Leonardo's Apprentice

Home » Uncategorized

Category Archives: Uncategorized

Point of Perspective

Question:  What does a 15th Century oil painting have to do with the development of NASA’s Augmented Reality iPad App?

I’m always interested in the connections that today’s digital devices have with history.  Take for example, NASA’s Augmented Reality App (http://bit.ly/GA82dS).  Imagine printing a simple image from your inkjet printer.  Then placing the printed paper on your desk, and then turning on your NASA app and iPad camera to scan the printed image on the desk (fig. 1).  Suddenly, as if by magic, up pops up a model of the Mar’s Rover, with the appearance of taking up space and volume, but no weight!? (fig. 2).  Finally, you have the ability to pick up the model and view it from 360 degrees, as well as animate many of its functions (activating its’ antenna, or moving it a few degrees.)  (see figures 1-3)


Fig 1.  Printed paper being scanned by iPad camera

AR02  Fig. 2:  NASA app locks on to image and Mar’s Rover pops up.


Fig 3:  Rover can be turned and viewed in 360 degrees.





As I viewed the image on my iPad and enjoyed the ability to see a 3D image that I could move and maneuver in the palm of my hand I marveled with the science fiction I was playing with.  In the palm of my hand was the result of years of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and yet, one crucial element in history had been overlooked.  In order to appreciate the full visual affect I was enjoying with this Augmented Reality App I wondered if this was the same wonderment experienced by the few people who saw Filippo Brunelleschi’s painting of the Baptistry in Florence, Italy, 600 years ago.  Brunelleschi was a man who was an engineer, architect, artisan, mathematician, and inventor.

Prior to Brunelleschi’s work, artist’s painted and drew in a flat plane with figures that had no weight and sometimes seemed to float in space.  Perspective waCharlemagne and the Popes not important.   For example, the castle in the painting (Left) looks like some child’s doll house with no depth, no perspective.  The three figures behind the churchman also seem to have no order of depth–no perspective.


Brunelleschi’s work would literally change history and how people would view the world because of rediscovered geometry called “linear perspective.”  Without linear perspective today’s video games, movies, holographic  projections, virtual reality, and apps like Augmented Reality would not exist.   Brunelleschi was the first to introduced the geometry that would gave way to these discoveries and inventions.  Using a mirror, he was able to understand how all lines converged to one point.  Mapping this information out on a canvas he painted the Baptistry building in Florence, Italy.  People were encouraged to view the painting by looking through a hole made at the bottom of the canvas and placing a half mirror at a distance (see figure below) that would reflect the artists work and then give view to the real building.  The whole experience had a wow affect.  This new discovery would change how artists would paint, and even how maps were to be made.  In effect, our 21st Century GPS also has its history to this same event in history.  Art is another form of recording data and information, and yet it is many times over looked and shoved aside due to bias and ignorance.


Leonardo da Vinci said, “There are three classes of people: those who see.  Those who see when they are shown  Those who do not see.”   It’s important to remember we see and think in images not words.  Technology won’t motivate, but Art has the power to motivate and create, and in the end, isn’t that what we, as educators, are striving for, ways to motivate and encourage our students?

The Forgotten And Most Used Tool

Would you consider a pencil a tool?  If you said yes, then it should have its own rubric along with the rest of the technology requirements being given to students today.

Pencil Rubric

   I had some fun putting this rubric quickly together.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but so is the idea that technology will motivate students.  The 16mm films didn’t do it, nor the filmstrips, even with sound; and when television and VCR’s were put into the classroom that technology didn’t motivate students.  VCR were eventually replaced with DVD’s with the same results.  Computers are common place today, students are quite comfortable with iPads and e-books.  But, math scores are still low, reading is still average, and students are dropping out of school at all levels.

Bill Ferriter, who runs his own blog, recently did a simple hand drawing on the topic, “What do you want kids to do with technology?”, and posted on the Net (which got a pretty good response.)  He pointed out that today’s students are motivated by opportunities created by the students not the technology they are using.  I agree, and add that the mighty little pencil is still being used by the top designer, architects, and computer leaders today.


