Leonardo's Apprentice

Information

Address the Real Issues

Awhile back, Education Week (online) posted in the Curriculum Matters, an article titled, “Study: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development.”  The study in question was done on 360 teachers in three Virginia school districts.  Not once in the article, did the authors of the study ever define what, in their research, the characteristics of a ‘weak’ teacher was.  Only, the so-called weak teacher benefited from purchasing good lesson plans.  Final analysis:  invest in giving weaker teachers lesson plans, but don’t spend time or money teaching how to develop a good one.  Duh!

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It was really no surprise to find the authors of Mathalicious backing up the study.  Of course, it’s money in their pockets.  You can read the article http://bit.ly/29FAdqb.  In fact, I suggest that every publisher who is having trouble selling their lesson plans grab this article, it might bring in a few more dollars into their pockets.

I’m being cynical of course!  I will agree, as most teachers do out there, that many of the professional development tortures that are endured are never totally created for the teacher.  The majority of teachers feel that their PD courses are useless, never really addressing their issues.  Why?   Rarely does anyone ask teachers what they need!

The authors talked about moving average-performing teachers, but never defined what average-performing meant, to 80th percentile—It sounds impressive but doesn’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. 

Weak teachers don’t need store-bought lesson plans.  They need mentors.  They need to be taught, yes even teachers need to be taught, how to put a well-developed lesson plan that teaches to the objectives.  Oops, I didn’t say test.  Darn right!  All lessons should have objectives, we should tell the student ahead of time what he is going to learn, learn how to teach students how to ask questions, how to analyze feedback, and how to create an assessment to find out if the objective was learned!  The test will take care of itself if objectives are met.

I’m tired of hearing Ph.Duh’s who have either (1) never been in a classroom, or (2) haven’t been in one for years, dream up their studies so that they can publish their article, keep their jobs, and have something to talk about at some roundtable lunch meeting.  The simple fact is weak teachers need mentoring,  a safe environment to question and get feedback,  resources, and the time to develop strong lesson objects.  Any Questions?

The Answer Is Within The Question

Back in the 1990’s, I took a course on becoming an info-broker.  It was a week-long course where I was introduced to data research, database design, and data retrieval.  About this same time, the Internet was evolving with Websites and new technology tools like browsers to surf the Net for information.  It was also during this time Vice President Gore created the phrase, “Information highway.” However, the course I took had nothing to do with links to Websites or University libraries.  It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands.  Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.

In order to access databases of this caliber, one had to have the following three things:  First an account and password to access these global information databases; Secondly, a bank account pre-established to pay for the information once retrieved.   Pricing varied from a few dollars per hour to one particular database that cost $1,800 dollars for every 15 minutes; Thirdly, the knowledge and skills needed to maneuver in a database to retrieve the information desired as quickly as possible.  What I also took out of this course was the importance of two other key elements:  Learning how to ask the right question, and knowing where to get the best answer.

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Asking the right question was not about asking a typical journalist question (who, what, when, where, why, and how.)  But learning how to ask open-ended questions, prioritizing them, and then mapping out a path within a database’s labyrinth maze structure.

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccI recently just finished a great little book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana called, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to ask Their Own Questions. This book mentor’s teachers on how to develop the skill in asking the right question.  I highly recommend it for those who are interested in getting students engaged and developing a classroom culture whose motivation is self-lit.  This is a small book but powerful.

 

Teaching students how to ask questions and then having them answer their own questions does lead to student lesson engagement.  Because the questions are developed by the students who are motivated to explore and discover their own answers.  Consequently, doing it this way has another benefit, they retain more information than through a lectures or worksheets.

As for where to look, that takes us into research.  Google has become the 21st Century equivalent to the 20th Century photocopying phrase, “I want to make a Xerox.”  Boy did 3M, Minolta, and other photocopying companies hate that phrase.  Today, you hear, “Google it,” for getting information.  Actually, there are 65 large databases on the Net.  Even though not as popular as Google many of the databases have links to information that might cut down on research time.

In any case, no matter which database is used by students they still need to know three basic things:

  • First, the structure of the database and how information is stored;
  • Secondly, logic tools on how to reduce the number of hits and get the best information quickly. Noted that I said the ‘best’ information, not the ‘right’ information.  In school, on a test, there is generally the one right answer whether that answer must be spelled out or blocked out on a multiple-choice question; and
  • Thirdly, the sources of the information. Understanding where the information came from and the timeframe are crucial to data integrity.

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We should also teach students the value of asking the question, “Which database will best serve me?”  Followed by, how do I design the best approach to get the information and document it.  As for documentation, students should be able to tell you which database they used, where the information was stored, the date of publication and the person(s) responsible.  In my case, it was date and time (GMT) that had to be recorded for the unpublished data or information once retrieved.

