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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Learn & Live: Clear View Charter Elementary School

This school in Chula Vista, California, has been recognized for its innovative efforts to support the needs of its multilingual student population through the use of technology-enhanced project-based learning. More to this story.

Learn & Live: Clear View Charter Elementary School (Transcript)

Teacher: That's incredible. That's the best we've seen yet.

Narrator: Fourth and fifth graders at Clear View Charter School in Chula Vista, California, work over a two way interactive video connection with scientists at a local university. Together they study insects under an electron microscope.

Teacher: Okay, introduce yourselves, girls, get in closer, Tammy.

Narrator: This project provides a hands on understanding of insects, far beyond what is possible with traditional classroom resources. Today, students in Jim Dieckmann's class collect more insects to examine under the electron microscope.

Charles: With this insect project that we're doing, somebody could just tell us the parts of an insect, but we go in depth to see closer and learn by ourselves, instead of somebody else telling us.

Student: Oh, what kind of bug is that?

Jim: This project that we've been working on with insects is really an effort to teach students, what is the life of a scientist really about? What is the scientific process as well? And that's what we're attempting to do.

Albert: We're studying right now the mouth parts, most of. And see if the-- it c-- if the difference of what they eat and their mouth parts, the [inaudible] like a beetle that eats stuff that has to crunch, so the mouth part, it's like a little cruncher, like this.

Charles: Its mandibles are different than ours. They're on the side of their mouth. It's from here and they chew this way, not this way. They chew like this, not like this.

Howard: We have schools, because we hope that some day, when children have left schools, that they will still be able to use what it is that they've learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science, that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they're studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands on to essentially recreate things in their own mind and then transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear.

Narrator: Charles and Albert collected several specimens, but the wasp they want so much still eludes them. And the class has only two days before a scheduled online link up with the electron microscope.

Jim: They're doing the collection. They're doing the preparation. They're doing research in order to try to find out what they can about this insect and then trying to pose some kinds of questions that could be answered through direct observation with this powerful tool that we have. That's the electron microscope itself.

Student: If you look just with the little magnifier, you can only see them about fifteen max. But with the electron microscope, you can go as high as seven hundred something to see 'em. And it's kinda interesting that you can see all the hairs on him, and you never thought he had like little hairs.

Neil: So in one sense, you're essentially asking the student to be a researcher, whereas before you might have thought the faculty's doing research, the students are learning. Now, in effect, you're saying to the students, "Go out and do the research, which is not bounded, which is really limitless, and keep generating the questions, because as you find more and more information out there, you'll find that it doesn't necessarily coincide with your first idea. You'll have to change your idea, then you'll have to look for more information to get that into some kind of sync with what you've been thinking." Second of all, it becomes very collaborative, and that can be not just among students. It can be between you and your teacher, or it can be with people in the outside world. So once again, you're functioning almost the way a faculty member or an adult in any field functions as a researcher.

Jim: All right. I can see most people are just continuing on there. That's good, jumping around sometimes a little bit. You see the students working around. They're pretty much self motivated and self directed, so that it's not all teacher supervised, teacher directed. They take the responsibility, and I think that's really what becomes a real value of this particular kind of learning.

James: It isn't enough to just wait for it to trickle down through scholars that use here and write textbooks. It's important to get these resources directly in the hands of young learners, who wouldn't be able to use the reading rooms of the Library of Congress, but can use this material, if we make it more accessible and user friendly, as we're trying to do all the time.

Narrator: To share their research, Albert and Charles prepare a multimedia report.

Computer: Wasps by Albert and Charles.

Albert: On next-- to the next page.

Computer: Here are the wasps mating.

Narrator: These interactive multimedia technologies give students a new way to express their ideas and demonstrate what they've learned.

Albert: We have to make up a text box for this one.

Charles: Text box.

Jim: Using multimedia, it's just a tremendous amount of decision making that has to be done by the students. When they just simply look at the quantity of resources that are available for them to make this particular report, then they have to become very discriminating as to what pieces they need in order to impart their particular message.

The content is extremely important to me, and that's the area where I push on. That's what I do as a teacher, to push the students into finding more information, to synthesizing that information, to putting it in a presentable form that's understandable to them, and to the ultimate user. And the components include looking at the insects themselves in the traditional ways that we might, through text and pictures, as well as other images of the insects that they might find on CDs or find via the internet and download that way. I'd try Alta Vista. That'd be my suggestion too. Okay?

Charles: Okay.

Albert: Four thousand.

