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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Project Learning: Expeditions in Portland, Maine

Project learning combined with 1-to-1 laptops creates a rich and rigorous environment for learning at a middle school and a high school in Portland, Maine.

Project Learning: Expeditions in Portland, Maine (Transcript)

Teacher: We have a lot of visitors coming down, from both in the school and outside the school, and they're going to really want to hear what you have to say. You're going to bring your Social Studies notebook, and articles down there. If you don't have your notebook handy, just be prepared to show them all the articles on the laptop, and also, you're going to want to show them your Google Maps on the public art sites, okay? And all of those things, you have to be prepared to talk about. Also, we don't want you to forget those two guiding questions, how does art reflect the community? And the other one is, how does science, math and engineering connect to art?

Susan: It's called Expeditionary learning for a reason, you know, the classic expedition, you're out with a group of people, trying to climb a mountain, and the goal, and all of the consequences along the way, are real. It starts to rain. You know, that happens. Your computer dies. That happens. You know, these things go on, but you're committed to this end objective together. So the relationships become important, and the connections become important, and when you offer someone the opportunity to engage in something real, there is nothing more exhilarating.

Scott: At the beginning of every expedition, we usually look at a district calendar to see, you know, what we're going to be doing for the fall.

David: We're talking about a schedule here at King Middle School where a team of five or six experts in learning, your teachers, can say, in order to pull off this particular project at this particular stage, we need to design a whole new schedule this week.

Teacher: The first one sounded fine.

David: If we're working in the world, and we're in any kind of engineering or design process, or editing movies, nobody stops after 40 minutes, puts everything down and goes on to do something else.

Scott: This is where we start as a staff, is creating the model before we ask the kids to do it, so, essentially, we kind of figure out what, exactly, we're going to build. So here's a good example. There's, like, a science piece around metabolism, and that's a science content piece. Here's a math piece around size of their bacteria. This is a multimedia piece, where the kids have drawn their work.

Ruth: The scientists were all, like, oh sure, we'll come. So they're all very excited to do this.

In expeditionary learning, we love to develop relationships between the students and community members, because the excitement that it generates in the students, deepens their learning, and lengthens their retention.

Teacher: You have to help me with the pronunciation.

Student: All right, pseudomonas aurantiaca.

Teacher: Aurantiaca.

Paul: This is going to take us to where the maps are in Google, and then we go to My Maps. Students are working with Google Maps, and they are identifying all the public art pieces that exist in the City of Portland, so that these different public art sites are going to be connected as a walking tour.

Kate: Hi, I'm Kate.

Sarah: I'm Sarah.

Student: And this is Kinetic Conundrums.

Sarah: Today, we're out here taking photos of already existing public art, that we're studying in social studies. And so that we can make art proposals in language arts, and then create our own mini model of public art and click it.

Gus: We don't learn about things, we do things. It's a lot different than saying, yeah, I can do that, I understand how that works, but when they actually have to do it, there's a huge learning process, there's a light bulb, or an a-ha moment.

Drill that hole out right in the middle.

Student: This class is, like, fun, because they teach us how to be creative and to make our own designs so, like, we will have that experience as we go along.

Gus: It's an incredible value that I think is lacking, where they don't have a class like this, or like an art class, or music, or something where the kids actually have to do something, get their hands dirty and make stuff.

David: We get visitors from lots of schools. We get the people here from expeditionary learning schools, and they'll come in and they'll look at what we're doing here at King Middle School, and they'll say, "If only we had one-on-one computing, and they we could do what you guys are doing." And then, when the schools that are interested in going one-to-one come here, thinking it was going to be all about giving kids computers, but they discover it's really all about project based learning. And they say, "If only we had project based learning, we could do that, too, but we don't."

Let's hear it.

David: I say the same thing to both groups. You should have both. There's no excuse for not having both anymore.

Teacher: Last night when I put all the sculptures, so there's like, 80 sculptures in the front of my room, and it was really amazing, thinking of where we started and where we ended up. Just the variety of ideas, and the ingenuity you had. You should be really proud. It's just so cool to look at them all together, because it's really very cool.

David: What do you mean, you did the math to figure out the balance?

Student: Well, this one, which is two inches, by two inches.

David: Yeah.

Student: So I did half of that.

David: It's pretty exciting to see the kids get engaged in the work that they're doing, to take ownership of the work that they're doing, feel responsible for it, and then be able to talk about the things that they're learning.

So that you have this side balancing this side.

Student: Yeah.

David: Sometimes I think we get too concerned about the standards, and there's an assumption behind a lot of that, that we actually know what our kids are going to face in the future. And I'm not very convinced of that. And so the pieces about creativity, cooperation, problem solving, those are going to be there, and so the kids getting those here, is crucial and key.

Student: It's a weeping willow, and it's called, Miss Lincoln Tree, and the name was named after Lincoln Park, where I want to put this.

Teacher: And these will blow in the wind?

Student: Yeah. It has a little bit of esthetics, and history based.

Teacher: It has a lot of esthetics.

Student: Yeah.

Teacher: Well I think you just got my first vote.

Student: Oh, thank you.

Narrator: For more information about What Works In Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis


  • Karen Sutherland

Coordinating Producer

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Camera Crew

  • Gilberto Nobrega
  • Kevin Kalunian

Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely


  • Carl Bidleman

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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