AstronautPen Interesting enough during the 1960’s, NASA spent $12 million dollars to develop a pen that could be used in zero gravity.  Those pens were eventually sold by Fisher Pens and called, “Fisher Space Pens.”   I remember buying one, it cost $1.98, which was expensive at that time.  Meanwhile, our competitor for the space race, Russia, invested in pencils and mechanical pencils, and saved millions of dollars.  Considering there is no place on our planet that has zero G, unless you are falling out of an airplane and writing your Will on the way down, there is no way a Space Pen can give you any clear advantages or better grades.  But, better grades was one of Fisher’s selling points, along with the ability to close sales, think clearly, and clear up acne (Okay, the last one wasn’t in the original marketing makeup).

So, if you agree that a Space Pen, or any pen or pencil will not help you get better grades, what makes you think buying a computer, iPad, or e-book will?  Some might say, “Today’s technology has access to the World Wide Web, Multimedia, it’s interactive, it has the ability to cross communicate with all kinds of digital devices, it’s…it’s…it’s a tool!”  In the end, it’s simply a tool.  I’m open to comments, send them.

Apple Slicing Its Own Share Of The Pie!

young-math-science-boy-genius-writing-thumb16021029This past Sunday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune’s front page focused on the New and Improved Core Curriculum story titled, “Raising the bar for education.”   The article centers on the release of some sketchy details to the new Core Curriculum.  I say some sketchy details because they are all still being worked out as we speak.  This is equivalent to preparing a full four course dinner, setting the table, and then sending out the guest invitations.  A year from now 44 other states are also planning to launch the Core Curriculum.  The goal, the article continues, “is to create new benchmarks for mathematics and sciences”, and in the end, they say, “to better prepare students for college and careers.”  Of course, the real underlining objective is to increase low achieving test scores and public opinion.

The story continues that in the new program educators will no longer be at the front of the room lecturing, but interacting with their students.  So, how is this to be done you ask?   By providing the top schools, students and teachers with iPad technology (600,000 iPads).   I guess walking around the classroom hasn’t been thought of yet.  The article reports that “The project (that is the iPad purchase) penciled out around $450 million dollars.”  Good idea to use low tech to explain high tech pricing.  Okay, so we know what the better schools are getting, but what about the poorer schools.  Thanks to a $1.25 billion dollar infusion from the State of California, these schools will be able to order tablets, desktops, and other technology.

This whole scenario is being played out across the board in both public and private schools throughout the State of California.  I recently interviewed for a position at a private school in Los Angeles where the position was to train both teachers and students on their new iPads and Mac Pro laptops.  Buying the technology first and then figuring out how it will be used has been going on for a long time.  I admire Apple’s move into the educational world back in the 1980’s.  It was a shrewd and intelligent undertaking to line up their product into education.  But, lest we forget, the Apple Corporation is not in business to educate, they are in business to make one thing, — larger profits.

For the past twenty years, the United States has invested billions of dollars to upgrade technology infrastructures, hardware, and software programs in its school systems.  All of this with the promise that the updated technology would motivate, stimulate student interest, increase learning, and in the end improve student test scores.  During this same twenty year period, the Programme for Student Assessment (PISA) has been monitoring 52 countries and their educational programs especially in reading, mathematics, and science.  From 2001 to 2012 the United States has consecutively placed AVERAGE in reading, and BELOW AVERAGE in the maths and sciences.  So, if technology hasn’t increased motivation, stimulation, and increased test scores in the past 20 years, why do the politicians and educators think putting more money into technology will do the job?

But soon I’m interrupted.  The article reports, “The technology Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 9.29.23 PMwill help students on the new California state standardized tests, which will be administered online and will reply on in-depth rather than multiple questions.”  So, students will learn how to take state tests by taking similar tests in the classroom.  “Another brick in the wall.”  That means teachers, who will now be called “facilitators” will be guiding students on how to do the test online.  Still teaching to the test!  The article ends with “the promise that the funds given by the state will cover the cost for Apple to train teachers on their new technologies.”  Well, after all, Apple wants their share of the financial pie.