Jim: Okay, you got four thousand-- ooh, what's this?

Charles: That's how to get rid of--

Jim: What's that?

Charles: What do to with them.

Jim: It might be useful for you to just save that piece, to read offline, okay? 'Cause there's awful lot there. Then you can just take it off and read it later on. Maybe there's one or two important points there about controlling wasps that would be important to you, okay?

Albert: To catch one.

Jim: How to catch one, that might be it.

Kristina: If we were back in the fifteen hundreds, sixteen hundreds, and we were Gutenberg, inventing this printing press, we'd be so delighted that we'd be able to take knowledge and distribute it, and also preserve it for different generations. Imagine though, we're standing at that same point now where we're not limited to just type on a page. We can preserve ideas, we can represent ideas in a full component of ways. We have images available, we have sound available. We have two way communication available. And that's where we're standing right now, in terms of the capabilities. How we're gonna use those is the challenge at the moment.

Jim: All right, between now and recess, you have a very important job to do.

Narrator: Many educators are seeking better ways to evaluate student achievement, so that the assessment furthers the learning process.

Jim: Construct a rubric for the--

Narrator: Jim Dieckmann helps the students create their own standards or rubrics for assessing the quality of their projects.

Jim: -- what would make a good multimedia project. What would be the best multimedia presentation on insects? What would it contain? Thinking about content and also thinking about technique, the way in which it's put together. You need to take one person who's going to record the information.

Shirley: It is more difficult to assess the learning that occurs through this kind of project based experience, that it is not going to be assessable through fill in the bubble kinds of tests, that they're gonna have to be much richer forms of assessment that can really capture how much more the students actually know.

Student: We can make buttons that can jump to other pages, yeah, links.

Student: About how many?

Jim: In the multimedia project, after the students have actually done a little work with it and done some of their research and started to actually construct the project itself, then we sit down and we discuss, what is it that would make the best multimedia presentation? That then is placed in the students' hands so they know what they're working towards. It's not like, "The teacher's gonna give me a A, B or C, but I don't know what I have to do to get A, B or C." So they have all of that up front and I like to have the students help me develop those particular rubrics, 'cause they're the ones that are doing the work.

How about some of the other tables sharing some information?

Student: It has to be in your own words.

Jim: Ah, text in own words; Desiree?

Student: Good punctuation.

Jim: With rubrics that have been developed by the students, they're able to look at what they have done, self evaluate that, get peer feedback and teacher feedback. And what I find is that then they're internalizing their desire to improve their work. Do we require, for a four, that a person have a self drawn picture or animation? That's the question.

Narrator: When expectations are clear to both students and teachers, students develop the ability to assess their own progress, a skill essential for lifelong learning.

Jim: Okay, I think we just left out one important part of multimedia. When we think of multimedia, we think of text, graphics and...? Amanda's got it behind you maybe there. Sound.

Jim: Aha, yes, sound, guys, sound. One last time, graphics, sounds--

Grant: We should assess to say, "All right, here's what you can do. Here's what you haven't done. How can we help you improve? How does this information, how does this feedback help you know and help us know what you might do to be better?

Raymond: It is not the skill level that changes. Everybody comes out with the same skill level. It's the time it takes that changes, and some people take two and a half times as long to learn as other people. That's the way people are, that's the way we are in certain areas. So when a school finally figures out that each student must learn each step before they go to the next, and everybody will be competent in each step, and everybody will make an A, then we'll change our view of tests.

Jim: Wait a minute, Daniel, you're not answering my question. You're just jamming for someone. I don't see the paper in your hand, I don't see it checked off. I haven't seen the discussion that you've had with your partners, okay? We don't just go and get going without some planning, thank you. Why don't we just keep it like this all the time? Let's just keep it like that, and you wanna change the colors on the inside.

Jim: We do these projects in the multimedia usually with at least groups of two, sometimes three. So in those groups, there's a great deal of cooperation as to what are we going to include? A great deal of discussion, and that's learning in itself. Go to the disc.

Daniel: Cooperative learning is a natural living library that gives children the chance to master and practice a set of essential skills for life. They're skills you could call emotional intelligence. They're how you handle your own emotions and work things out with people, how you deal with other kids, other people in your life. Things like managing your temper, you're not going to be able to blow up and work with a group. It exerts pressure on you to learn how to do that. That looks great.