Every database on the Net has a map along with the logic tools that best serve information retrieval.  But, I caution, it still comes down to answering the question, and if the question is not formed correctly, well, as Lewis Carroll put it:

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Teaching students how to ask questions and then how to retrieve the information are important skills that all learners will need their entire life.  In fact, you might still have a question yourself.  You might still be wondering about what was in a database that would cost $1800 dollars\15 minutes to retrieve?  If you really want to know, I’ll tell you—for a price.  My next blog will tackle strategic ways to help students develop questions through storytelling.

 

The 90 Degree Shift

Top:  Thomas Edison, Alan Turing, Nikolas Tesla  Middle: Walt Disney, Mary Cassatt, Marie Curie   Bottom: Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet, Albert Einstein

What are the characteristics of an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci?  First, the people above would all qualify as apprentices of Leonardo.  All of them grew up in a world of conformity, established beliefs, and standards.  All challenged the established beliefs and traditions.  Each one was ridiculed, smeared, or shunned.  You see, traditions and conformity go hand in hand.  Once accepted, anyone who confronts the established validity, framework, or rules is no longer accepted by the masses.  

Each above approached his work and then asked a simple question, “What if. . .”  It is not just the question(s) they asked it’s the action they all took.  They all shifted 90 degrees, and as strange as it seems, their actions caused the rest of the world to eventually accept and benefit from their ideas, visions, and dreams.

My personal 90-degree shift occurred back in 1995.  It started with a simple question, “What if my students could collaborate with another school, in another state, on a science project–online?”  My school, Don Bosco Technical Institute, in 1995, did not yet have the Internet.  But I did on my personal account with AOL.  I contacted AOL and asked if we could set up an electronic schoolhouse.  I helped to develop the format, and then launched my program, “Space Island’s.”  I developed a project that involved a virtual space station orbiting earth.  Each participating school would have its own lab onboard to conduct experiments.  In 1995, websites were still rare and all communication was done via emails and FTP settings.

By 1996, the program had gone viral with  2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations, ranging from elementary schools to universities.  In that same year, the U.S. Congress placed my program into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  It was documented as the first successfully launched long distant educational program ever completed online.  Today, many universities and educational institutions benefit from online distant learning, and it all began with a question.

In 2005, I had two new questions.  “What if educators, who are trained to teach, actually were given the chance to do just that?”  Question number two, “What would happen if educators took back the reigns from businesses and politicians that now run education?”  In that year, Leonardo’s Apprentice was born.  

Leonardo’s Apprentice is about taking a 90 degree shift from the present course we have all been put on by both politicians and big business and giving control back to where it belongs, with the educators.  It’s about giving the professional educator the respect and right to plan the strategies of engaging student learning.  This is not about creating a new model or template. It is about generating visions, ideas and action that will bring efficacy to future generations.  Generations who, in turn, will learn to make their own 90 degree shifts.

The upcoming series will not be a monologue but a dialogue of exchanges.  Exchange of ideas, questions, doubts, and most importantly–movement!  It will all start by taking the 90 degree shift from conformity and tradition into exploration and discovery.  The first dialog will be on, “How To Engage Students.” I look forward to our future discussions and sharing your ideas and visions.   Begin by leaving a comment or questions below and registering your email for my future book, “Making A 90 Degree Shift: Learning how to become a Leonardo’s Apprentice Educator.”

Let Pokemon. . .Go!

 

There is a story of man who was walking through the woods and spotted a target painted on a tree trunk with an arrow straight dab in the middle.  He was amazed at the archer’s accuracy.  He continued his walk and spotted several more trees with targets and arrows shot dead center.  As he continued, he met a man with a bow and arrow and inquired if he was an archer who had made those shots.

“Are you the archer who made those brilliant shots?” the man said.

“Yes, I am.” said the archer.

“I would enjoy seeing you make another shot if you would,” the man replied.

“Sure thing,” said the archer

Stepping back the archer pulled out an arrow from his satchel, attached it to his bow and carefully drew it back as he aimed at an unmarked tree.  Firing the arrow it lodge into the tree.  The archer then picked up two buckets of paints and brushes and proceeded to paint the target around the arrow.

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Finding new ways to motivate and engage students is the big buzz in education today. Many of the articles online are about how social technology can be used to solve these problems.  For example, in two recent online articles  from Edutopia,(July 22, 2016)“The Educational Potential of Pokemon Go” [http://edut.to/2bfHFPi], and (Aug. 2, 2016), “Pokemon Go…and Global Success Skills) [http://edut.to/2aIhld2] the authors present arguments as to the educational benefits that the Pokemon Go game could have in the Global Community.  The readership is encouraged to download the game, play with it, and figure out ways on how to incorporate it into a lesson plan or curriculum.  This is what I call, “Painting the target around the arrow.”  

