Leonardo's Apprentice



GettyImages-525446241-57b734a73df78c876386fecbMusic broke the silence in Austin’s bedroom as the 17-year-old boy slowly awoke from his deep sleep.  Without opening his eyes, he commanded his alarm to shut off by saying, “Off!” The computer than announced, “Do you wish to hear your agenda for today?  Or your current messages? Austin pulled off his covers and tossed them aside, then swung out of his warm bed, he sat upon the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes.  “Messages!” he said quickly.

The computer replied, “There are four messages directed for your attention: Zaid, Bjorn, Leif, and Phoenix, which one–” Austin interrupted, “Play Bjorn!”

The wallpaper screen of Austin’s favorite game program disappeared and was replaced with a high res video displaying a 17-year-old blond boy, looking away from his camera while he spoke with a distinct Dutch accent, “Austin when you get to school check out the figures we worked out.  I think we got it. Go over them with your team, and if they are correct, when do you think we can get the prototype ready? I sent our work to the Cloud 105 file. Talk to you later.” The message ended and the computer’s desktop with icons now displayed.

The computer spoke again, “Would you like to hear the other messages?”

Austin said, “Play Phoenix!”

Again, the screen changed to another video of a high school girl who was one of Austin’s team colleagues, and who seemed to enjoy dying her hair in two colors:  This week brown and purple. “Austin, when you wake up, contact me.” The image went blank and the computer responded, “That was the message. Do you wish to contact Phoenix?”

Austin commanded, “Pause!”

He decided to get dressed before making the connection.  When he had finished dressing he stood in front of his computer and said, “Phoenix, contact, now!”  As Austin waited for the connection he looked at the time.  9:00 a.m.  He had one hour to get to school.  An image appeared on the screen–it was Phoenix.  

“Hi, Austin.  Did you get a chance to look at Bjorn’s team figures yet?”, Phoenix said with a joyful tone.

Austin gave a small smile and replied, “Not yet, I just got his message, I take it you have.”   

She said anxiously. “Yes, I think his team did it.  If you agree, we can move forward on the prototype.”  

“I’m going to grab a bite to eat and will arrive at the Q in about 30 minutes,” he said.

Phoenix replied, “Great!  See you then. Bye” The conversation ended and the screen went blank.


Autin’s team was made up of four global teams: American, Canadian, Dutch and African.  His pathway into high school was the Engineering & Science Path (E&S). Previous to entering high school, Austin spent his past eight years learning foundations of writing, English, mathematics, the Arts, history, literature, a foreign language, and in his 7th and 8th grade he had introductory classes in mechanical engineering.  This is the first time, while in high school, he had had access to a global online team. Austin loved problem-solving and making things, his talent and skills assessments placed him in the E & S Pathway. In mathematics, he learned the Vedic system while also learning that mathematics was the science of patterns. Writing and rhetoric were also stressed as important skills in presentation and persuasion.  He worked in teams early, learning how to collaborate, while learning how to adapt to changes. School testing was done among Austin and other students to help them determine which path would best serve their future career choices.

The three path choices were: (1) Engineering and Science, which pushed students towards developing the top five skills for this field:  creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management. Creativity helped in fully understanding the science of art and the art of science. Creativity was about learning how to deal with failure, risk-taking, and choices.  Persuasion and collaboration were both communication skills.

Adaptability was an important skill that taught students the importance of remaining flexible to ongoing changes.  Finally, Time Management sharpened student skills by focusing on time constraints, placement order, and meeting objectives.

(2) Students taking the VocEd and TechEngineering (VETE) classes addressed those students who enjoyed working with their hands. These students excelled in art modeling, drawing, painting, as well as mastering various types of media technology to develop simulations to prototypes.  This path had moved traditional blue-collar workers to higher-paid positions that can stream out from construction to manufacturing, from electronics to material science, from art to design.