Narrator: Cooperative learning, project based learning and alternatives to grades to assess what's been learned? This doesn't sound like the schools most of us went to. As these innovations are introduced, schools must keep parents better informed and encourage greater involvement in their children's education. When children see their parents and teachers working together, it sends a clear and consistent message about the value of learning. At Clear View Charter, parents meet regularly with teachers and staff to discuss the school program in an open forum. It's an opportunity for teachers to explain their approaches to learning to both parents and students.

Jim: "You might be asking yourself the question, "Well, how do we go about figuring out, trying to assess whether or not students are doing any real learning while their going through this process--?" Education of our parents is as important as education of our children. We're out here trying to let parents know what we're doing and why we're doing it; that we're not giving up on multiplication and addition and spelling. We're doing all those things, but we're just doing it in the context of using technology to improve those particular skills.

Parent: How is it different than learning without multimedia and without computer?

Jim: What I have seen in students in the last couple of years, who have now had the exposure to technology, that are not only computer, but videotape technology, laser disc technology, they have a very high comfort level with that technology. But it also provides them a feeling of accomplishment that I have not seen in, say, traditional forms of education.

Juanita: I mean, I've seen such improvement in Albert's academic work, reading comprehension. Computers, the technology of computers, has really opened up a lot for Albert, and I see him wanting to come to school, bright early, and leave late, you know. Always calling me, "Can I stay a little later? I need to finish up a project," you know, and that's-- I'm like, "Wow, yeah, sure."

James: The involvement of the parents and learning of the child makes a big difference. It is the interaction between the child and the parent that makes the learning meaningful. Children are almost programmed to please adults and their first appreciation of themselves comes from the feedback from the important people around them, and the most important people are the parents.

Jim: Well, it's to help you tomorrow. It's to help you tomorrow when you're actually directing Steve on the Microsoft. Let's take a look.

Narrator: It's the day before Jim Dieckmann's class goes online with a scientist using the electron microscope. But after numerous efforts, Albert and Charles still have not caught a wasp.

Albert: Do you know what kind of bug it is? We don't know where it was. I just found it on a leaf. I don't know if it had--

Narrator: Even with cutting edge technology, learning still has setback and frustrations.

Jim: Now you did not collect a wasp.


Did you?

But he found one.

Okay. Where's that?

It's in my garage.

Still in your garage, flying around, right, okay. It's not going to do us that much good.

Yeah, but we know where we found it.

Right, but what you want from the microscope, you want something that looks like a wasp. A beetle really doesn't look like a wasp, but some of the other things we have. We have a bee.

Yeah, but that's not our thing.

I know.

It has to be a representative.

Jim: Right, now you've got the picture. So the representative insect collected would be a bee, understand? That way you get a chance to see what the mouth parts look like on an animal, an insect that looks similar to the one that you had for your project. So do you think this will give us additional information or not?


Probably so... Albert, could you get up here? You're kinda hiding down there. What?

I don't care; it's not a wasp and we need a wasp.

Well, you had the opportunity.

I still got it, just have to get it.

Well, it's a little late, if we're going online tomorrow and it's still flying around in his garage.

Do it another time.

Okay, I'm not gonna try to force you to do anything here, Albert, but I think if you'll sit down and think about it, you'll probably come up with some kind of a conclusion about what's gonna be best here.

Linda: Teachers need to be able to elicit students' thinking. They also need to be able to interpret what they hear students saying in terms of their learning. What does it mean about students' progress when they portray a problem in a certain way or get stuck on a particular concept? And finally, they need to be able to continually elicit understandings about how kids are thinking about their work, not just whether they have the right answer. So this requires a lot of new tools for teachers.

Teacher: And probably an assassin bug or...

Narrator: In San Diego State University laboratory, entomologist Doctor Kathy Williams and Doctor Steve Barlow prepare for a live fiber optic link into Jim Dieckmann's classroom miles away.

Jim: After them is E8, E8, was that you, Rodrigo? Amanda G, Desiree and Emily.

Narrator: With an electron microscope, they'll examine and discuss the insect specimens gathered and prepared by Albert, Charles and their classmates.

Jim: All right, Steve, I think we're ready to go. Introduce yourselves, boys.

Hi, I'm Charles.

Hi, I'm Albert.

And my name's Patrick.

Steve: Okay, so we'll start with your first sample now?


Okay, all right, so this is the head of it. Now last week we were talking about looking at mouth parts, correct?

All: Yes.

Steve: Okay, so here you can see the two eyes and in the center is kind of this long, looks like a nose. And then down at the very end of the nose, we increase the magnification here.

What is that?

What does it look like?



