reflective discourse, and action are central phenomenon in Mezirow’s psychocritical transformative learning theory.
Despite a well-developed theory put forth by Mezirow, critics argue that there is too much overreliance on rationality. According to Merrian, 2004 (as cited on Merrian, S., Caffarerra, R., & Baumgartner, L, 2007, p.136) “one’s cognitive development may influence his or her ability to experience a perspective transformation.” Thus, refuting rationality as the major cause of transformative learning.

According to Daloz, 1986 education is a transformational journey geared at enhancing development in an individual. The focus of transformation in Daloz’psychodevelopmental perspective relies on stories of the journey that someone takes to expand his or her world view. Dialogues and discourse are integral part of the transformation process his perspectives. On the other hand, Boyd “sees transformation as an inner journey resulting into greater personal consciousness (Merrian at al., 2007, p. 139). Boyd also places greater emphasis on the importance of dialogue or discourse for transformation to occur.
The major similarity amongst all these three theories of transformational learning is that they all place a greater emphasis on the discourse and/or dialogue. The difference between Boyd’s perspectives and Mezirow’s theory are that Boyd focused on the importance of stories on the journey towards transformation and Mezirow does not.

The last theory of transformation I will briefly discuss is the sociocultural transformation learning theory by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His theory emerged from the context of poverty, illiteracy, and oppression and focuses mainly on social change. Paulo classifies consciousness in three categories: i) magical (no control over own life, everything is externally influenced), ii) Midway (people starting understanding that they have some level of control and can change their circumstances), iii) critical consciousness (people are fully aware of forces that shape one’ life) (Merrian at al., 2007, p.141).
Central to all the four theories of transformational learning is the idea that through dialogue and/or discourse a person involved in a transformative learning experience can move to a frame of reference that is “more inclusive, discriminating, self-reflective, and integrative of all experiences” (Mezirow, 1997, p. 5). I see myself going through this transformation, especially in the sociocultural view point. Over the years I was stuck in the mindset that the problems in my community were too big and I thought too much external forces beyond my control were at play. But as I engaged in self-reflection and dialogue with others, I am now seriously thinking that most of the problems I have seen and continue to see in my community have solutions from within rather than from without.

I will highlight one issue here as an example. The village I grew up in, does not have a library or a computer center where young people and others can access information. There are three secondary schools and one teacher’s college in the area. I looked at the problem and felt helpless in the beginning. But, last year I decided to take action and started to collect used laptop and desktop computers from friends and co-workers for a small learning center. I named the center Kibogoji Experiential Learning Center, Inc. Currently I have 7 computers and bought enough bricks to build just a single room for the center. It is not operational yet, but I feel like this will no longer be a problem in my village the near future.

This example shows the power of transformation through education. It is imperative through education to understand forces that shape one’s life and in the process to become an active agent of change by creating a more just reality for all. I have changed from the mindset that external forces are in charge (the blame game) to becoming a person that will transform part of my previous world. Thanks to education and its transformative forces.

I am trying to instill this kind of transformative education to my students. Teaching them not just lecture hall related subjects but also “teaching them the ability to lift themselves by rethinking and reconfiguring their frame of reference.” To achieve this transformative education, I use research based and theory derived teaching strategies such as blending gizmos with tradition teaching to empower students to create their own meaning from text and/or concepts (Shunk, 2012, p.293).


Shunk, D. H.(2012). Learning theories:An educational perspectives (6th. Ed.). New York: Pearson.
Merrian, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 74

Savannah: Georgia Educational Researchers Association Conference Reflections

In this essay I will reflect on one educational topic presented I at the Georgia Educational Researchers Association (GERA) 2012 conference in Savannah, Georgia. I will discuss what I thought was interesting in the presentation and also discuss the applicability of the research to my own teaching and research.

Friday morning I attended several presentations. The presentation I will reflect on was an evaluation research presentation. We all know that professional development training for teachers happens in many places throughout the year in the state of Georgia. As it is customary, Many of the training are immediately followed by an evaluative survey to gauge how the participants viewed the training usefulness and applicability. Most of the evaluative surveys at the end of each training sessions have questions such as: 1) on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied were you with the training? 2) will you recommend the training to others?, and 3) did you learn anything useful from the training? Off course many other useful questions are also asked in these surveys besides the ones mentioned.

