Good afternoon. Welcome to the culminating event of Fading Footprints.
Narrator: It's a big day for King Middle School's seventh-grade class. It's the day they present their class project, a CD-ROM featuring Maine's endangered species, to an audience of parents, teachers, and experts at Portland's Audubon Society.
First we took research on the Internet and stuff, and then after that, we had to format it right, doing drafts. It took me about 10 drafts to get this right.
Narrator: Producing the CD was an ambitious undertaking, especially for a school that serves the most ethnically and economically diverse population in the state, a school where 28 different languages are spoken and 60 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. But it's just one of a series of impressive productions the school has turned out, byproducts of a curriculum designed to bring out the best in every student.
Right now, if I was in a moat, I would become very ill. A moat is very polluted.
Scott: The model that we use is expeditionary learning, outward-bound, so it focuses on hands-on learning. We try to integrate science, social studies, math, and English with technology, with artwork, with community members, fieldwork, etc.
Narrator: The Fading Footprints CD includes a student-made video that illustrates the production process.
For the Fading Footprints kickoff, David Sparks came in and brought animals. He talked about the animals' habitat and how they survive. Then we started our research using our laptops.
Scott: We don't use textbooks, per se. The students can sit here right on their computers with the air ports, and we can do a lot of our research right here in class.
We were also using our library and many books to try to find some information, and Internet, we use our laptops a lot.
Narrator: Through digital production, students learn to collaborate and contribute their many different talents. In music class, they recorded soundtracks for the CD. In art, they painted scientifically accurate watercolors of their animals.
It talks about fieldwork, and they're out and they're playing with other fishes.
Narrator: And in video-production class, they made the movie about the making of the CD.
On our winter walk, we learned about how animals and plants survive in Maine's harsh climate.
David: We're looking at ways for students to deepen their knowledge and work with their own knowledge so that they can become the authors of their own learning. All schools should be making things with their students that force the students to show us what they've learned, and it's in the making of things that kids actually do their learning.
Narrator: To give their products professional polish, the school has connected with local businesspeople, like print-shop owner Philip Rhinelander.
Now, would these students take a particular species and concentrate on that?
The focus started with just helping them print the newsletter, and then it turned out, "Gee, wouldn't it be wonderful if every kid could take home a book?" And so we were able to help them by donating those. And then we find our relationship with them is so good that they'll come in, "We need CD covers." "Sure, we'll do them for you." It's a synergy that just seems to have come together. To be part of that is very exciting.
So, we have Kayla filming, and we have like three angles of her filming.
Narrator: The school has also hired an accomplished documentary filmmaker to help students improve the quality of their work.
Huey: My mission is to show them how to make, I guess you'd say good movies, movies that rise above just being imitations of everything they've seen.
I think what matters more is what the flow of the video is.
Huey: Having an audience, I think, is great. I mean, it puts you on the line. It's not just like, "Well, I meant to do this," or, "I was going to do this," or, "If you let me tell you, you can really understand it." So I think that is an interesting part of the educational component of this, and hearkens back to this thing of quality. You want to stand up there. You want to show them your best stuff. And so that permeates the entire process.
Narrator: Since implementing the project-based curriculum, King principal Mike McCarthy has seen the test scores of King's diverse student body go from the bottom one-third to the top one-third in the state.
Michael: I've heard people describe what a gifted and talented classroom would look like. It should include field experiences, and it should include technology. It should include independent work. It should include work that is in depth. Well, that's basically what our school is.
Scott: Every kid has their own finish line and some kids might have done seven pages and some kids might have done three paragraphs. That's okay. They have done their work. They're on the CD. They have completed what they can do, and it's the best they can do.
Michael: Our whole goal is that every student here can have access to high-quality learning and produce high-quality products. One kid said, "Nobody feels stupid around here anymore," and I think that was one of our highest achievements.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org.