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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Today's Technology Tools to Study Yesterday's

A fifth-grade field trip from Ferryway School, near Boston, to the nation's oldest ironworks is captured with the latest tech. Read the article.
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Teacher: So, welcome to the Saugus Ironworks National Historic site.

Narrator: It's a big day for the fifth grade at Ferryway School just outside Boston.

Teacher: What's this simple machine right here? Wheel and axle, right.

Narrator: This field trip is the highlight of a six-week project that integrates science…

Teacher: This works like a lever that presses the bellows closed, blows the air into the furnace.

Narrator: …math, art, English…

Teacher: So this is America's first rolling and slitting mills.

Narrator: …and history.

Teacher: There we go. My metal's hot enough. This is called a hearty. What kind of simple machine is this?

Class: Wedge.

Teacher: Wedge.

Narrator: Students use the latest technology tools to study the country's earliest innovations.

Teacher: And how's that? A good-looking nail?

Class: Yeah.

Teacher: You guys are too easy to please.

Narrator: To earn the right to go on the field trip, students spend weeks accomplishing various tasks to get their passport stamped.

Margie: All of those stamps are based on our state standards, from writing assignments to design assignments. And, as they finish the assignment, the passport is stamped.

Narrator: All of the assignments involve hands-on activities, from creating an outfit for a rock person…

Student: And it looks like shiny metal.

Narrator: …to studying rocks and minerals, which also involves Internet research.

Student: Chemical composition with an organized structure of a natural inorganic origin.

Narrator: Technology specialist Bob Simpson helped the team integrate technology on the project.

Bob: Well, the teachers have done all the really good research and constructed the structure of how the students are going to navigate through that unit, and ultimately what that does is it empowers the students to make decisions. So, when they're researching rocks and minerals, they get to pick which Web site they want to go to to select their rock or mineral.

So, go ahead and click on your Internet browser.

Narrator: Students also access the Web to study the history of the ironworks. The Saugus unit site also features a parent page that is translated into several languages.

Student: It's over here in the X.

Tom: We've had about 75 different languages spoken in this community, so you can imagine what that brings to the table every day, but this kind of cooperative work environment, teachers and students, supersedes that, and working with the computer, working with a partner, going on the field trip, those things are the intangibles that bring this whole project to life and can reach kids that you may never be able to reach in other ways.

Student: This is a picture and right here is a caption.

Bob: Your mission is to write a description caption for the pictures you took today.

Narrator: With digital cameras the school received as part of a technology grant, students add their field-trip photos to an ironworks wiki.

Bob: Let's get these pictures into your laptops, so connect your cable to your camera.

Margie: I've seen lots of intrinsic learning. I think the kids own what they've learned. They're very proud of their work. They can talk about their work, and they share much more.

Student: Do you like the other one too?

Student: Yeah.

Margie: They're learning through the technology definitely and with the technology, and they're able to sort of publish themselves at a level that we haven't been able to do before.

Student: Wait. What's that?

Student: I don't know. I think you took that.

Narrator: The integration of various subjects in one project also seems to work.

Anxhela: If you're in different classes, you sometimes forget, because your mind's on one class, and then you have to be focused on another class, but when it's all together you can just focus on one thing, because it's all the same.

Margie: The circumference of the circle, so when you measure around…

Narrator: The most exciting hands-on activity is a competition to build the most efficient Styrofoam water wheel.

Teacher: Sixteenth of an inch. I mean, we're talking maybe two millimeters.

Narrator: As part of a team of more than a dozen teachers and mentors on the project, Earl Fitzpatrick runs the school's tech lab.

Earl: The technology education lab is a place where the students can come into the room, actually physically construct a project. It gives them ownership. They built it. They'll test it, and in this case we'll have not only learned about the water wheel, but they learned about all the tools and machines that it takes to produce a working prototype, the steps in the design process and, whether it succeeds or fails, they can come back and rebuild it to make it a success.

Earl: And they can actually test it to see if it works and compare their work against other students. It's almost self-grading.

Two hundred and fifty grams plus one thousand grams.

There's no need to grade the project. I mean, you put it on the test stand and see how much it lifts, and the kids can know, "Hey, I made a good effort and my water wheel is efficient. I've achieved the goal."

