Byron's Babbles

21st Century Leaning Lab Podcast

Posted in Education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 9, 2010

During a special episode of the 21st Century Learning Lab podcast, Meri Carnahan spoke to me about my experiences, both locally and nationally, as Indiana Teacher of the Year and how technology has become an important part of my classroom.

Disengaged Students

Posted in Education, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 6, 2010

I was asked today by one of my doctoral professors to define disengaged students, where the problem is, and how do we begin to deal with it. Here is the answer that I posited: A disengaged student is one through some external source does not see the relevance of school. WE have in so many ways let our children in this country down, and that is why they have become disengaged. Rafe Esquith (2007) said it best, “I am sad when I see so many good teachers and parents surrender to forces that sap their potential excellence. The demons are everywhere. Those who care deeply often fall outgunned by apathetic or incompetent administrators and politicians. Expectations for children are often ridiculously low. Racism, poverty, and ignorance often reign supreme on campus. Add to this mix ungrateful students, and even mean-spirited people in the teaching profession itself, and the hardiest of souls can be crushed. Each defeat usually means that a child’s true potential will not be developed” (p. x), There is no simple solution to education’s complex problems, but I am so encouraged when I listen and observe my cohort developing research based solutions, not just simple band-aid fixes.

As to how do we help the unengaged student achieve; again, I believe we must continue to create learning organizations where our teacher leaders are constantly learning and improving. Our traditional professional development practices focus only on acquisition of new information (Weinbum, Allen, Blythe, Simon, Seidel, & Rubin, 2004). We must create an environment where deeper learning is occurring and our teachers have multiple best practices, the appropriate pedagogy, and an understanding of how students learn (Weinbaum, et al., 2004).

We must also remember that a focus on rigor, relevance and relationships works. It costs nothing for us all to be an appropriate role model and form positive relationships with our students – which in turn helps in them become engaged. Relevance is also so very important for student engagement in learning. In regard to my own research proposal our nation must improve the way our students learn science, and the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) communities must work together to achieve this goal (STEM Education Coalition, 2010). Complex science systems must be presented to our students in a relevant context in which students can understand their importance (National Research Council of the National Academies, 2009). By providing a context that is relevant to the student (in my case agricultural science), there should be improvement in student performance and achievement in science. The model of science and agriculture has the potential to improve the content knowledge skills and professional development of the teacher workforce and improve the resources available in science classrooms and other learning environments.



Esquith, R. (2007). Teach like your hair’s on fire. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

National Research Council of the National Academies (2009). Transforming agricultural education for a changing world. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

STEM Education Coalition (2010). Objectives. Retrieved on October 13, 2010, from:

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Mobile Learning Technology

Posted in Education, Uncategorized by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 5, 2010

This past week I had the opportunity to be a presenter on the Indiana Department of Education’s Webinar Series by being a part of the Mobile Learning Webinar. I would like to share it with you. The webinar can be found on the 21st Century Learning Lab Blog.

Effective Teaching Enhanced By Technology

Posted in Education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on November 3, 2010

I was asked to respond to a question last week that caused me to do a lot of soul searching and research to formulate my response. The question was: Don’t we need smart teachers, not SMART Boards. Here is how I respondend: I would first like to change the term “smart teachers” to that of “effective teachers.” Furthermore, I do not believe that effective teachers and SMART Boards are mutually exclusive. It is my opinion that we need and should have both. It is my mission every day to use rigor, relevance, and relationships to be a steward of high student performance and achievement. My action statement for accomplishing that mission is, “I am designing and developing a learning environment that integrates various technology tools and applications, connects technology usage to content area, and embeds technology into assessment strategies.

SMART Technology is a very engaging and interactive tool that is very intuitive for the students to use. It is however, only one type of technology being used in classrooms. Technology alone does not guarantee a rich educational experience. Educational spaces need to be smart, technology rich, adaptable, and configurable in order to meet the needs of today’s students. If the desire is to put students first, it has to be more than just unloading crates of technology into a room for the teacher and saying, “Have at it!” At the same time educators must provide inspirational learning spaces on a limited budget. Technology is everywhere in today’s educational environment.

