Leonardo's Apprentice

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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.



Has Technology Infused into the Classroom Helped or Hindered Student Learning?


A 2019 Typical Classroom: Creative Commons 2019

Walk into any classroom today and remove the technology from the classroom and you will find that the layout hasn’t changed much in the past 200 years. Classrooms may have more comfortable student desks and some classrooms have even replaced desks for tables.   Dusty chalkboards have been replaced with whiteboards and even Smart Boards that have Internet connections. Overhead light projectors have been replaced with digital overheads and projectors. Projectors and filmstrips have been replaced with online Internet images and video streaming.  Teachers use their smartphones or tablets to deliver their notes, and student textbooks are now available on iPads, tablets, and even Smartphones via WIFI connections available in the classroom.

School bells still ring or even play music to indicate that a new class period is beginning or has just ended.  Students still have assigned seats. It is the teacher that still delivers the questions with the responsibility of the student to respond with the correct answer.  There is more testing than in the past though, students get pre-tested on subject matters, then they are given quizzes and tests to see how well they have memorized their assignments.  Post-assessments indicate what material was covered and the percentage of students that got it right! School districts, States, and the Federal government all have their tests and assessments, and you would think, with the infusion of all this technology student learning is at an all-time high, but it isn’t.  In fact in general, student polls indicate students are both bored and confused.  Bored with the instructional presentations and confused as to how the system operates and who really operates it.


Artwork by Villemard (1910) Public Domain

In 1910 electrical inventions were all the rage.  In this same time period, a French artist by the name of Villemard envisioned the learning classroom in the year 2000.  The picture above shows a teacher putting textbooks into an electronic machine while a student cranks the books through the machine.  The machine is electrical sending via copper wires the book’s knowledge to awaiting students in their seats. Note that the students have no need for paper or any kind of writing instrument since the knowledge is going straight into their brains.  Instant learning? Or is it? A machine can possess knowledge but that doesn’t make it intelligent, and humans are not machines. In order to develop critical thinking skills, which only a human can do, the student must build on the information gained and hands-on experience in order to make the connection in either solving a problem or developing a new solution that addresses the problem.


21st Century classroom envisioned in 1957.  Public Domain

In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik, the first orbiting satellite.  In the same year, the United States government enacted the National Defense Education Act.  The purpose of the legislation was to transform schools and encourage high school graduation and college entrance. The comparison of what Russian students were accomplishing compared to their American counterparts made the United States rethink the importance of education as a defense towards future Communistic control. The picture above shows how futurists then viewed the year 2000.  Students would still be in a stereotype classroom setting, now with electronic equipment on their desks with screens and buttons used to input data. Note that the teacher still is dressed in 1950 attire but no longer in the classroom. Television was developing technology in the 1950s and most futurists in this time period saw this form of media as a possible educational platform in the future.  Again, it was thought that technology would solve the goals set by the government. Interesting enough, it was Giambattiar Vico, back in the 17th Century, who realized the problem when the public accepts science and technology as the messiah of education and believing it alone will create the results expected, and then it doesn’t.

It was Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer, who in 1947 coined the word robot from the Russian word Robota meaning serf or slave labor.  The word caught on in the ’50s and was quite popular by the 1960s.


21st Century classroom envisioned (1965) Public Domain


The 1965 comic strip above shows a group of 21st Century students learning math from a robot.  Even though you can’t see the seats the students are sitting on you can pretty much envision the classroom layout.  The bookcase in the background holds reel-to-reel tapes, which was pretty much 1960 technology.

1004 life design 088.JPG

Modern 21st Century classroom Creative Commons

Today’s classrooms can be more colorful.  Modern classrooms are carpeted with temperature controls to keep a comfortable working environment.  When technology, in the form of computers, was introduced back in the 1980’s students were curious about what technology was all about; however, today a computer or iPad in the classroom brings no more interest than a light switch on the wall.  Teachers are in the classroom but are sometimes replaced by a video presentation or a computer program that students access either through a desktop computer or laptop. YouTube is probably one of today’s students’ favorite platforms to get tutored.  Students are encouraged to work independently to match their processing speeds and learning styles. Electronic tests and quizzes are given but students can retake them until they pass at the mark they desire. But in reflection, is this any different than the 1910 picture of students being fed knowledge and data? What is missing in ensuring students are learning? If technology can’t create curiosity and learning then what can?

So that this blog article doesn’t become a novel let’s cut to the chase.  21st Century technology has succeeded in storing and delivering knowledge at incredible speeds.  There are many tools that can be used today to call up, present, and package knowledge.  But now we come to the question of this article, has technology helped or hindered active learning?


Student collaboration (adobe licensed)

I propose technology has hindered active learning.   In the K-8th grade levels, students best learn through metaphors, analogies, and storytelling.  Teaching like this helps grow student imagination and understanding.  Students need to learn about identifying patterns and making connections to other similar patterns.


Students need to learn collaboration skills when doing problem-solving.  It is amazing how simple tools like pencils, crayons, and paper can help students transfer imagination into reality.  Students need to learn early on how to adapt and become flexible when working in small groups.  These soft skills when developed early help students succeed in more complex projects later along their path of learning.  Students need to understand how to ask a question especially when they are searching the Net using a search engine.  Young students must learn early that technology is a tool and how to choose the right technology (tool) in developing a new solution.