Can Pokemon build reading skills?  It’s looking for virtual characters, so the answer is no. Will it help students better understand mathematics?  Again the answer is no.  What about language skills?  Not there either.  So how does this game build real-life skills?  The authors never say how the game will do this.  Why?  Because Pokemon Go does not address any important learning issues–it’s a game!

Many of today’s educational digital games are no more than electronic flashcards. Pokemon Go offers no learning challenges it’s quite intuitive to learn.  As for strategies, the only one I can see is not getting hit by a car while crossing a busy intersection, or falling into an open manhole while scanning for images from the user’s phone.  

The authors imply that this game can make students better global citizens?  Really?  Does it teach about multiculturalism?  Foreign languages?   Social issues?  No!    In truth, the game was designed to make money.  But there are some people both in education and in the game marketing industries trying desperately to draw their own targets around the arrow of ‘educational outcomes’ to convince teachers that their product or service will motivate and engage student learning.

There is a thread today that sings that education must be fun in order to learn.  I like it when learning is fun, but real learning is also hard, it challenges, and demands focus.  As educators, we are preparing our students for the real world, not the virtual world.  The successes and points in the virtual world pay no dividends in the real world.  As teachers in the classroom, our job is to encourage leadership, teach students how to question, how to evaluate failure and how to find alternative options.  Our quest is to open the minds of our students to the future where they will be interacting, working, raising a family, making a living, and contributing as a responsible and productive citizen in the Global Community.

In conclusion, games like Pokemon will probably not be here twenty years from now with the evolution of technology and gaming theories.   But the language, math, and thinking skills will be required to survive.   To modify a line from Gladiator, “What we teach today echoes in eternity!”

I encourage and welcome comments on this and any article posted.

 

 

Rethinking Pandora’s Box

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Image by HopeOnHope

This morning I was scanning my Periscope App to see if any of the teachers I follow had made any posts,  while doing a quick scan I came across a San Bernardino high school student’s post titled, “Our teacher hates kids.”  When I logged on, I viewed a live stream of a classroom where a male teacher was attempting to get the class’ attention while the student was streaming live.  As the male student streamed he answered other online viewer’s question, drew sexual symbols, and with his camera aimed it at the teacher and drew a swastika.

Teachers today, are caught in a technology dilemma. On the one hand, to incorporate technology as a tool for learning, while at the same time, prohibiting that same technology from creating abuse and an unsafe environment. Periscope and Google Live, are today’s most popular live streaming Apps. There are others.  There are all kinds of questions being written on privacy and public trusts issues with these types of technology.

Most teachers allow Smartphones in classroom for a number of reasons.  In a math class, students may be allowed to access a calculator app. In an English class, students may use their phones to access a dictionary or thesaurus. In a science class, students might use their Smartphones to access a periodic table, math conversion, or a science term dictionary. It all  sounds good and safe, but at the same time, technology, whether we talk about Smartphones, iPads, or iWatches can become a Pandora’s Box unleashing a multitude of problems and issues.

There are programs that will monitor classroom computers and even iPad technology; However, Smartphones present a unique and wildcard problem because they can’t be monitored from one source, and there lies the problem and solution.

There have been dozens of articles on everything from updating the Classroom with technology to Bringing In Your Own Device (BYOD).  The pros and cons have been logically presented to the public, but the jury is still out on both the benefits and issues.  So allow me to advance a couple of solutions.

If a computer lab is used, such as a desktop lab, or laptop\notebook cart, or iPad set then the teacher can monitor these units from one unit. This would maintain supervision, awareness of student projects, while maintaining a safe working environment. All that would be needed is the purchase of monitoring software and a few hands on lessons.

The BYOD scenario can be controlled, but it requires more student cooperation and teacher monitoring.  If students are in a ‘standard classroom of rows of seating, there is no way to monitor student activity. In these cases,  having students rearrange their seats in groups of four (fig. 1) reduces the walking and eye observations required by the teacher to monitor everyone’s activity.

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Fig. 1 Group Seating

 

A better setup that works well, is to have students arrange their seats in a ‘Horseshoe’ format (fig 2) where a teacher can monitor all students from one vantage point. The trick is to have the students sit on the inside of the horseshoe, that way the teacher can monitor from his strategic advantage in the center of the horseshoe. In fig. 2, I would turn desks around so that they face out from the horseshoe.  Teacher monitors in center.

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Fig 2: Horseshoe seating

 

These are a few of the strategies I used when I did not have a computer lab and was faced with students bringing in their own technology devices.  Between the two BYOD formats I feel the horseshoe is the best for monitoring all student activities.

I will post more strategies at LeonardosApprentice.org.

I look forward to any comments or ideas on this topic that you would like to share.