(3) Students taking the Leadership and Commerce paths (C&E) guided students who wish to go into what was once called white-collar positions.  Except the roles had expanded to the global community and the interlaced connections that made up this diverse and complicated system in working in businesses and government positions.

Back to our story. . .

Austin met his team in the Q.    In times past, the Q would have been a classroom, but it was no near that function anymore.  Senior student teams in their first block, a 90-minute development project session, worked on their year-long capstone project. It was a final project that demonstrated the lessons and works the students had learned in their first four years of secondary education. Their teacher, Mr. Davis was 28 years old and assigned to Austin’s team.  Mr. Davis had a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and an M.Ed. Mr. Davis contributed to team discussion as well as mentored individual team members. The project management calendar set the course and time for the team’s progress and success. Finally, Mr. Davis also served as a liaison for resources the team might need to complete their project.

Austin’s global teams also had a part in the final capstone project.  Bjorn’s team was located in Rotterdam, Olivia’s team was located in Vancouver, Canada, and finally, Jamir was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Their project centered on developing a portable emergency water purifier. Its main function was to take human urine or other water waste and make potable drinking water.  Austin chose two locations where the prototype could be tested: The desert of Ethiopia, and the high mountain ranges in Canada.

The device had to serve three functions: (1) to create enough water supply for one person, (2) the device had to be made from biodegradable materials, and (3) create enough electricity from the urine salts to either power a light source on the device or as an emergency battery.  The third part was what the Dutch team had been assigned to study and develop.

In my little futuristic educational story above you will find nothing that can’t be implemented into our school system now.  I know, because in the past, I worked with global high school teams on several projects similar to the above scenario. The objectives were to give the students the quest to find the project, create their own questions, develop the necessary research, delegate work to their teammates, and make their own discoveries.

 The key was creating and nurturing their curiosity 

  • for research, exploration, and discovery,
  • to find out their own solution or best answer; because in the real world, that is all we can do when faced with a problem, move forward on our best answer.

Unfortunately, schools teach that there is only one answer, true if you are playing Sudoku or crossword puzzles, but in real life, there is only the BEST answer.

Schools must change their culture from command and control to a culture of possibility and exploration,  changing decision making based on data collection and assessment testing to recognizing that teachers work better within an organic system, as opposed to a mechanical system.  Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, “There are three kinds of people: Those that see.  Those that see when they are shown. Those who don’t see.” Much of today’s educational leadership falls in Leonardo’s last point.

Education has evolved from educating young minds and to what society accepted as good morals with a good education, to a business that profits the system, not the student.  It maintains an out-dated-system that continues to support and tweak the same system of mediocrity, which only benefits those few elites in the educational markets. This may sound harsh, but if you look at the salaries of teachers compared to administrators at the school and district levels, who don’t teach, don’t mentor teachers, and who find ways to continue to impede more than improving the status quo, you have to ask two questions: First, how does an administrator encourage and extend the freedom to teachers to be creative in their classes; and two, how do they help students find their future direction in society?.

I leave you with this.  The present education machine is not working.  It hasn’t worked; it won’t work in the future.  The status quo has failed in predicting and implementing into current curriculums the future job trends, technology advances, and how the business world is changing. These three trends are not only local but global information today’s students need to make tomorrow’s career choices.   Moving from a mechanical to an organic system would give a secondary student four possible paths to choose from.

  • Engineering & Science   (degree)
  • VocEd & TechEngineering (certification\degree)
  • Business and Commerce (degree)
  • Entrepreneurship (survival skills that all the above could benefit from)

An organic system would give control back to educators.  Allowing educators the power to teach and decide what resources would best serve their students.  It would give teachers more freedom to be creative.  An organic system would support teachers and mentor students. An organic system would prepare students based on their talents and skills, not how they do on standardized tests.   It won’t be easy, mediocrity has been the norm for far too long. Leonardo’s Apprentice is on that quest for change. Join us. Both our teachers and children deserve better.  LeonardosApprentice.org  An educational non-profit organization searching for tomorrow’s visionaries.



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