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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

Casey McCutchan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU I was amazed at how well the students responded to the ironworks project. The enthusiasm on both ends, the teachers and the students, was very inspiring to watch. The unique style of integrating core subject areas as a way to improve learning and broaden views was very interesting and seemed to be very helpful for the students. I really liked how everything was hands on and modern; I think that is what really brought the project to life.

Isabel Kirker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I found this video to be very inspiring. I have worked in the school setting for about six years and while this problem-based learning style seems ideal, I could see how hard it would be to implement it. With so much time being spent teaching to the state standards, it seems almost impossible to add something so time-consuming into the school day. After watching this video, I see how the collabortion of a motivated team could make it possible. It has been many years since I have been a student myself. In just the past couple of weeks, it has been exciting learning different technology skills, so I can see why the children are so eager and excited to learn. I would be too.

Lindsay Westberg's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I found this video absolutely amazing. I never imagined a school integrating technology into the classroom in such exciting ways. These teachers took time and energy into planning these lessons and their hard work was a success. The enthusiasm of all the children made it obvious that learning had become interesting and they all wanted to be there. I cannot wait to become a teacher and have the opportunity to work hands on with the new technology and create a classroom of enthusiastic children wanting to learn.

Reine Laschen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice special education teacher at Arizona State University and I appreciate how the projects were inclusive of all subject matter. This is much more realistic to the students. Students don't question the relevence of this lesson at Ferryway. I also love the collaboration aspect of this plan. Team players fair better in today's work place. Communication is key to success as well. I believe the teachers enjoy these projects and collaborate more in this setting as well.
Technology in the classroom opens the door for more innovative solutions than just having a few taught to the students by the teachers. I believe technology broadens skills and opens minds to different ideas. I look forward to integrating technology in my classroom.

Nick Dush's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also a preservice teacher attending ASU West. The integration on not just hands on activity, but also of technology and other courses is innovative and definitely a step in the right direction. These students showed amazing teamwork and critical thinking. This seemed to build confidence in the students and they seemed to learn and remember what they learn easier.

Lynette Hill's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Preservice teacher at ASU West I was in awe of the projects that took place at Ferryway School. I knew that technology was important for todays kids but did not have any idea of the extent it can be used in the classroom. After watching this video I am excited about learning and implementing technology into both my classroom and lesson plans in order to keep students engaged and interested in what they are learing. By using methods like Ferryway, students are meeting and exceeding standards while building a strong classroom community and not even realizing they are doing it. How great is that!

Hollie Woods's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great way for students to learn. As a preservice special education teacher at ASU west,I think this type of teaching will help students want to learn and keep there attention because it is a different way of teaching then the normal standard way. I also think it allows students to really visualize and use there imagination in a whole different.Also,it allows students to see there that there are really a lot of amazing thing going on in the world.

chelsea powell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service elementary school teacher at USA West. I loved reading this article and watching this video. Although I know that it is sometime necessary to lecture to students, it is not an approach that works for every student or every subject. Using technology in the classroom helps prepare students for their futures because technology is all around us, all fields use some form of it and it will never go away it will only evolve.The students here were excited and interrested and and cleary all were actively involved in the activity. And they were using the technology to learn about, create and rework a very complicated process. I loved this project and think that the steps and technology used in this project would be very beneficial in many other subject areas.

Kattie Reinhart's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher from ASU West. I found this to be amazing. I honestly believe that an integrated system like this will help educate both students and teachers. I suppose that I have minor experience with the idea of interdisciplinary learning because I was involved in Academic Decathlon, but I believe the project learning element pushes it to a higher level of learning for both students and faculty.

Jennifer Moonthein Liscomb's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I attend ASU West and I am presently a pre-service teacher. The article and video moved me. Watching children being able to do hands-on projects in order to learn is inspirational. They seem to enjoy each other's company more and they are learning how to communicate effectively. The teachers in the video also inspired me because they are genuinely concerned about how these children learn. Technology is an important evolving aspect of today's world and it is wise for our children to be able to grow with it.

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