21st century teaching–a learning renaissance

Updated: Jul 16, 2019

“He took pride in that his lack of formal schooling led him to be a disciple of experience and experiment. ‘Leonardo da Vinci, disscepolo della sperientia,’ he once signed himself. This freethinking attitude saved him from being an acolyte of traditional thinking …

His lack of reverence for authority and his willingness to challenge received wisdom would lead him to craft an empirical approach for understanding nature that foreshadowed the scientific method developed more than a century later by Bacon and Galileo. His method was rooted in experiment, curiosity, and the ability to marvel at phenomena that most of us rarely pause to ponder after we’ve outgrown our wonder years.” (Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson)

I recently picked up the latest Walter Isaacson biography, Leonardo da Vinci, and cannot put it down. A curious learner and student of the world myself, I’m always inspired by da Vinci’s works and even more compelled by his lack of a formal education. The fact that he was able to discover (and record, communicate, and convey) unimaginable truths that have stood the test of time and provided the foundation for many of our modern scientific processes and inventions based on simple observation rather than formal education stirs something in my psyche.

Our journey to identify the right education for our children began …

As a parent, I find myself 12 years into a journey of trying to navigate this world to provide the best learning experiences for my children. We started at Montessori pre-school, followed by a brief stint in homeschooling our daughter, before enrolling them both in the public-school institution with a heavy emphasis on family travel and global experiences, and now we find ourselves exploring alternative educational opportunities. It’s not that we can’t make up our minds. It’s that each child is unique in their abilities and ideal learning environments. Both are brilliant (I’m biased), but have different learning types, and passions. Our son excels in traditional classroom settings and is curious about architecture and engineering, while our daughter excels with 1:1 focused instruction and is passionate about design and creation. Both prefer hands-on lab learning to text books and lectures. I can see the light in their eyes when instruments are put in their hands to aid in their learning experiences. Both are thirsty sponges waiting to soak up inspiration and develop their own insights.

A few years ago, as we were struggling to find the right environment for our daughter, while also being full-time working parents (meaning homeschooling wasn’t a feasible option), I discovered this video by a remarkably articulate and inspired thirteen-year old … a self-professed UN-schooler. I wasn’t ready to pull my kids out of school indefinitely and encourage them to not receive an education. But, again, that stirring in my psyche led me to believe there are definitely more options than mainstream, institutionalized education.

I’ve struggled to identify what that more looks like, but I’ve also shifted my role as parent/educator to parent/learner … I’ve stopped responding to my children’s endless stream of questions with my own answers … or even a shoulder shrug and an “I don’t know.” Instead, I now counter their questions with “what do you think?” or … “you tell me …” or … “let’s figure it out together.”

Our perceived value of education evolves …

The truth is, we have to figure this out together, because the world is changing faster than we can keep up. When I was growing up, a four-year college education was a non-negotiable necessity. Not going to college was not an option for me. So, I stumbled around trying to figure out how to navigate the system, what to major in, how to graduate … turns out, I majored in English … not Journalism or Communications, or even Literature or Teaching, or any lucrative application of English as a career builder. Just English. My native language. But, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that I received a Bachelor of Arts degree and demonstrated to future employers that I was employable—educated, and able to stick with something for four years to earn a degree.

It wasn’t long until a BA was no better than a high school diploma, and soon employers wouldn’t consider candidates without a Master’s degree. Even teachers were virtually forced to pursue a Master’s degree in spite of the fact that the tuition alone would put them into a debt cycle that their teaching salary would almost never free them from. In recent years, the cost of a college education has become prohibitive to many brilliant, curious, and capable learners.

In fact, competitive technology enterprises are beginning to recognize a college degree as a barrier to a learner’s success. Rather than waiting for students to finish college, many tech giants are recruiting straight from high school, or vocational programs, bringing new hires on-board to gain on-the-job training, and paying them living wages without forcing them into debt first. Many of these companies find that they have to re-train college grads anyhow, so why not welcome them into the workforce sooner and empower them with competitive and employable skills directly?

Don’t get me wrong … I’m not saying a formal education isn’t valuable. I’m just saying it’s evolving. Gone are the days of seeking a four-year degree and six-figures of debt simply to gain a degree to open doors. This generation of learners is much more creative and enterprising than that. We are raising entrepreneurs who, like da Vinci, will be willing to challenge received wisdom and craft their own empirical approaches for understanding.

Our options for enriched education arrive …

This is why we are thrilled to have discovered Cormac McCarthy’s 21st Century Teaching program. Mr. McCarthy observes young learners in the same way da Vinci observed winged flight. He understands the way this generation of students want to experience concepts and content. As he puts it, “this generation doesn’t want to know *what* … they want to know how …” Student learning has evolved, and as such, so must teaching. Our children don’t have the attention span to sit in a classroom for six hours a day watching a presentation or listening to a lecture. They want to experience the subject matter … get their hands dirty … experiment with their curiosity, and marvel at the phenomena that most of us rarely pause to ponder.

I’ve been watching Mr. McCarthy’s videos over the course of the past year, and I’m fascinated by the way he breaks down complex concepts into engaging games, projects, and experiences that stick with his students. I’ve been observing his teaching style, and longing for the right opportunity to introduce my children to his program. So, when the stars aligned and I bumped into him at a local coffee shop during the same week that my daughter was struggling with “formal schooling,” I recognized an exciting opportunity … what if we could share some of our unused office space to help Mr. McCarthy create his ideal “Learning Laboratory” classroom format?

So, I am honored, humbled, and proud to announce that The Odigo Group is sponsoring 21st Century Teaching to help create a hands-on approach to experimentation, that makes children excited to learn.

We are thrilled that our children are able to benefit from this innovative, customized, and unique approach to education, and equally excited to be able to create a space for other students in our community to reap the same benefits. We are in the early stages of collaborating on sponsorships and opportunities now, but if you have a student in the South Whidbey community who would benefit from a hands-on approach to learning, please check the 21st Century Teaching Facebook page soon for exciting program updates and scholarship opportunities.

We’re all figuring this out together, and looking forward to learning as we go.

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