SpringBreak of Learning 2019 #1 da vinci by @walterisaacson – books that make you think….this is one of them!

SpringBreak of Learning 2019 #1 da vinci

Walter Isaacson is not afraid of taking on big projects. His biography on Jobs was amazingly insightful. – and has led me down the rabbit hole of exploring the other biographies that he did – and that led me to one of the more fascinating people in history: Leonardo da Vinci. There is so much that can be said about him that even after nearly 1000 pages I still think Isaacson only scratched the surface of the depth and complexity that make Leonardo the genius that he was – and has been making me think a little more about how we look at learning – specifically how we share it and what is the important part of learning: the finished project or the journey to get there. I think this because if we were to look at da Vinci’s “finished work” – while they are impressive, they are a small portion of his creations – so many of his unfinished works are also considered “great works” … and there are many…many unfinished works. Yet his approach had been celebrated, and I think can provide us a key direction in what to look to in order to help support our learners today.



Learning has to be more than just taking in what others tell us. Not that there isn’t value in exploring what others have said & done, but there needs to be a sense of ownership. As one of the repeated “wonders” from Isaacson writing asks: describe the tongue of the woodpecker. Why? Well, (spoiler warning) Isaacson sums up some of his thinking about da Vinci’s approach with some key takeaways in his conclusion (but again, the journey of exploring the book makes these summaries “click” better than a summary ever can)



Conclusion left some great summative thinking: Learning from Leonardo



Be curious, relentlessly curious – da Vinci would love concepts like Wonderopolis, and genius hour, and passion projects – finding a topic that makes you curious and then exploring it. Ownership over wonders



Seek knowledge for its own sake – intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards – while some worry about whether or not students would still learn if there wasn’t a grade or mark assigned to it. Then we worry about the “game of school” and that learners



Retain a childlike sense of wonder – I like the saying – we want students to graduate with the same sense of wonder as when they enter kindergartenBecause something happens along the way…. we see disengagement from those who spent many years “loving school”….



Observe – synthesis is important – if anything, its what I see as being one fo the most important parts of my job as a principal – to observe the school (and community) dynamics and share what “I” see (or to get others to come take a look) You can’t “just do”, you gotta stop and take a look around – as Ferris Bueller said “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it”.



Start with the details – I’ll admit that I can struggle with this component – I can conceive the “big picture” pretty easily, but sometimes need to break things down into smaller pieces to make sure I don’t miss things.



See things unseen – (my takeaway, in drawing we so often draw the finished person/object – it feels like Leonardo painted from the skeleton/frame outward – this is an interesting concept since it ties in with the previous ideation: start with the details – include quality on the parts that might never be seen – kind of like when Jobs delayed shipping a product because the elegance of the inside of a machine did not match his ideal…even though nobody would likely ever see it…



Go down rabbit holes – sometimes following links to other links can be fascinating. It helps create a sense of ownership and enhance that “sense of wonder”. Explore weird things – explore things that matter to you – personally…



Get distracted – the brain needs time to process and synthesize – and sometimes focusing too hard on one thing becomes…overwhelming…in fact, distraction is  key strategy to help with mental wellness issues – chronic pain, anxiety, depression, etc all feed when the focus is on them, when you get distracted the brain gets “freed” and good things happen.



Respect Facts – there are some things that are what they are. We can have debates and discussions about flat earth, climate changes, etc but at the end of the day – there are some facts that are there and can’t be broken – respect those (and break the others!)



Procrastinate – procrastination is not laziness – there is percolating of the brain that occurs and can look like nothing to the outside observer, but inside…. well, there would be hours that da Vinci would look at “The Last Supper” and maybe make a single stroke. Or as Calvin (the 20th century philosopher, not the one from the 1500s) points out:


last minute panic to some…hours of thinking for others…



Let perfect be the enemy of good – (both Leonardo and Jobs knew that real artists care about the beauty of even the parts unseen) I have been part of schools where our unofficial motto/challenge to each other became “here, good isn’t good enough”. Be secure in your vision to finish it to the end where you are satisfied, not where others think “that’s enough”



Think visually “Too often, when we learn a formula or a rule—even one so simple as the method for multiplying numbers or mixing a paint color—we no longer visualize how it works. As a result, we lose our appreciation for the underlying beauty of nature’s laws.” <– how important is this ideation when we think about math. It is not just about memorizing numbers and algorithms, it is picturing both the “why” and the “how” in an actualized vision. From this understanding, fluency can then be focused on (but if all you’re trying to do is memorize the times tables by looking at numbers on flashcards… all you’re learning is what the numbers lookalike…)




Avoid silos – it is easy to put up “specialties” as something that needs protection. But as da Vinci showed and encouraged – a cross section of learning helps – math should not “just” be done in math classes. We need to see how a cross section of connections can enable both learning and UNDERSTANDING when we are engaged in our studies.



Let your reach exceed your grasp. There are some problems we will never solve. Explore and understand and learn why. 



Indulge fantasy  – what might be… why… how? just because it hasn’t been done, can it never be done? What can you learn by studying how human wings might work (especially if you focus on the details of flight) What about a giant widget…just because (and then see where that ‘because’ leads you!)



Create for yourself not just for patrons – here is where my thinking is getting rattled. Does the finished product matter more than the journey? Are learners just doing stuff to please their patrons/teachers? Are there opportunities to learn for the sake of learning. Or for the learner to say “I’m done” even if the finished product is not yet complete to a teachers want/expectation? Is there value in knowing when “enough is enough” and what that means. Not quitting – that’s different – but when you have “got out of something” what you wanted to get, even if you didn’t cross the finish line?



Collaborate – this is not group work. This is taking advantage of others insights and thinkings to help spur your own. Sugata Mitra (Hole in the Wall) referred “research” to ‘stealing others ideas’ and building on them – and then building on what was ‘stolen’….




Make lists – it is easy to think of something and then forget about it. da Vinci’s folios are filled with lists on the same pages as drawings and sketches. Things to explore. Wonders. Books to try to acquire. etc



Take notes, on paper – I am better on screen than paper. Mainly because of my unique font that makes up my scrawl. But I am trying again – I have acquired a Rocketbook – works like a notebook, but can be uploaded to a text/email/dropbox for future use and then “erased” – as two students exclaimed when they saw me using this book: ‘its like magic’ – and as Arthur C Clarke said: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.



Be open to mystery; not everything needs sharp lines (outlines) – I am guilty of saying “put an outline around that drawing to make it pop” – and indeed, a firm border can help with some tasks – but with art… the wonder of da Vinci is that there are  no outlines – like real life – the edge just fades and blends into/onto the background.




Overall, reading Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson led to some divergent thinking – even for me…. Most notably my current thinking about valuing (assessing) the journey of learning as much (and in some cases more) than the final project – especially if incomplete. It is making me rethink what it means to “pass” and “fail”. Books that make you think….this is one of them!


And woodpecker tongues…



About technolandy

Principaling on the Pacific in Powell River BC Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback to personalize learning!
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