 

 

Combating Teacher Brownout

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Dear Leonardo,

” I have two teachers who are resigning from their teaching post.  My assistant principal told me both young teachers are burned out. I feel bad because they were both dedicated and were inspirational.  What happened?  Could I have prevented this . . .?”

Before burnout, there is a term psychologists have referred to for years called a”Brownout.”  A teacher in the brownout stage has become disengaged, demotivated, and demonstrates a loss of interest.  This is the teacher who used to come early and leave late; now that same teacher ‘clocks in’ on time and leaves as soon as she can.

Being a teacher today, the brownout can come from several sources, and have a multitude of reasons.  Even though in a classroom of twenty or more students, or in an intimate or large faculty most teachers at the brownout stage feel alone, overwhelmed, and angry. The brownout teacher is starting to question their existence as a teacher… if what they are doing really will make a difference… if the lack of respect is really worth the effort to continue?

Teachers at the brownout stage usually release their feelings and frustrations outside the classroom–at home, with friends, or on social media. The problems that can be released especially through social media can damage school or school personnel reputations.  For those who have no outlets, stress can be transferred into physical ailments from headaches, to stomach ailments, to lower back pains.  This in turn increases teacher absenteeism and in the end affects student learning continuity and progress.

Even technology has played  a role into this as well:  Emails, texts, cell phones, computers, and social media have not reduced the stress issues, but, in effect, have increased it with longer hours on the job.  How then can an administrator or department chair address the issue?  One way, is through intervention from outside the school.  Why outside and not from within?  Simple, an outsider, with strict confidentiality to all parties, allows the teacher to express and release frustrations and emotions in a safe environment, free from ridicule, job threats, and colleague gossiping.

Leonardo’s Apprentice makes itself available as an  intervention third party to intercept and address brownout situations before they get to the burnout stage.  Our objective is to work with teachers through mentoring and training.  We have three decades of experience in education and presently mentor elementary to university teachers.

Drop us a line if you have questions, or for more information visit our website at http://LeonardosApprentice.org.

 

Is Coding a Trend or a Fad?

 f4f3127d04b10d38d15d86ca2e48fad1Liana Heitin (@LianaHeitin) recently posted a blog from Educational Week, (http://bit.ly/1LG4uG2) on the topic of, “Coding for Elementary Students: A Growing Trend?”  Or, is it a tech fad.  Technology was never designed to replace the teacher.  Technology is a tool not a learning outcome.  Computer and technology companies, like Apple, have been marketing their product not only as educational wonders but having the power to increase learning outcomes.  The results of over 35 years of marketing and sales has only increased these company’s sales and profits.  At the same time as tech industries have increased, educational scores have decreased.  

Back in 1984, IBM, Motorola, and Apple were competing for the computer market.  I had learned FORTRAN, BASIC, and Pascal, and was interested in teaching people how to build, maintain, and program these computers.  In those days, there were no teaching credentials for this topic, so I applied through the El Monte Unified High School District for a vocational credential to teach programming and computer systems.  The State of California did not know what to do with this request, eventually I was awarded a VocEd in Computer Programming and Data Systems in 1985.  I found out I was the first to apply and receive a VocEd teaching credential in computers for the State of California.  

Looking back at all those kids who learned how to program in BASIC and Pascal, they are now today in their 40’s.  Did computer literacy and programming prepare them for Smartphones, iPads, or any of the Social Media we have today?  I would say–No!

Will teaching today’s elementary students coding skills help them 20 years from now?  I don’t think so either!  Grant you, programming offers skills in problem-solving, computer logic, and problem analysis.  However, computers are continuing to be developed in more complexity with intuitive controls.  Apps didn’t exist 10 years ago.  Why do we assume our children will need to program computers in the future?  How many of you out there program your computers, iPads, Smartphones, or other technical devices?  I would assume very, very few.  Today’s kids, as those in the future will be end users.  The majority of students today don’t know how their device works, saves, or runs.  They don’t need to.   

What skills they will need, I believe, is learning how to ask the right questions (database research); Learning a foreign language and culture (Global Community Awareness and Interactions); how to choose the right tool to complete a job (problem analysis); and finally, how to manage available resources (Adaptability.)

Elementary students also need to have strong foundations in mathematics.  They need to know their time tables, understand how to identify patterns, how to communicate (public speaking), and understanding visual symbolism in communications.  Reading (analysis and reporting) is also important to help students as they progress the ladder of education.  Coding is an elective.  Changing a butterfly to a plane on a monitor and then moving it around the screen while changing sound and colors is fun, but what future skills are schools preparing students for?  Technology is becoming both more complicated and intuitive.  Technology will change, that’s a given, but the foundations of math, the Arts, science, reading, and public speaking are skills our children will need in the future, not how to code.