What will the future report?  In the end, the politicians will get their votes, the technology companies will report high earnings for their stockholders, and the educational report will remain mediocre.   The technology panacea has already had 20 years to prove itself, it’s time that we put the teacher back in the classroom to fix what the politicians and computer companies have screwed up. It’s time that technology take its proper position as a supporting actor, and develop the real core of our future–our students, who should be the apples of our eyes.

Reference:  San Gabriel Valley Tribune. (2013). retrieved from SGVTribune.com

The Day the Universe Changed

To be, or not to be –that is the question:
 Whether ’tis nobler in  the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of  outrageous fortune,  Or to take arms 
 against a sea of  troubles,  And by opposing end them.”
                                                                      Macbeth, Shakespeare
Interesting enough when a change occurs it is not the change that causes attention, but the future results because of that change.  Back on March 18, 1997, the science and technology committee, assembled by President Clinton, finished their 80 page report (Becker, H.J. et al., 1997) called, “Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States.” The report carefully outlined all the issues and problems that would face educators to implement any technology program(s) into their schools. So, I am not sure if it was news pressclintonure or political agenda, but after the report was made public, President Clinton in 1998, increased resources for educational technology by over 3,000 Percent, including training over 600,000 new teachers to use technology effectively in the classroom. The training was at best at the level of ‘computer literacy.’ The edict was given with no instructions on how to implement technology based programs into the classroom, or by what weight success would be measured. Interesting enough, no one seemed to read the last sentence of the report, which read, “The Panel does not, however, recommend that the deployment of technology within America’s schools be deferred pending the completion of such research.”
With no weights or objectives given to educators from the government other than ‘make it happen,’ the conditions were now set for the Bush Administration on how to find and develop accountability.
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, and Standardized testing became the benchmark panacea for all Federal programs including STEM. Since then, many of the online STEM software companies have  developed either their  own benchmarks for STEM or have developed their software programs under NCLB policies. In either case, after 20 years and billions of dollars spent on implementing technology into the classroom arena, the United States report card from PISA² is still showing average readers, and below average test scores in mathematics and the sciences. Back to Hamlet “…or not to be that is the question.”
Therefore, do we answer the question of “to be” by having our children, our future, suffer the slings and arrows of a political agenda that has had twenty years to prove itself, and hasn’t; or, do we now face the reality of blunders and mismanagement and oppose it by developing new entrepreneur solutions ?   The apprentice of Leonardo seeks to develop alternative solutions.  Acta non verba!
Becker, H. J., Shaw, D. E., Bransford, J. D., Davidson, J., Hawkins, J., Malcom, S., … Young, J. (1997, March). Report to the President on the use of technology to strengthen K-12 education in the United States [Scholarly project]. In Technreporttopresident. Retrieved July 10, 2013, from http://tacticalthinkers.com/technology/Teacher %20Resources/technreporttopresident.html
² Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/pisa_19963777

Knewton’s Knitch: Thoughts to Ponder

On the Today Show, a segment was dedicated to, “The Classroom of the Future.”  [see TV segment below] The initial comments pointed out that the “present educational system is impersonal, a factory model.”  This is followed by a set of statistics with no sources to verify.  Then the background voice of Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of Knewton, makes this comment, “How many da Vinci’s, Einsteins, and Marie Curie’s, and Michael Jordon’s are we losing every generation because we are not giving them the opportunities that some of us have?”  What?  How did Michael Jordon fall in the same category of the great scientists?   Okay, move on, the broadcast continues, in order to solve this problem of inequity and problems in the status quo, the solution becomes a what if question.  What if everyone had access to the Internet?

Lest we forget, Jose Ferreira runs a business.  A subtle note focuses that this is a company (.com) versus an educational research group (.org).  On his webpage (www.knewton.com) you are faced with a large screen counting the number of sales pitches he is making in the global market.  When I viewed the page the count was 270, 952,575 and counting.  This is not the number of students that are using his software, not the number of students learning from his program, and not the number of students graduating because of his program, but the number that are being ‘invited.’

