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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Multimedia Serves Youths' Desire to Express Themselves

Southern California's San Fernando Education Technology Team focuses on learning by doing and speaks to students' fascination with technology.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

VIDEO: Students Speak Their Minds Through Digital Media

Running Time: 8 min.

Editor's Note: Though the San Fernando Education Technology Team is no longer active at San Fernando High School, some of the former participants have created their own company to tell stories through media, and continue to foster the program's goals by working with San Fernando students on Saturdays to produce the iCan Film Festival. Marco Torres has moved on from San Fernando High School to become an educational consultant.

Until Consuelo Molina discovered the San Fernando Education Technology Team (SFETT), she wasn't particularly engaged in school, and her extreme shyness kept her from being anything more than an uncomfortable, silent observer in class. However, through the technology-team program and its photography, videotaping, sound recording, editing, and presentation instruction and equipment, Molina's voice is now loud and clear, and her opinions are known around the world.

A Sacrifice for You, Molina's Web video on sweatshops, has been praised and used by participants at the Women's Human Rights Conference in Paris, by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and by a teacher in India, among others.

"Her passion and her interest to talk about something that really bothered her and to have it reach every corner of the world was an experience that she'll never forget," says Marco Torres, the teacher who started the technology team at San Fernando High School, north of Los Angeles. The school has a population of predominantly poor Latino students. Ninety-six percent have no access to computers at home, and 83 percent perform below grade level. So far, about 300 people have participated in the SFETT program, and all of the 80 SFETT participants who graduated from San Fernando have gone on to college. Torres says the program catches students' interest because it focuses on learning by doing and speaks to their fascination with technology and all things digital.


Student Cesar Larios's video explores the struggles of life in an immigrant neighborhood.

Credit: Cesar Larios

Multimedia for Learning That Sticks

What Torres remembers about his own education are the things he made in school: the plaster cast of his hand in kindergarten, the spouting volcano in third grade, the model of a California mission in fourth grade. His students, he finds, enjoy coming up with a tangible product as much as he did. "I see kids that don't traditionally do well in school succeed because this was another way for them to express themselves," he says.

"Media is the language of kids," Torres adds, saying that students who may not take to learning by reading a textbook or listening to a lecture often jump at the chance to understand complex concepts by presenting finished products in the form of a film or a Web documentary or a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

Junior Marisol Garcia had a choice between "really big-deal" cheerleading and SFETT. She chose SFETT. "It is more than just a class," she says. "It is lots of work, but work I look forward to. There are always new things, new opportunities. It's exciting." She says adds if all classes were hands on like in SFETT, students would learn much more in school than they usually do.

SFETT is in part funded by the California Digital High School grant program. It also enjoys the support of a number of private businesses. Norstan became a major contributor toward equipment for the program's Computer Inspiration Studio. Apple Computer, as well as individual Apple executives, contributed equipment and expertise.

Multimedia tools are introduced through projects in several formats: documentaries, music, experimental video, advocacy/selling ideas, and storytelling/feature production. Content for the projects comes from the students and is often based on assignments given in other classes. Molina's sweatshop project, for example, fulfilled an assignment in her economics class. Using up-to-date "presentation of learned information makes for realistic, contextual, emotional connections" to what is learned, says Torres.

Recent projects run the gamut from lighthearted to serious, and at least two focused on politics:

  • Su Voto Es Su Voz (Your Vote Is Your Voice) provides students with an experience in taking a position on a current issue, then researching and supporting it via visual essay.
  • Cesar Chavez March for Justice includes colorful still photos from a San Fernando rally and a lively song sung in Spanish about the United Farm Workers hero. SFETT students also made a separate video with interviews of local politicians and civic leaders advocating a holiday honoring Chavez and his work.
  • What could have been a dry, routine social studies report on immigration graphically places the viewer with a contemporary immigrant family in Mi Barrio. Viewers meet Cesar Larios and his mother, who talks about her grueling work as a housekeeper -- the price she pays to build a better life for her children. The video walks viewers through the neighborhood and near a house where a drive-by shooting left bullet holes in the stucco.

