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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

Emily Delster's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a special education major at Arizona State University. In two years I will be entering the field of teaching, and this video made me SO excited to use technology and integration in my classroom! I have to admit that I am not a technologically savvy person, and the idea of using an abundance of technology in class was initially intimidating to me. This article and video definitely brought it into a new light when I saw how engaged the students were in their work, and how excited they were about the results of their water wheels. I cannot wait to be a teacher and do projects like this!

Megan Greenwalt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a junior and preservice teacher in the Education program at Arizona State Universities West campus, I have realized how important technology is for the classroom. Children are using technology in so many ways now and learning how to work collaboratively and effectively through technology and sharing. This video demonstrated many new things and technologies for children. One of the most important things I noticed was how enthusiastic and positive the teachers were in this video. This article and video gave me so many ideas in how to integrate learning in my own classroom in the future. The resources and technology available for students is astonishing and I am excited to use it to maximize learning for my students.

Catalina Lopez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Preservice teacher at ASU, I was excited to see the learning that was happening in this video. Using technology to incorporate reading, writing, math, critical thinking and cooperative learning was excellent. The Teachers who planned for six weeks took so much commitment and compassion, I applaud them. It was evident of the enthusiam in the sudents faces that they will take this lesson with them for the rest of their lives. I look forward to one day incorporating technology with my students. "Great Job!" to the teachers and the students.

Kara Burris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher this video was very inspiring. It shows how teachers can integrate new curriculum that really gets the kids involved and excited to learn. It seems like such a logical step to bring technology into the classroom when it is already a huge part of our children's lives. Taking away the students connection to technology in the classroom often leaves the students bored and counting down the minutes until they can get to a computer or their favorite technological device. So to incorporate computers, cameras, and other various gadgets really allows the students to connect with their subjects. One thing I loved about this project is that it really encouraged students to dig deeper on their own instead of being force fed information by the teacher that they will later data dump once they have taken a test. When students grasp and own the concept of the lesson is when you know you have taught successfully and this project has definitely accomplished that goal!

Donielle Whitman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, watching this video and reading the article made me excited and now I look forward to when I finally become a teacher. I am so excited to integrate technology into my classroom; I believe it helps in so many different ways. It helps the children learn technology, learn to research and also they can learn to use everyday devices that are on or use the computer to work. Even if the student is not using the computer for research they can still play educational games in their spare time in the classroom. Children get so excited when they are able to use the computer so it can be used as a reward.

Brooke Lackey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher attending ASU West. While I was watching the video about the Ferryway School I realized how important technology really is in schools. Students are able to discover things on their own, without using a textbook. I noticed that all the kids in the video were so excited to learn new things. This video made me eager to new learn new ways that teachers are able to reach out to their kids and engage them more into learning. I think technology is a great thing, which all classrooms need to use more.

Ayrial Haarer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Junior attending Arizona State University currently studying education. As a preservice teacher, I found this article and video to be very enlightening and quite exciting. I never knew how integrating technology into classrooms was so important for not only the teachers, but also for the students. Personally, I always questioned the education quality a student might receive when using more and more technology from day to day. Now that I read the article and watched the video, I realize how beneficial it is for students and teachers. Technology gives the students the ability to effectively collaborate with fellow classmates and learn in a fun, exciting environment that steers away from the traditional classroom setting with pens, papers, and written tests. Teachers are also able to include everyone in classroom activities which gives all students equal opportunities to learn efficiently. After this video and article, my eyes have been opened to how beneficial it is to have technology integrated into everyday classroom settings and activities.

Elena Penuelas's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video was amazing. I am a preservice teacher attending ASU West. I really enjoyed the way the kids worked together and had so much fun with the digital camera's and be able to research the internet. I also liked the passport and I am hoping to be able to use it when I become a teacher. It was amazing how they enjoy technology. I'm also a little afraid of technology but this video made me realize how fun it is.

stephanie harper's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service (secondary) teacher at ASU-West. The video really was exciting to watch and it is obviously that the use of technology of course aids in and enhances a students learning. At the college level use of technology is a necessity. Yet it is the student's responsibility to purchase or find a way to access such technology for success in ANY college course. At the high school level I truly feel that access to technology in the classroom depends greatly on the school in question. Ferryway School was given a grant and aided through HP and the companies products. Unfortunately the reality is: not every school in every district is given the same opportunities. It is obvious that technology more then enhances learning; yet I feel that the difficultly of the technology use is the accessibility of it.

Andrew Richardson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher attending ASU West I must say that it is very refreshing to see that a school and teachers can get their students excited about learning. The way the school is using modern technology to teach the student about old technology is brilliant. Not only are the students learning about both technologies, they are learning about cooperation and teamwork. For the rest of their lives the children will be working as one part of a whole with someone who will be teaching them the way until they become themselves become the teachers.

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