In the presentation I attended, the presenters argued that as good as these survey questions maybe at assessing participants’ levels of satisfaction with the training, they don’t go far enough to assess the usefulness of the training in changing practice. The presenter further argued that, if a researcher want to understand whether the trainings are achieving their intended goals, that is influencing best practices at the work place–then they need to go a little further in their evaluative research by visiting training participants in their work places to observe and see whether or not practices are actually changing as a result of the training participants received.
The Presenter had done a research evaluating the effectiveness of training and/or professional development at changing practices. She did an evaluation of a middle school training session on the use of best practices to teach science in middle schools. The training was aimed at teaching middle grade science teachers to use discovery learning approaches in their classrooms. The researchers asked attendees to fill out a survey asking them about their satisfaction with the training and whether or not they will use the best practices learned in their own work places.

The finding from the survey was that a significant numbers of training participants are not using the best practices learned during the training. However, approximately 87% of respondents were satisfied with the training and expressed that they will more likely than not use the teaching methods in their classrooms. When the researcher visited the participants at their work place– only 15% were using or trying to use best practices methodology of teaching in their classes. The findings from this study shows how difficult it sometime is to get educators’ buy in in implementing innovative teaching methods.
For my experience, I have attended numerous professional development in my teaching career, I have not really integrated wholly what I learned in a single training session into my classroom or lecture hall. I feel as though educators attending training session, most often pick and choose what is more important to their teaching and leave the other information that they don’t find interesting and/or useful in their own situations. Training effectiveness evaluators need to realize that most educators are not going to adopt each and every single segment of the training information into their daily practice. More likely than not, they will take what is useful to them and use that rather than adopting the entire new system into their own. There are various reasons contributing to this phenomenon from the educators’ point of view: 1) like many educators, I somewhat believe that if it is working why change it? 2) I feel like traditional educators would not like discovery learning approaches as it takes away authority from them and hands autonomy to students, 3) most schools are concerned more with students’ scores in standardized tests; therefore more emphasis is put into teaching to the test rather than teaching for understanding.

Furthermore, the challenges of implementing a discovery learning approach in a classroom are many. In my own experience, it takes more time to create lesson plans centered in the constructivist learning approaches such as discovery learning as compared to traditional learning approaches. Most often constructivist teaching approaches create classrooms that are louder because of the amount of discussions that are instrumental in meaning making for students. Therefore, creating classroom rules and procedure early on is paramount. In this type of learning, students become autonomous and also take more responsibility of their own learning.

I attended many presentations at the conference, but I was really interested in understanding whether professional development sessions have a positive impact on changing the way educators teach. The evidence from this research suggests that most teachers do not change the way they teach from attending just a single training session. It is possible that more teachers will adapt these learning methods if trainings are conducted over a long period of time or done in chunks.

Overall, I feel that GERA is a very informative conference for teachers and educational researchers. I enjoyed spending time with like minded educators and observing how other educational researchers go about conducting and presenting their findings. Most of all, it was a perfect opportunity to connect, build friendship, and long lasting connections for future research and job opportunities. I am already looking forward to next year!

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.

Stone Mountain, Georgia

We try to get out every week end and do something outdoors. This week end was nothing short of fantastic. Starting with the vintage car show in our neighborhood and ending with a trip to the top of Stone Mountain Park. The temperatures are currently dipping and it’s nice to be out to enjoy nature. We started our week end with a lazy Sunday morning just lounging in the game room. Thereafter, we decided to get out and go see what is happening at the famous Stone Mountain Park.

Pollinating I don't know what?
Pollinating I don’t know what?

Stone Mountain is the largest granite rock in the world (if you can believe that!). It is located on highway 78 just outside the city of Atlanta. There are tons of things to do around the park: from nature hikes, fishing, train rides, sky-rides, and numerous boats rides on the waterways surrounding this ginormous granite rock.

Face Painting
Face Painting

We used to take the kid here every week ends when she was little. She is no longer enthused by the swings and the nature walks in in the park. She thinks she too BIG now.

Looking at the Carvings
Looking at the Carvings

This Sunday we decided to back mainly for two things: 1) the pumpkins festival and 2) the sky ride—because it was a perfect day for it. We arrived at the park around 12 noon. It was almost impossible to find a parking spot on the main parking area. We circled the park a few times, but luck enough we were able to get a parking spot.

The biggest stone carving in the Universe
The biggest stone carving in the Universe

We spent almost 2.30 hours just doing the pumpkin festival. The kid was having so much fun with the dress-up activities, the face paintings and a scavenger hunt. It was just beautiful all around.

Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain

At around 4pm we decided to buy our tickets to get on the sky-ride. It looked as though people were having so much fun with it. The sky was clear and you could see all the way to downtown Atlanta. We got in the sky ride and went up to the top. The journey was not eventful but amazing in its own way. We got to the top and spent some time just taking pictures and taking in the views from way up.

Pumpkin reprenting the ATL
Pumpkin reprenting the ATL
Pumpkins Festival Stone Mountain, GA
Pumpkins Festival Stone Mountain, GA

What a nice way to spend a week end!

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.

The Role of One’s Epistemology on Theoretical Frameworks

How would you explain a personal epistemology?

In my understanding of the word epistemology, a personal epistemology is the view that one has about his or her world. Epistemology encompasses ones’ belief system. It is concerned with different ways that a person believe what knowledge is, how it can be acquires and the truth in that particular knowledge. This is so true for teachers. We all have our own belief system. Sometimes our own belief system cloud the way we think about what knowledge is and how learning should happen. Furthermore, personal epistemology deals with how a person analyzes the nature of knowledge and how that nature of knowledge is associated with other ideas such as what truth mean, why people believe on the things they believe in and how they justify their belief?

How confident do you feel about expressing your personal epistemology?

I feel relatively confident to express my own epistemology. I believe in hard work, perseverance and so forth and these beliefs are so engrained in my belief system such that I do not really need any evidence to believe otherwise. I understand that the forces of exposure to different world views have an undue influence on ones’ world view. I have lived for years in Africa and the United States. The long exposure in the two worlds has and is still continuing to shape my own epistemology. Due to this exposure, the way I look at knowledge, learning, truth and my belief system have also changed.

To what extent do you think that your own epistemology shapes your philosophy of teaching and learning?

My epistemology has shaped a great deal of my teaching philosophy. I tend to use my belief system on what knowledge is and how knowledge is acquired to drive instruction. I believe in a constructivist ideology of learning and therefore use inquiry a lot to help students create their own understands of concepts. I also blend in other learning and teaching theories such as humanism, cognitivism and others whenever the need arise.

I believe that students must create their own understanding of concepts for content to become meaningful to them. In addition, I tend to be harder on my students especially the ones’ who seem not to apply themselves or for lack of a better word “lazy”–to become better. This is because of my belief that to succeed, you need to work hard.

How confident are you are about explaining the impact of theoretical perspectives on educational practice?

I feel somewhat confident at explaining the impact of theoretical perspectives on educational practice. I feel like an educator that is not well grounded on the teaching and learning theories lacks some of the tools that will help him/her to become an accomplished instructor in science and other subjects. Educators who lack the various perspectives regarding how students acquire knowledge have difficulties in becoming better teachers. I truly believe that understanding these theories (Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Social Cognitivism, Humanism, and Constructivism) is fundamental for all instructors. At least having a basic understanding on these theories would be beneficial.

Which learning theories are most closely aligned with your personal beliefs about learning and teaching?

I think both constructivist theory and behaviorism theory are closely aligned to my beliefs about learning and teaching. I use both of them in my daily instruction. I use behavioral theory mostly for teaching basic facts and assessing students understanding of those facts through testing and in the “show what you know” part of assessment. I use constructivist ideas especially when introducing new concept through lab based learning and gizmos. Here students use their prior knowledge to construct new meaning or to make sense of the information.

What is your opinion of the inclusion of theoretical perspectives in teacher professional learning?

I feel like a teacher that is not well grounded on the teaching and learning theories lack some of the tools that will help him/her to become an accomplished instructor in science and other subjects. Teachers need to know the various perspectives regarding how students acquire knowledge. I truly believe that understanding these theories (Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Social Cognitivism, Humanism, and Constructivism) is fundamental to all instructors. At least having a basic understanding on these theories would be beneficial in my views. I am not trying to say that I am an expert of the teaching and learning theories, but I feel that my exposure to the theories have broaden my understanding of the best practices in learning and teaching.

What do you think the role of theory plays in the research process?

Theory plays a great role in the research process. A research that is not grounded in theory will be lacking or not well grounded. Therefore it is important to understanding the theoretical framework in which the research is based. A research that is based on learning or teaching theory is easy to explain and understand. In addition, a theoretical framework provides the skeleton on which a research question can be developed and supported. An education research is supposed to explain the gaps or extend knowledge of an otherwise already known learning or teaching theory.

Do you think it is important to have a theoretical framework in a research study? Why or why not?