In the broadcast, Mr. Ferreira says, “the present system is impersonal, a factory model.”   And, what exactly is a software program?  It is impersonal and a factory made model.  Now, at this point, I should state that I am not against technology.  I hold two B.S.I.T. degrees and worked in a secondary technology school for 22 years.  I also was the first teacher, documented in 1996, to launch the first global educational program on the Internet.  My program, Space Island’s, reached 2.3 million teachers and students in forty nations, and was placed into the Library of Congress as a historical event in 1996.

The Knewton Webpage is full of pictures of adults working one-to-one with young people, however, the software program is designed to work one-to-one with the student.  It is a template of problems and clocked timings to match the student’s ability.  Where is the challenge for student growth by matching those variables?  But that is what his knerds, yes that is what they call themselves, I believe this must be the generation that ate Knudsen products.  Anyway, the knerds design standardized templates!  Now, where have I heard that term before?  I believe that knerds are well educated and excellent programmers and data collectors, but lest we forget where these individuals got their education.  It wasn’t from the Knewton factory but from the public or private schools these engineers graduated from.

If you go to the careers tab of Knewton Website you’d think you would find examples of students who have used the Knewton program and what careers  (engineers, teachers, scientists, and programmers) they have landed in.  No, you find out how lavish the knerd employees are being treated with their own private areas, food services, and perks.  This is the selling page for those interested in employment to Knewton!   Now, where do you suppose the money comes from to cater to these benefits?   There is much hype that this software and program is a pantology that will create a panacea for the present educational system.  However, in reality, it is nothing but a set of organized, timed, impersonal-factory templates.

The broadcast also details the work of Khan Academy and its founder, Sal Khan, whose Youtube math tutorials are quite good and free.  Mr. Khan’s approach is to tutor in short segments with a lively and entertaining presentation.   Adding the good works of Sal Khan’s Academy model to Knewton is comparing apples to oranges.

Knewton is not free, but its founder at the beginning of the broadcast states, “…we (the status quo, which he has now joined) are not giving them (students) the opportunities that some of us have.”  Yes, Mr. Ferreira, what opportunities did you have?  How is your program giving students in the global arena those same opportunities?  The only opportunity I see is Knewton found a nitch to sell its product like Apple Computers did.  It will be interesting to see how many Michael Jordon’s make it to the big league by playing a video game instead of one-on-one on the court!

Boys Do Learn Better in Single-Sex Classes

boysgirls_2 Interesting enough we already do separate boys and girls.   In sports, club activities (the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), some organizations (YMCA and YWCA), even some summer camps are restricted to same sex activities, bathrooms and changing rooms.  There are others.

So, if we accept these separations why not at the educational level?  Brain and physiology studies show that boys and girls develop at different rates at different times.  Why do we continue to insist and expect that putting both sexes in the same classroom and teaching both sexes exactly the same will work?

Alabama has separated the sexes and now has come under attack by the ACLU.

“We understand that teachers and parents want to provide the best education for their children. But coeducation was never the problem with failing schools, and single-sex programs are not the answer,” said Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These programs are poorly designed and based on pseudoscience and stereotypes that do nothing to enhance learning, and only reinforce discredited ideas about how boys and girls behave” (Leech, 2012).

Single-sex education has been around for thousands of years.  It wasn’t until the end of the 18th Century that co-educational classes were being instituted in the United States.  In 2005 covering 2221 studies was commissioned by the US Department of Education entitled Single-sex versus coeducational schooling: A systematic review.  The review demonstrated positive results and arguments for establishing public single sex classes.

True, every child learns differently.   Researcher and educator, Howard Gardner (Harvard University),  developed a study and discovered seven distinct intelligences called Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence.  These seven distinct intelligences also work differently with how boys and girls perceive their world.   The ACLU lawyers have no foundation for their political case.  In the last 10 years, there has been a multitude of brain and cognitive research to demonstrate how male and female brains form, perceive their environments and function.  The good point that we can all be thankful for are that these are lawyers not educators.

While the fight continues in Alabama, a successful experiment of separating 5th grade boys and girls has shown much success in the Bronx in New York.

Screen shot 2013-01-05 at 11.21.41 AM

The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most have sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change that gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys  (Medina, 2009).

