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A PEEK INTO A POSSIBLE FUTURE

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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

It’s Time To Transform Not Reform!

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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.  

  1. 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?   

mv5bmjixmtuynjc5of5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjmwnjywna-_v1_uy317_cr160214317_al_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.

 

  1. 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.
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A team discusses their potential solutions to global issues during the Global Problem Solving Competition held in STEPS on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Teams were given one hour to create a presentation.

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.

  1. 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. 

Check out also our site at https://LeonardosApprentice.org

EinsteinCuriosity

 

 

 

From Reform to Transform

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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.  

  1. 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.  So, what is missing?   

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A team discusses their potential solutions to global issues during the Global Problem Solving Competition held in STEPS on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Teams were given one hour to create a presentation.

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.

 

  1. 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. 

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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 a 21st Century educational journey.

  1. 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.  

eb8ce968798ca69afe630ef88675abccLeonardo 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. 

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Different Point of View

vinci2What if you could sit down in an interview with Leonardo da Vinci and ask him what he considered his title should be.  I believe his answer would surprise you. He would not claim to be an inventor, engineer, scientist, cartographer, architect, military engineer, nor a mathematician.  He would say he was an artist. Those other titles were only a byproduct of his trade.

If you were to ask what drove him, he would simply say, “Curiosity.”   All you need to do is learn how to study what is around you. Leonardo wrote, “To have a complete mind, study the science of art, and the art of science.  Learn how to see. Realize that everything is connected to everything else.”

water-wheelWhen you stop to really study the sketches and drawings of Leonardo, you realize every line the master drew. Every line of shading, every curve, was drawn only once.  He did not use a pencil, it wasn’t to be invented for another 250 years. There were no erasers, CTRL Z to undo, no whiteout liquid to cover up an unwanted line. He used quill pens and inks that he had to make himself.  The inks were made with bits of iron, which would have given a darker brown or black ink. Over the years, the iron oxides reacted to air and they turned brown.

If you were to ask Leonardo what was his tool of choice when sketching he would reply, “Perspective Geometry,” which he learned and mastered.  Today, we have Smartphones that can take video and digital photos. We have access to computers and printers from jet inks to laser printers. But, we have no way to transfer the images that come from our imagination onto paper.  We can describe them in intimate details in words, but seeing the image spares us of trying to reconstruct words back into an image. This is where Leonardo’s tool of projected geometry (one and two-point perspective) comes in handy.

“But, I can’t draw” comes the retort. “I can’t even draw a crooked line,” some say with exaggeration.  Drawing is a skill, and skills can be learned. Adding the tool of perspective geometry along with a pencil or pen today is all you need to transfer your imagination onto paper.

Filippo-Brunelleschi-statue-Luigi-Pampaloni-Florence-Duomo-1830Now, to be fair, Leonardo did not invent perspective geometry.  That honor belongs to another Italian, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), a little over forty years before Leonardo was born.  Brunelleschi needed the geometry to complete his biggest project–completing the dome over the Florence Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The dome of the cathedral was left unfinished for 400 years because no one had figured a way how to complete the large dome. The dome width was 150 feet in width and was 180 feet above the ground.  Brunelleschi was able to make the construction plans using his new tool of perspective and then inventing new techniques and technologies to finish building the cathedral dome.

 

 

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It was another contemporary artist of Brunelleschi, Leon Alberti, who took pen in hand to record in a book lessons on how to draw a three-dimensional object onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper.  Alberti’s book included two lessons: The first on how to construct a one-point perspective, and chapter 2 how to create a two-point perspective. By the time the young Leonardo entered as an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio’s art workshop, perspective drawing was all the rage. He quickly learned how to use this magical tool to transfer his imagination and three-dimensional objects into his notebooks.

hqdefaultWhen I make visits to the Disney Imagineers offices in Burbank, California, I find among all the technologies comprising of Smartboards, computers, 3D printers, and more, one common tool that starts every project–the pencil. The same truth can be found even at the JPL/NASA offices of engineering.  It is the cheapest, but the simplest tool to create from. Leonardo wrote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and he was right!

The second truth points out that if you really look and study the world around you–You will find patterns.  The catalyst that is needed at this point is curiosity. Because it is curiosity that makes the connections to everything else.  It is unfortunate that we live in a world today where people really don’t stop and look, smell, taste, and touch with curiosity. We live in a world where information and data are literally in the palm of our hands, and yet very few really know how to access it and use it.

At this point, I will make a slight detour into our present educational system.  A system designed through its curriculum and lesson plans to arrive at a set answer, concept, or procedure.  A system designed to structure learning and put a brake on creativity. Standardization leaves very little room for student-directed learning and for questions not within the plan structure.  Teaching math as an Art, exploring and discovering science, and learning about the different fields of engineering are pushed aside for scantron testing and assessments. The present system removes curiosity and replaces it with spoiler alerts.

The Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice is daring to create a platform for secondary students not only to work in but to exchange different perspectives in solving problems.  To gain those perspectives students must first learn to get the best answer, not the only one, they must first learn how to ask the right question.  It is equally important that they learn the science of art and the art of science.  Finding the patterns and making the connections comes next.

Modern technology is great.  The perspective techniques that Leonardo learned and used 500 years ago have gone through an evolution from paper to projected geometry.  For example,  a technology that was invented using projected geometry called augmented reality (AR) has many uses. The rover you see below is not real, but a 3D projection focusing on my driveway from my iPhone and photographed.  Using my phone I can walk around the rover to see all its parts.  Many of its parts, like the camera, can move, and even the rover itself can move.  What other uses can augmented reality be used for? How will that add to virtual reality tools and even holographic projections? The future in transferring imagination into reality is coming closer, and to think, it all began with a simple question on how you might see things from a different perspective.

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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.

 

 

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.