Narrator: Whether they finish first or last, the teams are encouraged to learn from their efforts.

Andy: Looking at where the water's spilling out and how the wheel is operating right now, what might you change about it?

Student: Bigger cups.

Andy: Some bigger cups. So why would you add bigger cups?

Student: So there could be more water.

Narrator: Graduate engineering student Andy Mueller from nearby Tufts University guides them through the redesign process.

Andy: This is exactly what engineers do. You don't know how something is going to operate until you build it and test it until failure. Now we know that there's a lot of water spilling out the side of this. You might want to add…

You don't really know what you want to do. If you can see someone that's excited about anything, it helps the kids out to maybe say, "Well, if he is that excited about engineering," then get the kids excited about it, and maybe they'll want to go into engineering.

Teacher: Their water wheels seem far more advanced than the first year. Where did that come from? How did that…

Narrator: Redesign is also part of the process for the teaching team that created the ironworks project in 2002.

Earl: We had time in the shop. Then the two fifth-grade science teachers were very flexible, I mean, to the point where we were on the phone up- and downstairs shuttling students up and down so that they could re-glue. They had time to decorate. They had time to make last-minute adjustments, things that we didn't have before. It adds a component. That technology component makes a big difference.

Narrator: Buoyed by the success of the ironworks project, the team tackled another project.

Paul: So, today we're going to look at pictures of animals and we're going to make predictions about the biomes that they live in based on all the work that you've done to date.

Narrator: As part of a second-year HP technology grant, the fifth-grade team mentored fourth-grade teachers in developing the biome unit.

Paul: And then you ask the question, so it's three different ways.

Teacher: You're going to bring me at least up to here?

Paul: Yeah.

Narrator: The project started with a Web quest, which led to students designing PowerPoint presentations of a particular biome.

Paul: All right. Take a look. Slide looks really good. Climagraph looks good.

Narrator: Information for the PowerPoint presentations came from Internet research.

Sara: Who can tell me what a herbivore is?

It's just been a totally wonderful experience. They actually are looking forward to something for a change. I think it's just hands-on and they don't have to listen to my voice droning on and on and they're discovering things on their own. It's just amazing, some of the questions that have come up from their own discoveries instead of me feeding all the information to them. I think that's the biggest piece.

Teacher: It's related to the wolverines, minx and weasels.

Narrator: At the end of the unit, they were challenged to justify why a certain animal might live in a given biome.

Paul: So, using your remotes, make sure that you select a biome.

Narrator: And their answers were tabulated instantly with a student-response system.

Student: I chose the temperature of the deciduous forest, because there's lots of rodents there.

Paul: We wanted to keep that idea of inquiry-based, so it enabled the students to kind of start that type of learning, which is a stretch for a lot of kids, because they are used to: Open the book. Read the chapter. Answer the questions. This is different. It's not necessarily a matter of right or wrong. If you can justify it, if you can support your answer, then it's a valuable answer, and the students respond to that quite well and they remember what it is that they're learning.

Who chose the rainforest?

Student: I chose the rainforest because there are a lot of insects, and it eats insects, so it's one of its food sources.

Narrator: The biome and ironworks projects inspired both teachers and students, and their test scores rose well above other fifth-graders in the district.

Student: I took that picture.

Earl: There's a lot of life lessons to be learned by physical, hands-on projects, whether it be a science experiment, a tech-ed experiment. They learn leadership roles. They learn how to get along, how to cooperate, and it's good for everyone.

Teacher: Here we go.

Earl: Often you don't have the chance to show kids that education is real, that there is value to it, that it's out there, and they get a chance to put that all together. Once in a while, the magic happens, and it has happened the last couple of days and it's happened the last five years we've been doing this project.

Teacher: You're on the lift.

Narrator: For more information on What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Production Intern:

  • Neil Tan

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Keith McManus
  • John O'Connor


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Comments (66)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Ashley Culpepper's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student at ASU West in the teaching program. I feel this video perfectly associates with everything the article is trying to get across. In the article it states that the student's average increases by 7 percent! The video shows how wonderful hands on activities are as well as how big a role technology plays in today's schools. I feel it is so important to have as many hands on activities in the classroom as possible, because Ferryway has proven that it works. Like the video stated this helps students learn to cooperate with their fellow peers who is going to help them someday in college, and later in the work force. What we teach them and how we teach them now is going to affect them the rest of their lives! Amazing article and video!!