After working in two all boys private high schools here in Southern California for the past 25 years, I am confident that boys learn better in a single-sex environment.  The statistics of the number of boys graduating from single-sex schools, and the percentage of college acceptance letters these boys have received is higher than boys from  local area public high schools.  These statistics are on record.   I would be open to questions and further discussion on this topic.


Leech, M. (2012). Alabama public school separates boys and girls for all classes. The ACLU has a problem with this.  Retrieved from http://www.cafemom.com/group/99198/forums/read/17736762/Alabama_public_school_separates_boys_and_girls_for_all_classes_The_ACLU_has_a_problem_with_this

Medina, J. (2009, March 10).  Boys and Girls Together, Taught Separately in Public School.  New York Times.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/11/education/11gender.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

National Association for Single Sex Education.  http://www.singlesexschools.org/home.php

No Whitewash Here

mark_twain1If you are male, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not just a classic piece of literature, but an educational manual on how boys function and learn.   On the other hand, if you are female your perception might be closer to how a boy learned what true love and forgiveness was.  It is true; men and women are wired differently.

I would argue that boys who lived in the 19th Century are not that far removed from boys living in the 21st Century.  True, city boys today don’t have small islands to go off to play pirates, but they still play pirates today using Lego’s or by becoming a character in a video game.

Hidden in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are life’s lessons that boys grow to learn as well as how they best learn them.  So, allow me to take a few excerpts from this manual that might help you with your son or male student in better understanding how a boy thinks and how to motivate him.

Boys enjoy motivating themselves by scoring the highest points, being the first to reach the next level in a video game, or achieving a Letter in a sport activity.  So, why doesn’t this happen in the classroom with grades as the point maker, or being able to move on to the next chapter of a book, or achieving a certificate, ribbon or button?  Let’s see what Mr. Twain has to say about this.

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do… There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”

Boys will spend a considerable amount of time learning the ins and outs of a video game, working long hours to find a noise in a car engine, or reading cheat notes for a game in play.  However, getting a boy to do his homework, turn in his homework on time, or even using the spell checker when typing up a paper involves threats, punishments and sanctions from both parents and teachers.  So, how does one motivate a boy?  Again, Twain supplies another hint.



Tom wheeled suddenly and said:

“Why, it’s you, Ben! I warn’t noticing.”

“Say – I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work – wouldn’t you? Course you would!”

Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:

“What do you call work?”

“Why, ain’t that work?”

Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:

“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”

“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”

The brush continued to move.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticized the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

“Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”

There are ways to motivate boys, but are not what you either might expect or consider. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”, (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II Scene 3).   First, there are dominance hierarchies for both sexes, but the boys’ hierarchy tends to be more stable (that is, the rules are more agreed upon) than the girls hierarchy (Maccoby, E.E., & Jacklin, C. N., 1999), and women need to understand this in order to motivate boys.  A boy is born already hardwired in this. Secondly, boys must have a vested interest in order to work.  Understanding these and other rules that govern a boy’s actions help teachers in planning their classroom lessons.  Twain’s whitewash scenario addresses all of these points, however with that said, it should also be understood that these rules need to be tweaked depending on the boy’s culture, socioeconomic level, and age.  One size doesn’t fit all here.

So, are we back to square one?  No.  There are common denominators that fit all boys that can be discussed and implemented.  I have found, in my 30 years of education, the old adage, “Boys will be boys,” to be quite true whether I was dealing with a boy from a Yaqui reservation, or a boy from the Bronx; a boy from Japan or from Holland.   I have researched, implemented and tweaked  several fields of educational research that worked with boys of different socioeconomic standings,  different cultures, and ages.   I have discovered gems and exposed media hype in topics of brain research to educational marketing tools.   The purpose of this blog is to create and serve the global educational community with what is being done to address the theories, programs and projects that are getting results with how boys best learn.  I am looking forward to the dialogs and exchanges that will help boys, at all ages, to achieve their potentials in education and their futures.


Maccoby, E.E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1999).  The Psychology of Sex Differences.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Twain, M. (1876).  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  Retrieved from http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~rgs/sawyr-table.html.