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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.
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!
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.
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
It was in Natalie Wexler’s Forbes (April 9, 2018) article, “Three Mistakes We Need to Fix If We Want Education Reform To Succeed,” that caught my attention in how corporate America still doesn’t get it. Below, I have quoted each of her points as they were written.
- The real problems begin at the high school level. In fact, the problems that manifest themselves in high school have their roots in elementary school, which reformers have long seen—mistakenly—as the bright spot in education. When students arrive in ninth grade reading several years below grade level, as is often the case in high-poverty schools, the answer is not simply to demand that they graduate within four years, come hell or high water. We need to give students more time to catch up if they need it—and we need to start looking critically at what is happening before high school that leaves students so unprepared.
It was Sir Ken Robinson (International education speaker and writer) who remarked, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed.” Where the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice has laid its course of action is at the secondary level because the elementary starts out fine but over time student engagement and motivation are drained by the time students reach high school.
Why are students needing more time to catch up? Reformers have already increased the classroom workload, extended school days making for shorter summer vacations, and have added more technology infrastructure including computers, notebooks, and iPad\tablets. The reformers still don’t get it. Reforming the old system just puts bandages on the old system. It’s now time for transformation not reformation. So, what is missing?
Curiosity is the fuel for exploration, discovery, inquiry, and learning. It was Walt Disney who pointed out, “Ideas come from curiosity.” Children are born with a natural curiosity about the world around them. Curiosity naturally manifests itself with questions seeking understanding and answers. But instead of feeding the fire of curiosity, the system slowly creates an environment of silence leading to death for long term learning. Students are guided away from exploration and inquiry and replaced with pre-assessments, tests, and post-assessments. The grade becomes more important than how the student learns. Standardization has become a machine-like system similar to Pink Floyd’s 1979 song, “Another Brick in the Wall.”
Interesting enough, elementary students already walk in with strong curiosity and motivation. The question is how is our educational system slowly puts out the fire by the time that child reaches high school. More content, testing, and technology is not the answer–that has already been proven. When more becomes less than expected the next step is to blame the teacher.
- The most important factor in educational achievement is a highly effective teacher. It’s true that teachers are hugely important, but reformers have judged teachers’ effectiveness by how much they boost students’ test scores and whether they’re seen to be employing the right kind of classroom “moves.” What reformers have paid little or no attention to is what teachers are being asked to teach. There’s increasing evidence that the best way to improve teachers’ performance is to provide them with high-quality instructional materials and specific training in how to use them.
According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, 50% of new teachers will leave their profession within their first 5 years. These are qualified educators who are hired as effective teachers. Why are they leaving? Who are the reformers who “judge” a teacher’s effectiveness? The Forbes writer sites increasing evidence that to improve teacher performance, reformers need to provide high-quality instructional materials and teach them (the teachers) how to use it.
Corporate America has changed the classroom environment to mimic their own. Teachers are referred to as classroom managers. Superintendents are administrators, students are clients, content and curriculum have become business production, grades are paychecks. Finally, government and state assessments are not based on what the curriculum demands but where they think the client should be by age and grade. The same standardization that made manufactures and businesses work has been applied to human learning–and it isn’t working!
When District and State assessments cut into the learning process to measure what they feel students should know, the so-called high-quality materials are no longer important. Teachers earn a Master’s in their course of study, they must go through two years of training before they are accepted with certification. The majority of educational businesses are run by individuals who lack both classroom experience and education, and these are the people who are responsible for reforming teachers. Holding an MBA or Ph.D. in a business field does not give a person the training to teach young children or teenagers.
One reformer says, “Remove paper textbooks and give students digital tablets to read from–this will improve their reading skills.” Of course, it won’t. Reformers are rarely educators. They are business people who sell and market their products or services promising to improve learning, increase student motivation, and a host of other snakebite medicine benefits. Since 1996, over $80 billion dollars has been invested in internet infrastructure, computers, and digital equipment. These technologies are only tools. Teachers are given the technology and told to incorporate it into their curriculums. Training is rare, and when given it is only introductory at best. Tech companies always state their products are hands-on intuitive. Technologies are generally designed and programmed for only one or two learning styles, subject matter, or limited content. Most of the elementary tech tools are no more than electronic rote memory devices. Students wanting to explore beyond what is programmed is not available.
Ask the question who are these “Reformers?” From Horace Mann in the 19th Century to the business world today with their acronym of S.T.E.M. education. Reformers have not in the past 50 years focused on student needs, that has been graded by organizations like P.I.S.A. (Programme International Student Assessment), which for the past 20 years has shown American 15-year old students are still average in science and math and below average in reading. However, corporate America is not interested in what goes on in the classroom but their business ledgers, stock prices, and marketing agendas. It’s time to give the classrooms back to the educators to transform the status quo into the 21st Century educational journey.
- Education needs to be data-driven. What this means in practice is two-fold. First, teachers and schools are held accountable at least partly on the basis of students’ end-of-year scores on math and reading tests. In addition, teachers give students tests throughout the year that are supposed to predict performance on end-of-year tests, and they base their instruction on the results. At least when it comes to reading tests, this approach is actually counterproductive.
Here the article returns not to education but the corporate world. Equating business mechanics with organic learning. Because this final suggestion is the biggest problem facing our educational system today–data-driven assessment. The data-driven assessment has not only forced teachers to teach to the test, in order to keep their jobs but has also been one of the reasons many teachers are leaving their vocation.
Anyone who is a teacher knows that teaching a group of students cannot be accomplished by only one mode of learning. Not all students learn the same way. This is why a student’s curiosity is important because it lends a helping hand to a professional educator on how a student processes information.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “To have a complete mind: Study the science of art, and the Art of science. Learn how to see. Realize everything connects to everything else. Leonardo also wrote, “Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.” That motive is curiosity.
We start by rekindling the fire of curiosity at the high school level. This is the end product and where the problem blows-up. Address and fix this by building the support and mentoring elements that encourage student-directed learning and then we will be able to move down the ranks to elementary where curiosity walks in fresh and ready. This is the goal of the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice. Leonardo’s Apprentice is an educational nonprofit foundation started by an educator to support student growth, learning, and leadership by encouraging creativity and innovation in solving problems that affect our global community.
Back in the 1970s, the business world stepped in and said they could produce a better product (student). 50 years later, we are losing more teachers and students who are not performing enough or motivated enough to move on to the engineering and science fields this country needs. The United States has become a country of consumers and app builders. The high power invention machine that was so powerful in the 19th and early 20th centuries has lapsed into a state accepting mediocrity. If you feel real changes need to be taken, help support the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice, check out our website, and help us as we help engage and motivate our youth in reigniting the fire of curiosity.
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.”
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
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 was 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?
- 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 pressure 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