Kathy: Looks a lot like teeth. What do you think they use it for?

Probably to catch food.

Kathy: Well, that's a good start, that's a good idea. It's really tiny though, if you think about it, so what kind of food would they get with that, with little tiny teeth like that?


Okay, gnats.

Tiny flies.

Okay, maybe tiny flies.

Do you know of the sand bee, do the mouth parts look like a bee or a wasp?

Kathy: Well, what do you think? Do you have any ideas about that?

I think yeah, because they're related.

That's right, the bees and the wasps have a lot of similarities in their mouth parts. You're getting to be good entomologists there.

Albert: 'Cause me and Charles are doing a project on wasps.


Albert: But we haven't found the wasp, so we just did the sand bee and we looked at the--

Jim: The contribution of Doctor Williams was incredible, because she was giving information, she was engaging the students in conversation, she was asking the students questions, thereby they had to formulate their thinking to respond. And that's what's important, because we can look at things all day, but if we don't formulate some kind of a response to what we see, we're just taking in information. We're not synthesizing it in any way. So that's what I feel the value of the experts and the interaction, is what gives the students the impetus to internalize some of the learning.

John: I think that the changes we see happening today in these technology enriched environments are very important for two reasons. First of all, what you find is that these environments are encouraging kids to engage constantly in an active search, and then taking what they're finding, combining it with what other kids have found, and working kinda collaboratively on constructing something with what they find. So they're learning how to search, how to challenge what they find and then how to combine what they find with others. Now if there's anything we learn in kinda corporate America today is the absolute importance of teamwork. It's so ironic to me that in the schools we focus almost exclusively in the past on the performance of the individual, often at the cost of other individuals. Whereas when you get into the workplace, it's really the ability to productively work with others that really matters.

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Comments (24)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Joe difelice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i liked the way the experts answered the childerns questions with a question.
it did not only give information but it it provoked further thought.

joe difelice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i am a big fan of PBL learning i was introduced to it in my freashman year of collage.
i like the way it teaches one not only to answer a question but to reasearch the matrial and backrounds of certain problems

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciated how this video demonstrated how a student who had little interest or understanding was guilded along and learned. The technique of working in a group of peers with professional guildance really motivates learning. The use of the Rubrix with students was great to witness. Their particapation in the planning stages can only enhances their learning. The focus on parent involvement as being key to the learning process of the students I also believe is critical. To stress colaboration between parent and child, student and student, student and teacher or professional can only prepare the student for a successful work environment.

Sherrie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed viewing this PBL experience. I agree with all of the previous postings and wonder where/when the teacher received his training and how long it took him to get to this point! With the planning, resources, and creating the learning environment, I am just amazed at the amount of time and energy that was put into this! It would be great to see this happening in our building, but we need "baby steps" to get started.

Lesley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The video is great but the links to the individual segments do not appear to be working. Can you please let me know if you are able to resolve this issue as we do use segments of the video in a PD workshop. Thank you!

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

The Edutopia Web site has numerous articles and videos about project-based learning (PBL). If you are new to PBL, you should look at our instructional module. It can be used in a teacher workshop or you can use it as a self-paced learning unit. The module may be found at edutopia.org/teachingmodules/PBL/index.php

Additionally, the article "Start with the Pyramid" provides a wonderful entry into this topic See edutopia.org/start-pyramid

mduncan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is a good idea to set up a PBL in the classroom. Students in a math setting, can relate real world situations to what they are learning in math. How formulas are used outside of the classroom.

Jen Lentz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video was a great example of higher learning in the classroom. This type of learning provides students with skills that allows them to perform well in other subjects both now and in the future. The video gave great examples of how technology in the classroom can hep students find research on projects. I look forward to teaching and applying this type of technology for history classes. Students need to achieve things such as this to give them confidence in their work and performance. As a returning student I must admit that when I was in school we were not provided this type of technology. I'm in awe of what children are now able to achieve in the classroom and look to help my future students achieve success not only in the classroom but in all aspects of their life.

Janine Fay-Tucker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video was an excellent example of higher learning in the classroom. Giving students the ability to work with scientists to do research is truly a higher level learning experience. The students at Clearview are given the chance to be creative and make a multimedia project while learning about technology and insects. One practice that this teacher utilized that I would consider using with my own students is giving the students a chance to help develop a rubic for an assignment.

anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i think that this is a great example of higher quality learning. kids need activities/experiments like this in order to get more interested in what they are learning. I think things like this work great in the classroom and i would use them when i begin teaching.

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