April Heyman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher attending ASU West. Where do I sign up to get a technology grant? I loved the student response system that graphed the students' answer to the question the teacher asked. That was a technology that I've only seen thus far on game shows. I liked the idea of having a teaching team to implement the Ironworks Project. It was amazing to see how excited the students were about their water wheel designs. I was also encouraged by the Biome Unit the fourth graders were working on. Someday, I would like to teach fourth grade and maybe by the time I get my degree, Arizona will have this kind of technology available at it's schools.

Lucas Vergin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I was happy to see the passion of the teachers involved in creating, implementing, and monitoring the service project. When students are able to be hands on and apply their learning to "real life", they are much more likely to retain the information and desire to learn more. Teaching to the test will help students to memorize facts or equations for a test, but hands on learning will teach each student valuable knowledge and skills that he/she will be able to apply to future situations.

Kailee Elders's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a pre-service teacher from ASU West and thought this was a fantastic video. I loved how much hands on learning this school used to teach its students how to use technology and real life skills. Not only did the students learn to work with groups with different projects but it allowed the teachers to collaborate together and share ideas and help each other out with each project. I thought it was interesting how much fun the children seem to be having and how useful the information they were gaining in each classroom setting. Ferryway used different methods to meet state standards but also allowed students to build other skills as well such as teamwork. This was an amazing school with lots of new ideas and fun ways to learn new things.

Ashley Peters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice speciasl education teacher at ASU. This video and article was amazing and inspiring. I am a hands on learner and had my classes been taught in the manner this class was I probably would have learned a lot more and understood a lot more about what I was learning. This way of teaching really allows students to understand what they are learning and allows them to apply it to everyday life instead of just memorizing it for a test and then forgetting it after the test. I plan to do activities such as this in my class because I think it is a key component to learning.

Whitney Brennan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also attend Arizona State University (WEST) and I am a preservice teacher. I thought that this article and film were really inspiring. Although it took so much preparation for the educators to pull off this project, it seemed to have a really positive outcome on the students. I thought it was really great how the project didn't focus on only one school subject. When I graduate and become an elementary school teacher, I look forward to teaching my students with the use of technology.

james Dahm's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Preservice teaher at ASU I really liked the video. What stood out for me is the fact that 5 or 6 teacher were working together on a single project, intergrading history math, science, and hands on building. The students really looked like they were having fun and understanding the project and even was able to trouble shoot throw their mistakes. The success of that project has inspired me to seek out other oppertunities like is on the web. The different types of technology that was on hand for the kids was also great to see the kids use.

Nicole Webb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher at ASU, I was very impressed with the project learning strategy from the Ferryway School. I found the fact that the teachers collaborated their knowledge and skill of different subjects in the school to motivate young minds to be actively involved in such a hands-on project inspiring. I would love to work alongside such a driven team of teachers someday. The use of technology was also incredible to watch. What a wonderful way to integrate all of the necessary components schools should be teaching into one fun, effective project!

Lindsey Gordon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher from ASU. The article and video above were very interesting. In numerous classroom settings, teachers rarely interact with eachother. Seeing these teachers work as a team for the common goal of helping these children be successful is inspiring. It shows that working together with other teachers is very beneficiary to not only the teacher but to the students as well. Through the ironworks project, the children seemed to be very engaged. They got to experience the material hands on which is exactly how children learn. Furthermore, incorporating technology in the classroom was very beneficiary as well. The students were having fun, and they were learning through and with the techology. It is inspiring to see the impact these teachers are making on these students.

Sheila Cota's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at Arizona State University. I really enjoyed reading this article and watching the video. Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and teachers need to know how to bring various technology related methods into the classroom. I remember when I was in grade school computers were starting to come into the classrooms and many of my teachers were "old fashioned" and did not know how to operate or use a computer. I also like how the article and movie brought up the different techniques of learning, which was different from when I was in school.

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