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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Editor's Note: Though the San Fernando Education Technology Team is no longer active at San Fernando High School, some of the former participants have created their own company to tell stories through media, and continue to foster the program's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

Margaret McCorkle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU. I admire the diligence of the students in their planning, production, presentation, and assessment. One of the young ladies previewed an earlier video she had made and noted that she has learned from it and will make different choices in creating another video. I noted that the instruction is bilingual for the Saturday classes. A student said that the creation of a video is a lot of work but that there are many students who help. I noticed the green board used for filming. The organized teamwork in this class is admirable. These students are making a different in their own neighborhood and around the world.

Laura Levandowski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I found this video very inspiring and grateful that there are teachers such as Marcos Torres. I think it is very important that schools and teachers try to keep up with technology so that students develop the knowledge to use it in their future careers, everyday life or just for fun. I remember in my high school, we were fortunate enough to have the technology to create our own videos and learn to edit them and present them to our peers. Once we learned how to do this, we were able to practice our newfound knowledege of the technology to create several videos, which were not only fun and productive, but also taught us how to work as a group in which everyone has a job to do. This is a great idea and I wish every school had the opportunity to have this inspriring technology with teachers like Marcos that have the passion to teach it! It is wonderful that he took the time to learn the technology on his own and have such patience and desire to help his students as well. I look forward to seeing how technology will change by the time that I am teacher and hope I can keep up with my students and help them as well!

Elsa Fajardo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a pre-service teacher I found this article and video very interesting and encouraging for future teachers and young students. It is inspiring that teachers and students donate their time by volunteering and helping students in the community of San Fernando. The SFETT program is amazing. I love the fact that the students feel motivated to go to this place in the weekends to work in school projects and homework instead of been goofing around in the streets. As a future teacher I will use technology as part of the student's curriculum. It is good to know that there are programs like the SFETT program, that provides technological skills to people that really is interested in learning. There is no doubt that teachers play an important role in the student's success, Is our responsibility to empower our students with new tech skills in order for them to excel in life.

Yvette Gouveia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I look forward to teaching just like Mr. Torres. By using computers as a tool to express ideas, students and educators are making the learning process very exciting and productive. Students are learning hands-on, how-to-do assignments from other classes using multimedia tools (awesome). They are able to share their expertise and work collaboratively, thus making the school and the world a true learning community. Besides the technical skills learned, students must follow strict production standards to produce quality work. This way of teaching will better prepare students for the challenges in the workplace.

Melissa Dillon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently enrolled at ASU as a pre-service teacher and I completely agree with Torres that students need tangible projects, ones in which they can see results happen. Motivation is a key factor in getting students to actively learn and retain what they learn. SFETT has fully utilized the power of motivation by allowing them to work hands-on with technology to create movies for fun or for school assignments. I love that students can create not only an animated snow ball fight, but they also have freedom of expression to create films that mean something to them. This not only helps to foster their unique personality, but it shows the world that these students have concerns that stretch all the way around the word, like the sweat shops that tugged at Molina's heart.

Lora Husu's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently coming from the perspective of a Preservice Teacher at ASU. This article and video really inspired me as a student and as a future teacher. The fact that Marco Torres captivated the hearts and minds of these Latino students and truly made a difference in their lives is amazing. I have always been for teaching students with tangible and visual techniques. I think that is the only way to grab a student's attention and actually help them think and learn. I loved the way they all worked cooperatively as a team and produced hard work effort. That is a good mindset for all future teachers to keep in mind.

Connie Schaeffner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

From my perspective, as a pre-service teacher, it is both exciting and rewarding to read about how students, who otherwise would not be interested in school, are embracing it. Not only are they excited about what they are learning, they are teaching others about it. I can't think of a more effective way to reach out to students! It was inspiring to read Consuelo Molina's story and how she became interested in technology at her school. Her passion fueled her learning in other areas, and took her on to college. As a future teacher, this makes me feel excited about what I am working toward.

Sarah Fehr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a PreService Teacher enrolled at ASU West. I found this article to be quite inspirational. I recognized a part of myself in Consuelo Molina. She was a shy girl who didn't like to participate in class. But at the same time, she had many thoughts and ideas of the world that she wanted to express. She needed someone to give her a chance to express herself.
I was encouraged by the work of Marco Torres. He took a class full of students that were struggling in life, due to the poor neighborhoods and other influences. He was able to reach out to these students and make learning fun for them.

Breanna Aldridge Felan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

From a Pre-Service Teacher Perspective

I greatly enjoyed the article and did find it to be very informative. I really do feel that the more technology incorporated in the classroom, the better. It can strengthen lessons and make more of an impact on students than certain teaching techniques which were ever so common in the past such as lecturing. What the SFETT program has done for student and family members in surrounding communities is a wonderful, powerful thing, and I hope that programs such as this one continue to thrive throughout our nation's educational system.

Brittney Treichel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU. I found the video and article quite compelling. I believe that teachers, such as Marcos Torres, are an inspiration to future educators. This article brought to life the reality that technology is the future and can help students to improve their lives. I agree with Mr. Torres when he states that technology helps give the students a tangable object that has meaning. This idea of students being able to take innovative ideas to comprise a final project is awesome. This use of technology can have a many effects by allowing the students to develop skills that will be useful in the future, to develop teamwork skills, and the use of planning. Students can use this technology to help in all subject areas of education, just like the sweatshop video. I believe that this article and video gives an insight to just how much technology can influence the world.

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