I think it is very important to base your research in an already established theoretical framework. In doing so, your research will be more grounded rather than being based on thin air. A theoretical framework provides the bones (skeleton) so to speak in which your research (the meat) will be anchored. It is especially true when you are engaged in writing the methodology section your research. Here, theoretical framework can be a guide in helping you to clearly define the gap that is in the existing information. In addition, theoretical framework can also be very helpful when you are analyzing and reporting the findings of your research. Findings that are based on a theoretical framework are more credibility than those that don’t.

Apple Picking at Hillcrest Orchards, Ellijay, Georgia

Each year we celebrate the fall season in various ways. The fall season bring the best weather and its best to spend the fall days on the outside before winter sets in. To enjoy the nice weather, we decided to go apple picking in the Georgia Mountains today. The drive scenery was fantastic. The trees are already changing color bringing that beautiful look on the mountains. Don’t sit there and wait, the seasons and the beautiful fall colors will disappear before you know it.
Pili and I taking a bite

Pili enjoying the weather
Pili enjoying the weather
Roasted Corn on the Cob
Roasted Corn on the Cob
I thought that it was funny--Read the top.
I thought that it was funny–Read the top.
The Mountain View
The Mountain View
The Moonshine Museum
The Moonshine Museum (Museum wa Gongo).
The ingredients for making moonshine (Gongo).
The ingredients for making moonshine (Gongo).
Horse Carriage Rides
Horse Carriage Rides
Pig Races and the winner is Spam-mela Anderson
Pig Races and the winner is Spam-mela Anderson
Various Types of Apples
Various Types of Apples
Bye Bye!
Bye Bye!

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

Hadithi Ya Kilonzo na Mkwewe

Na Hadji Helper,

Chacha Mwizi na Wezi Wenziwe Wakijadiriana juu ya kubadirisha Mayai Mabovu
Chacha Mwizi na Wenziwe Wakijadiriana juu ya kubadirisha Mayai Mabovu
Kilonzo na mkwewe walipitia sokoni kununua MAYAI. Walipofika sokoni wakakuta wachuuzi kadhaa wakiwa wamepanga mapakacha yao ya MAYAI. KILONZO akamwendea mchuuzi mmoja aitwae CHACHA MWIZI na kununua mayai kadhaa kwa ajili ya familia yake.

Walipofika nyumbani wakagundua kuwa mengi ya mayai yale yalikuwa yameharibika. Wakarudi mpaka sokoni na kumkuta CHACHA MWIZI akiendelea na uchuuzi wake.

Wakamlalamikia kuhusu bidhaa alizowauzia naye akakubali KUWABADILISHIA na kuwapa MENGINE. Cha kustaajabisha kufika tena nyumbani wakagundua kuwa hata yale waliyopewa yalikuwa yameharibika.

BABA MKWE kwa hekima kubwa akamshauri KILONZO kutonunua Mayai tena toka kwa CHACHA MWIZI kwani inaonekana hana bidhaa nzuri yamkini.

Kama ikibidi basi ajaribu kubadilisha mchuuzi na labda anunue toka kwa mzee CHAMWEMA au hata kwa NASSORO au ikibidi kwa CHAFU.

Hadithi hii inatufundisha mengi sana WATANZANIA, tumefikia wakati sasa WANASIASA wanatuona kama MAZUZU kwenye nchi yetu wenyewe. Ni wakati wa kuamka, kupigania chetu na kudai haki zetu. Bilioni 550 iliyopotea waeleze iko wapi na sio kutubadilishia Mayai kila siku.

Mayai haya yanatakiwa yapelekwe mahakamani na kama siyo yote, baadhi yafungwe na kurejesha mali ya wizi.

Tushajua pakacha zima limeoza.

Inasikitisha na inahudhunisha na ikumbukwe SIASA ni mchezo mchafu sana na hiki utakachopigania leo ni kwa ajili ya WATOTO au WAJUKUU zako. Ni wakati wa mabadiliko ama CHACHA MWIZI abadili mfumo mzima wa upatikanaji wa bidhaa zake au WATU hatununui bidhaa zake kabisaaaa!!!

Tanzania: East Africa Members of Parliament Selection Process Flawed

The East African Members of parliament selection process will be formalized in the next few hours in Dodoma, Tanzania. The 9 members will mostly come from the party that is undergoing a molting phase—according to party officials.

The process for selecting CCM representative to the EA has been secretive and majority of the selectees have been finger picked by the few top CCM cronies. No announcement or real criteria were given to the many Tanzanians who would have liked to participate in representing Tanzania to the East African community parliament.

This has lead many people to believe that the Urithishanaji process was on the offing. Who can blame them for reaching such conclusion?