This technology is important not only for engaging instruction, but also for creating a collaborative environment with other educators, students, and educational partners both inter-school and intra-school. This well planned environment allows the teacher to individualize both in manner of instruction and type of technology appropriate to the student. Solutions that address these needs are imperative to give educators the tools and facilities they need to assist learning, and students the tools necessary for engaging learning. When all these needs are met classrooms become collaborative student learning places.

In the SWELL (SMART Worldwide Effective Learning Lab) Classroom it is more than just SMART Boards. Experience has also taught me how important the physical lay-out of the room and furniture is to the educational experience. Students love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and use of technology. Through the environment we are creating we have global connectivity using progressive educational technology. The classroom is no longer just a classroom it is a board room, learning lab, research laboratory, creativity think-tank, and an invention incubator. This learning-focused environment is preparing students for the technology they will be using when they get to the workplace, universities, and other post-secondary endeavors. In fact, I had students using iPods and iPads to collect data while on internships this summer. The very technology we use in my courses. Additionally, the learning lab that most intrigued our team while researching for the SWELL Classroom was to Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management and Economics Library Interactive Learning Lab (Bush, 2009). My SWELL Classroom closely resembles this learning lab environment that Purdue University is duplicating throughout the campus. No doubt, our students will be using the technology they use every day in my classroom no matter what their post-secondary endeavors. Therefore, I do believe our students are better prepared for success in the workplace, and when they enter post-secondary institutions.

The environment, not the technology is what is most important. We have been able to provide our students with MacBooks, iPod Touches, SMART Boards, Huddleboards, document cameras, Flip Videos, and a SMART Response System. When designing learning places we must remember that positive relationships between students and their teachers are crucial to learning. The ultimate goal must be that instruction and student learning drives the design, and that the classroom inspires learning (Demski, 2009). We have had the opportunity to do real research in partnership with local companies having Ph.D. scientists review the students work.

Through the SWELL Classroom, the Lebanon High School Agriculture Department is a leader in providing innovative networking and information technology solutions to student learning. By proceeding in stages, Lebanon will be able to develop staff, so first round teachers will be able provide support and training, and share lessons (Fishtrom, 2009). The SWELL Classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet the individual student’s needs, and then deliver that lesson in such a way that is effective for that particular child.

In relation to the question of student achievement and performance, we believe it is important to be doing action research on this. Because I am in my first year of having a technology rich educational environment, I cannot answer at a granular, refined level the question of student achievement (related to high stakes summative exams) as of this writing because there is no data available. We will, however, be looking at the data that we receive from our students taking the Purdue University Dual Credit End of Course Assessments at the end of this year versus the past three years of data we have. I am approaching this as a learning expedition – learning to identify important questions, selecting and using data from the classroom (student work, assessments, and units for inquiry), developing technical skills, and making time to share with colleagues (Weinbaum, Allen, Blythe, Simon, Seidel, & Rubin, 2004). I can tell you from a student performance perspective that our students are very engaged in their learning and are taking real ownership in their work. 

In closing, I would like to pose a question: If your child was going to Lebanon High School, would you not want your child to have effective teachers and the latest technology available to facilitate a collaborative and creative learning environment where problem solving, inquiry based learning, and higher order thinking were the norm? I believe the answer would be yes, so my teacher colleagues and I can provide students with a deeper understanding of such phenomena as globalization, leadership, and innovation, as well as the ability to think critically, decide wisely, communicate clearly, and implement effectively. Think of how great our next generation leaders are going to be!

Bush, J. (2009). Purdue libraries celebrate new interactive classroom, start second of three-phase renovation. University News Service. Retrieved on September 3, 2010 from: 

 Demski, J. (2009). Space craft: Innovative architecture is bringing form to the function of 21st-century learning. The Journal, 36(7), 34-38.

 Fishtrom, R. (2009). Best in tech 2009. Scholastic Administrator, 9(3).

 Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.