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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

Jessica Pranke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at ASU West and found this project to be very exciting. It is a great example of how technology can be integrated into the classroom. It also allows the students to get hands-on experience that will be useful later on in the real world. It is inspiring to see how this group of teachers was able to be creative and still cover the state standards. I hope to have an opportunity in the future to do the same with my students.

Dannielle Kitchener's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is absolutly fabulous what these teachers and faculty members have done with their cirriculum. Not only have they made their students more excited about learning, they have made their students passionate about what they are learning. Just as the principle from the video explained, the students gain a sense of ownership with this project. They are not just being held responsible for reading, listening, and being assessed, they are being held responsible for doing something. They research it, bulid it, and think about it as a team and as a classroom. Another great thing about this cirriculum is that they are not just focusing on one content area. This project encompasses almost every core subject from math( calculating the circumference of the water wheel) to history (researching the historic time period of the waterwheel). As an education major and preservice teacher of Arizona State University, I only hope to be as creative and innovative as these teachers. They truly are making an impact on how education should be delivered.

Nick Martinez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I view this video as what could be potentially be in all the school systems. As with everyone else, I agree that the hands-on work that the students did were beneficial. A student's interest is key to learning any concept and this activity engulfs the students to learn the subject's content. The only issue is that many school districts may not feel this method of learning is as effective. Hopefully more tests and studies prove this to be the most helpful to the student's future.

Alyssa Campos's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service elementary school teacher at ASU West. This article and video really inspired me even more to be a great teacher. The teachers in this article sincerely cared for those students. The video gave me excitement to learn more about technology and how to integrate it into my classroom. I believe it is important to also lecture to students at times, but technology is evolving so fast and it is a great method of instruction as well. I loved this project and think that the steps and technology used in this project would be very beneficial in many other subject areas.

Deanna Medina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was really fascinated by watching all these students work together in groups and using technology. I loved the concept of using the passport as a tool to encourage kids to excel in class in order to go on a field trip to see how, what they learned applys to real life. I'm excited to use some of these techniques in my classroom as a future teacher!

Shannon Hughes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that this is an amazing way of teaching a student, the fact that this was all for multiple subject was very awesome. Also, the inclusion of the technology showed how it wasn't over used, but it was enough to teach how it can be used properly and affectively. It is very untraditional and I believe that it is way more effected for the student. It not only was a field trip, but they incorperated a lot more hands-on methods, paperwork, and technology. As a preservice teacher I see this as a great idea to add into the classroom.

Gina Kent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This kind of project-based learning seems to me the best kind of learning for students. That it encompasses many different subjects/standards, encourages collaboration between teachers, and provides students with information that is meaningful and that will be retained is a very good thing. Unfortunately in my experience this kind of project-based learning is the exception and not the norm. How and when will it become what is typically used to teach children? Where do I get support when I become a teacher and get into a classroom to pursue project based work?

Nicole Harrison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU. I thought this video was amazing. It was such a good example to show so many positive aspcects of teaching and learning. I loved how the students were able to work together in groups and apply a variety of subjects to one project. The use of the internet and technology really brought the projects to life since the students could research on their own and feel accomplished with their progress.

James Hodgkins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at ASU West, and watching this video get me very excited. I really think this is awesome, teaching has become somewhat stale and this is a great direction for education. As a future teacher I am excited to projects like this, which integrate multiple subject and concepts in to learning. I can also appreciate the different learning styles addressed through this type of project-based learning.

Kati Van Horne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I found this article and video to be very important. The children really enjoyed the hand-on activities and working together. This shows that intergration can be very helpful in the education of children. Children dont have to be on computers 24/7, they still enjoy learning and participating actively on projects.

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