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The Geo-Literacy Project: Students Use Technology to Explore Their World

Teacher Eva La Mar's third graders become historians, writers, and videographers as they explore the geography and geology of their community. Read the article.
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The Geo-Literacy Project: Students Use Technology to Explore Their World (Transcript)

Blacksmith: See, now I got it spread out even more.

Narrator: These third graders in Fairfield, California are helping to preserve a vanishing piece of local history.

Student: How long did you have to train like for to be a real blacksmith?

Blacksmith: You can learn basic blacksmithing in about six months.

Narrator: Students at Tolenas Elementary School made several field trips to document the history and resources of nearby Suisun Marsh and Rush Ranch.

Student: Okay. Good.

Narrator: They plan to share their findings online with classrooms across the country with what teacher, Eva La Mar calls, The Geo-Literacy Project.

Eva La Mar We wanted to do something where could take our county, our history, our geology, our geography and encourage students to become literate in it.

Narrator: All of the content on the Geo-Literacy webpage grew out of self-directed inquiry by La Mar's third graders.

Eva La Mar: We started with an essential question which is why was the preservation of Rush Ranch important?

The students picked the area they wanted to research. They drove their own projects. The groups were looking at specific plants and specific animals.

Woman: That's called Miner's Lettuce. I don't know if it has a smell.

Student: And it smells a tiny bit.

Eva La Mar: We're just looking at specific Native American issues.

Man: Obsidian, very good.

Student: They used that as a knife.

Eva La Mar: The blacksmith shop and then the history of Rush Ranch from pre-Columbian all the way up to now. So our students became the authors, the photographers, the videographers, and the local historians working with the high school students and historians.

Teacher: Tule is a wonderful material that the Indians used and the Indians made tule ducks. I made this-

Eva La Mar: We realized that we had some local experts. A retired teacher named Barbara Van Putten who had all these wonderful materials. She had original arrowheads, she had original baskets and you can't take those into every classroom, so my students invited her to come into class and bring all her Indian tools that she had and artifacts.

Barbara Van Putten: You're not going to pull this apart, good. Thank you.

Narrator: Fairfield High School students helped the third-graders produce object rotations by photographing artifacts from different angles to create a three-dimensional digital image.

Eva La Mar: My students were the experts with the materials with the objects being photographed, and the high-schoolers were the experts with the equipment.

Student: Okay, one more picture.

Eva La Mar: It was a very happy meeting of the minds.

Jennifer Ogden: See you can see what you're going to take a picture of.

Narrator: Members of Armijo High School's technology club offered to capture video clips and virtual reality stills for the webpage.

Jennifer Ogden: Alright, now I'm working on the virtual tour for Rush Ranch. And basically the project will go on their website and I'm trying to make the highest quality panorama that I can with the footage that I took.

Eva La Mar: I'm looking for something that you learned and something that was amazing.

Student: Oh, oh.

Narrator: La Mar believes that by studying their local history, students can taste the joy of lifelong learning.

Student: It might have been chasing like a salt marsh harvest mouse or something because it showed like the footprints heading to the hill as if it were chasing something.

All of you know what this is, right?

Student: Yeah, that's the horn of the [inaudible].

Eva La Mar: They developed a love for history. They look back at choices that were made historically and they realize that this has a meaning to our lives and that's what you really hope as a teacher that you can get them to understand is what they're learning now does have a meaning. It's not just a hoop they jump through. They develop a love for learning.

Narrator: Using the Fairfield webpage as a template La Mar hopes other communities will make their own Geo-Literacy sites.

Eva La Mar: Part of this project is the hope that we can take students anywhere in this country that we are studying and go to that community's Geo-Literacy site and look at their history, look at their topography, look at their geology.

Student: And some of them did like the same things as we did, we could learn different facts off of them, and like-

Students: Maybe add it to their-

Student: Ours, and show everyone what all of us have learned from off of each other.

Student: Yeah.

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Leigh Iacobucci

Written by

  • Ken Ellis
  • Leigh Iacobucci


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Ken Ellis
  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Miwa Yokoyama

Production Assistant:

  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Susan Blake

Editor's Note: Since this video was produced in 2003, teacher Eva La Mar has moved on from Tolenas Elementary School to teach third grade in Oregon. (However, she still co-directs the Geo-Literacy Project, which now offers curriculum and projects to schools worldwide.) Also, although the Tolenas students no longer visit Rush Ranch regularly, Barbara Van Putten still visits the classrooms, and Tolenas still uses the Geo-Literacy curriculum.

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