Other projects have included animated stories and commercial ads, some of which were entered in a "Got Milk?" competition sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board. One ad made it to the semifinals.


Devising storyboards helps students plan and visualize video productions.

Credit: Edutopia

Planning, Planning, Planning

Once a topic is chosen, extensive planning begins. Students must present convincing written and verbal arguments to Torres before being allowed to use the equipment. They develop critical questions to address in their presentations. Storyboards are created to communicate graphically the angle or scope of individual camera shots or segments of a visual presentation. A timeline of daily deadlines gauges progress. Students design evaluation rubrics to ensure they are on the right track while working through the process. Once the plan is approved, students check out the equipment appropriate to implement their idea.

Torres's mantra for his students is "Planning, production, presentation, sssessment, and sdministration," with an emphasis on planning. "It's easier to take an eraser to a blueprint than a pickax to a foundation," he says. Students learn through practice that careful time management and teamwork help them accomplish their goals. Torres marvels at the way the kids work together and learn from each other as they try every route possible to create a high-quality final product.


Consuelo Molina made schoolwork personal and meaningful through video productions like A Sacrifice for You.

Credit: Consuelo Molina

Building Leaders and Futures

"Anything is completely possible, really possible," Torres, who has been recognized by California governor Gray Davis as a model educator and named an Apple Distinguished Educator, often tells his students. "Never give up. Be leaders." An effective way to instill leadership, he emphasizes, is to share expertise.

At the start of the program, Torres identified students and faculty willing to gain proficiency with the sophisticated equipment. They became the team providing technology support and encouragement to other students, faculty, and community members. Torres estimates that 150 San Fernando High School teachers have been trained and says that half the students at the school have used the program's Computer Inspiration Studio, where the equipment is housed. As it has matured, the program also has developed a Web library of lesson plans, professional-development opportunities, and an evaluation rubric.

Molina, the student who produced the acclaimed video on sweatshops, was among those who progressed from novice to expert. During her first year in SFETT, she learned basic multimedia production. By the second year, she was teaching other students and parents on weekdays and Saturdays, when the program is open to community members. She taught computers and multimedia and showed parents, most of whom did not have computers at home, how to preserve old photographs by scanning them into computers.

Now enrolled as a biology major at the University of California at Los Angeles, Molina has far from abandoned her interest in video. She squeezed a film-production class into her schedule, does video editing, works on film crews, and returns frequently to see what SFETT students are doing, learn about new developments, and help out.


The production of Snowfight II involved twenty-six people.

Credit: Ruben Betancourt

Teamwork and Lifelong Learning

SFETT program lives on for many students. "In SFETT, I learned lots of different ways to communicate through technology -- how to gather information, speak, make a presentation, project myself, throw in a joke every so often," says Ernesto Hernandez, a sophomore economics student at Los Angeles's Occidental College. "The program really focuses on using the computer as a tool to express ideas. In school, it is sometimes hard for students to express themselves."

The most powerful lesson he learned, however, had to do with working collaboratively. "The only way to get things done is through teamwork," Hernandez says. Torres agrees, and the physical design of the multimedia studio supports collaboration with clusters of workstations and a "think room" where students meet and discuss projects. One example of the kind of cooperation it takes to make a film is seen in the production of Snowfight II. The project involved twenty-six people in its direction, story, storyboards, editing, modeling, animation, sound, character voices, and music.

"Working in this program has completely changed the students' outlooks, their lives," says Torres.

Though the San Fernando Education Technology Team is no longer active at San Fernando High School, some of the former participants have created their own company to tell stories through media, and continue to foster the program's goals by working with San Fernando students on Saturdays to produce the iCan Film Festival. Marco Torres has moved on from San Fernando High School to become an educational consultant.


Comments (63)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

tom edwards's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU West. I watched the video on how Mr. Torres involved his students with technology. He showed them how to make videos and it really showed them that they can accomplish anything if they try. It also seemed to bring out the best in the students as they became intrested in the computer technology. I think using technology is a great way for children to learn because learners today are so technology centered.