It is the teacher’s job to make sure the students are clear on concept definition and applications.  Teachers can act as guides or mentors helping students to stay on track and monitor their progress.  Finally, students must learn the value of seven key soft skills:

  • communication (verbal and written),
  • adaptability (bringing in new people, working with limited resources),
  • flexibility (the ability to change direction),
  • project management, problem-solving, thinking outside the box, and storytelling (being able to deliver difficult concepts into a story format).

In my next article, I will go over the changes that need to be made with K-12, the three major paths students should have access to, and the assessments that will help guide students’ strengths and talents towards careers in fields that will increase their productivity, inventiveness, and success.   The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice is developing a working model of a 21st Century educational program that will launch this summer. The focus will be on students demonstrating an interest in the fields of engineering and science. For students who can’t afford the summer tuition, we will be setting up a fund for donations to bring in such students.  

Peter Romero, M.Ed.  Academy of LeonardosApprentice.org.  ALA is a 501(c) educational foundation dedicated to improving student education and teacher development.  All donations are tax-deductible under the 501(c) status.

First Steps to Education Transformation


1933 Chicago World’s Fair | Public Domain

The motto of the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago was “Science Finds, Industry Applies, and Man Conforms.”  The word conform can mean to equalize, uniform, or standardized. Both public and private schools have over the last 60 years moved towards conformity through standardization.  The concept, which is quite simple is to teach, test, and assess students equally. At the same time, reformers have demanded to increase the educational content workload, demand more testing and assessments not only for students but for teachers as well.   Most reformers are not educators.


Frustrated student | Creative Commons

The pressure has also been on parents to obtain tutors for their children so that they can pass not only school curriculum but also state testing.  All of this to move every student into college with the promise of a better career and lifestyle. However, according to current statistics, 44% of the college graduates that get jobs today don’t require a degree.  2 out of 5 graduates will not be working in the field they studied and paid for. According to College Atlas, 70% of Americans will study at a four-year college, but less than two-thirds will graduate with a degree, and 30% of first-year students drop out after their first year of school.

On the other hand, those students who ventured into entrepreneurial careers and have developed the right skills are demonstrating more success than their college degree counterparts.  A college degree position has a salary cap, whereas an entrepreneur’s salary and growth is only limited to the knowledge, skills, and calculated risks the entrepreneur is willing to take. Today’s entrepreneurs range from Bill Gates ($81.8 Billion dollars) to young millionaires under 25 years of age.

So should schools be preparing their students for college or teaching them the entrepreneur skills to compete and survive?  And, if the schools were to take this transformation what major change needs to be made? For this answer, I would like to take a look at the dimensions of one of history’s greatest entrepreneurs–Leonardo da Vinci!


500th Anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Do you think you know him? Click the image

This is the 500th anniversary of this great Renaissance entrepreneur’s passing.  He has had the titles of an engineer, inventor, scientist, cartographer, graphic artist, biologist, astronomer, architect, sculpturist, musician, paleontologist, geologist, and even military strategist.  One of the most prolific inventors in history, Leonardo dreamed up inventions and made notes on how technology in his time could be innovated to work. Whether designing weapons of war, flying machines, water systems, or new work tools, da Vinci was never afraid to look beyond traditional thinking and move into the world of dreams.

What skills did Leonardo possess that gave him the ability to take on and tackle so many different trade problems that would demand unique innovations or new inventions?  With the ability to walk into a new trade with the confidence to identify a problem and the assurance to rectify the problem with a unique solution.

At the core of this genius was an artist.  An artist who learned how to see, study, copy, and then invent or innovate.  An artist whose brain searched for patterns and then made the connections. But his greatest attribute was his unquenchable thirst in curiosity.  A curiosity that always started with a question. A question that had a story to tell, to learn, to grow. Curiosity was the catalyst and art was the skill.


Natural child curiosity | Creative Commons

Children are born with a natural curiosity and school systems do a great job of killing it.  It was Sir Isaac Newton who said, “Live your life as an Exclamation rather than an Explanation.”  I know Leonardo da Vinci did so. The Arts train the mind to perceive problems from different perspectives.  The Arts also train the mind how to imagine and then evolve from thought to invention. Our modern system has placed the Arts in the extracurricular box meaning not important, while it has put the “T” for technology in STEM equal to the other academic components, and yet, technology doesn’t have a learning outcome.  Art does!

The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice came into existence to teach engineering and science through the Arts.  The learning outcomes would give a student those entrepreneur skills now required in our fast-moving 21st Century world.  A world that is no longer confined by borders thanks to the Internet, a global community where ideas and problems can be shared and solved by those with the skills to make it happen.

As I write, the plans in initiating such an innovative program are in the works.  Its purpose is to rekindle the curiosity of a young mind as well as teaching the skills of entrepreneurship while working on real problems requiring either innovation or invention.  It is like no other course taught today. It is about becoming an apprentice of da Vinci. If this sounds like a program you would like support to please like this article, visit our website (LeonardosApprentice.org), or give a donation towards the building of this program.  We are a 501(c) nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to searching and supporting today’s students that will become tomorrow’s visionaries.

Now in hindsight, maybe the new motto for the 21st Century might be, “Science finds, Entrepreneurs Apply, and Man Transforms

http://Leonardosapprentice.org   501(c) nonprofit educational foundation                     Peter Romero M.Ed. Executive Director