To make this process fair and inclusive of all Tanzanian with aspiration for the EA bunge, three things need to happen:

1)Members of the East Africa parliament should not have any party affiliations. They represent Tanzania in EA and not a party.

2)Nine regions need to be created within Tanzania (mainland and Zanzibar) where everyone that likes to be an EA member of parliament can contest for the office.

3)Wananchi should vote for their EA representative. Period. The EA representatives will represent the interest of Tanzania as a country and not a party or a group of cronies or lobbyists.

I wish members of parliament from all political parties in Tanzania will see the obvious and walk out of this sham exercise of selecting hand-picked individuals to represent Tanzania in the East Africa Community. In a democratic society like Tanzania, lets not allow a few individuals to dictate the interest of the country. For democracy to prevail, people and only the people should choose their representative to the EA community.

What are you views on this issues………………………………………?????

R.I.P. Steve Kanumba

ImageI have never seen your movies.

I have never met you personally.

I have never even heard your name before you accidentally passed away.

Admittedly, you have left a mark in this world through your craft.

Rest in peace Steve Kanumba.

As they put your casket down for the long never to work up sleep

I promised to myself, I will buy one of your movies next time am in Tanzania.

And discover on my own what I have been missing.

If anything .

Anyways, RIP Kanumba “the great”.

Much love and peace!!


Learning as an Objective Within a Structured Risk Management Decision: A Critique

Shaaban Fundi’s Critique of Mcdaniels, T.M. and Gregory, R. (2004) paper titled “Learning as an Objective Within a Structured Risk Management Decision Process” published in the journal of Environmental Science &Technology, 38(7): 1921-1926.

The authors introduce the complexity of issues associated with managing health, safety risks and the environment. They argue that social learning through adaptive management holds the promise of providing the basis for better risk management in the future.

To support their argument, they provided an outline for fostering improved risk management decisions. The outline includes the key concepts such as learning for current and future decisions as one of several explicit objectives for the decision at hand. They view risk management as a policy analytic decision process that is virtually enhanced by the breadth of and/or the value of the information that is available to the stakeholders.

Furthermore, they put forth the advantages of viewing learning as an objective including potential benefits from the view-point of the stakeholders, institutions involved, and for the decision process itself. The authors link learning through adaptive management to the concepts of structured decision aiding involving different stakeholders. One key aspect of decision aiding in this context involves treating learning as one of the several objectives for the policy decision that you are trying to make. They emphasized the role of learning as a means to foster good decision processes within stakeholder groups.

Strength of the paper:

The authors made an unprecedented effort to support their view point that learning be included explicitly as one of the objectives in a structured decision process involving a broader coalition of stakeholders. They used an example from Mcdaniels et al. in which learning is explicitly considered as an objective within a multiple objective decision analysis for a salmon fishery management decision. In this example three steps needed to treat learning as one of multiple objectives in an analytical term were put forward and they include an objective, a performance measure, and explicit tradeoff.

In addition, the authors argued that the use of a structured decision process helps the basis for a better decision. The steps taken in a structured decision process leads to more informed consideration of the tradeoffs arising in selecting among the alternatives. The approach helps frame individual and collective thinking and inform the limited rationality that influences all decision process. The utility value of the decision at hand is also important especially for a structured decision involving multi-stakeholders each expecting and/or visualizing a different set of values to be obtained from the decision process.

The author finally uses Kai Lee’s example to stress the point that learning is accomplished in the world of real politics through informed negotiation and planning in policy formulation processes. Kai lee places emphasis on creating and implementing alternatives to foster learning for managing environmental risks, particularly within the context of stakeholders advisory groups.

Overall the authors have made a very strong case in explaining the benefits of including learning as an explicit objective in a structured decision process involving multi-stakeholders.

Weakness of the paper:

The concept that value is the motivation of every decision regarding risk management processes is crucial and I feel that the authors have failed to link the association between a risk and the value it pertains in decision process. This is with regard to the idea that most stakeholders (laymen) are unaware of the intrinsic values (non utilitarian values) of the biological system at large and it is very difficult to put a monetary value to them. Because of the complexity of these systems, it is more likely for the decision to favor the more informed (industrial group) rather than the local stakeholders.

The other very important issue was that the structured decision process approach does not assume and/or require full knowledge and formal rationality on the part of the participants. It only assumes that participants are interested enough in the consequences of the decision to think through their objectives and the alternatives as well as they can. This to me is not good enough, I believe the value of focused thinking would be a better alternative as it includes the value of information in the decision making process and it does not rely too much on just the interest of stakeholders.