Cara Houston's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU West and thought that this article really shows what technology can do for children. This program shows that integrating technology in the classroom can benefit the students in so many ways. They are introduced to a hands-on environment where they work on projects together. They gain technology skills as well as communication skills. I think it is a great idea. I wish I had a teacher who did this in my high school. I really hope that I can incorporate this idea into my own classroom. I want to prepare my students for their future in the working world and for life in general.

Charles Henry's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre service teacher at ASU West and found the story and article interesting. Reaching one student is great but is it enough. Research here at ASU has shown that 18 out of a class of 35 eight graders will not graduate high school. Notice I said a class of 35 that is a strong statement because one teacher for 35 students does not leave enough time for individual care and feeding of troubled students. Is the answer to throw more money at the problem, partly, but I think strong community involvement especially from parents is a large factor.

Danielle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher and I found this article and video to be very inspiring. I think that not only is the method of teaching and technology in general a great innovation, but I think it is an amazing outlet for students. I really liked the beginning of this article where the author made the point that there are students, like the one featured, that do not involve themselves in school and are shy and steer away from center stage attention. The infusion of technology and interest within it compelled the student to look outside the box and explore new grounds that were not within her comfort zone. Technology and constructivism allows student to learn and experience new things. It allows them to explore and find things that are of interest to them and become more socially adapted.

Elena Gonzalez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at ASU. I thought the idea of incorporating technology with interest related to the classroom is genius. It allows students to find new ways to connect with the material. It also provides new and innovated ways to assess students knowledge of concepts and material. Using technology in the classroom also allows, both, students and teachers to amplify their strengths and use that as a building block for knowledge.

Joe DeGidio's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is amazing to see how technology can enrich the learning experience to levels not thought possible only a few years ago. Technology can help students achive success who felt left out in a traditional classroom setting. The use of technology is the one thing that can reach students who feel left out in school find success by using their own creativity and imagination talents find succeed.
The video shows some of the problem solving skills, group learning, and cooperation that takes place while making video movie presentations. This is one skill that can benifit all learners, not just college bound students. Being able to work together is a skill that must be aquired to be successful in life. The video shows the great impression the program made on previous students by their desire to return and help others in the program.
It shows how making learning relevant to today's students can enrich the school setting and encourage students to get involved in their own learning, just just enough to pass a test. It can help young people become lifetime learners who ask questions and want to know why?

Katie Fizz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher from ASU west. I will use power points, smart boards and even virtual field trips to help my student learn more. If I am reading a story set in the civil war, and to help take my students to that particular milieu, I could take them there on the computer via the internet on a virtual field trip. Also a tool such as Google Earth would help me take learners sitting in a Phoenix, Arizona classroom around the world. At a push of a button we could be in England visiting streets that Shakespeare himself walked hundreds of years ago--the possibilities seem endless.

JennifernTyrrell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That was absolutely amazing! You guys have done an awesome job! I wish my teachers did hands-on type projects like that when I was in high school. I am currently going to college (I am a preservice teacher at ASU West) to become a high school history teacher and am becoming increasingly more inclined to take courses on technology to obtain the success that you have achieved in your classrooms! Well done!

Kevin Wyrck's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This was an interesting article. I also plan on using the computer in the classroom for power points and videos. It seems that teenagers respond to visual learning more than just someone talking at the blackboard. If the school has a SMART board then the kids could even interact with what they are learning. They could move soldiers on the battlefield to see if they made the move that George Washington made. That will help them keep it in their minds just a little better.

Kelsey Wyser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher as well, I think that the SFETT program does an amazing job getting students actively learning with technology. A major problem with students who just float through school never learning anything important is that students are not given the opportunity to personalize content and find its relevance in their own lives. The SFETT students seem to succeed because they are able to let their creativity and individuality flow through their projects. The technology grabs their interests and allows them to create projects that no students have done before. This is a wonderful program and I hope that my future students will have similar opportunities to make their education such a personal experience.

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