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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

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MAKING THE CONNECTIONS || An Invitation to a Conversation

Back in March 1993, I was given an invitation by Caltech to witness a new development involving the Internet.  I was taken to a computer lab on Caltech’s campus where I heard a brief lecture, and then was shown the first web browser, Mosaic—images and text on the same page.  In 1993, there were only three websites in full operation.  One was located in Switzerland, the second in Chicago, and the third at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Two years later, I logged onto AOL and aided in developing the Electronic Schoolhouse.  In September 1995, I developed and launched an educational program on the Electronic Schoolhouse called, “Space Island’s.”  At the time, I thought it would be interesting to work with two other schools on a common online project.  The first was a public school located in Sitka, Alaska, and the other, a private school in New Rochelle, New York.  I had no idea what was to come next.

The Space Idualringstationslands project was centering around a virtual space station, where students were given a virtual lab to conduct science, math, and engineering experiments regarding space travel and concepts of living in zero-g.  By March, 1996, I was spending 3- 4 hours every day answering emails from around the world.  The Los Angeles Times newspaper reported that AOL had recorded forty nations, which had become involved with the Space Islands program with an estimated 3.2 million students and teachers working on the project.  This obviously opened up AOL, and I was given a free account, but I still had not realized what I had done yet.  To me, this was a new way to interact with other schools and to create educational projects.

In June of 1996, I received a letter from Senator Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, informing me that my program, “Space Islands,” that I had pioneered, was being inducted into the Library of Congress as a historical event.  Historical event?!  It was labeled as the first long distance educational program ever done on the Internet.  It would soon launch, what we call today online e-learning.

It was the global interactions of students and teachers that was most compelling.  For example, students in Kuwait asked a simple question, “Where does the water come from when you are in space?”  This got students in Nebraska looking into the topic of growing corn in hydroponic experiments.  Students from Cambodia wanted to experiment on the same topic but conducting the experiments using rice.  At the University of Helsinki, Finland, university students saw an opportunity with all the nationalities and languages and created the first present tense language interpreter.  The lists went on from engineering concepts to developing the imaginary technology that would be used to build the engineering tools, and using math as an application in creating simulations.

In 2012, I took a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership online.  I enjoyed the courseware but was not impressed by the e-learning technology colleges and universities were using.  Considering the advances we have seen in the past 16 years, in both computer and online technology and engineering, I was surprised to see little advancement in e-learning connections.  Connections between students and facilitators (what universities and colleges call online teachers or instructors,) wasn’t much more than the e-mails and bulletin boards I used back in 1996.

connectionsfinalSo, here we are in the 21st Century where computer technology and software had advanced science fiction into reality with the pantology of historical developments and advancements, condensed literally, to one  2.25″ x4.75″ (5.2cm x 12.7cm) hand-held device capable of receiving and sending information almost anywhere on this planet.  And yet, there was a lack of efficacy in the technological hubris that attenuated educational advancement.  Why?

In those past 16 years, technology and software companies had evolved from manufacturing to sales, from sales to partnerships with educators, to memberships on school district Board of Directors dictating everything from curriculum development to pedagogy structures.  Educational publishers had also joined in, along with many other businesses. Educators had become nothing more than secondary employees and clients to the industries marketing and selling educational books, equipment, and software.

Now, the last paragraph sounds like an anti-tech individual with a pejorative agenda.  Nothing could be further from the truth. I hold two B.S. degrees in Information Technology, and taught at a secondary technology school for two decades.  So, has technology become an aberration to me?  No!  For the past three years, I have had an opportunity to take a step back from the daily teaching and department needs to see what is going on locally in other schools, as well as schools around the world, and I have found two interesting trends forming globally.  The first, centers on using technology as a motivator.  That will never happen.  The second group, tends to put technology in its place as a tool–no more, no less, which seems to be showing positive results.

I have to admit, Apple Corp was a financial genius in marketing to schools.  But, in the end, it wasn’t education and degrees they were hoping to increase–it was market shares and products.  It still is.  All manufacturers of “educational” equipment and software see big $$ to be made from both State and Federal educational programs.  In fact, many of these same companies pushed legislation by courting financially into several political agendas.  Common Core standardization was one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to computers, cell phones, tablets, and the Internet I think standardization is very important.  It just doesn’t belong in the classroom where there are different learning styles, behavior issues, and socio economic situations to deal with.

In the next series of writings, I am going to be focusing on schools that are getting measurable results.  No, not higher standardized test scores!  Nor, from new ways to using apps on a cell phone, iPad, or tablet.  When the new Core Curriculum was voted in, the state officials said, “We will set the bar, how you teach it is up to you.”  What they added in smaller print was, “as long as you do it our way.”  This reminded me of Henry Ford who said, “You can buy any car with any color, as long as it is black.”  By the way, as a sidebar, Henry Ford’s industrial manufacturing model would eventually be the impetus to today’s educational programs.  But, that’s another story.

Image: VocWord http://bit.ly/1HHYkT5  Space Islands image from SI group.

Point of Perspective

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

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

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Fig 1.  Printed paper being scanned by iPad camera

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

AR03

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

The Day the Universe Changed

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