George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Today's Technology Tools to Study Yesterday's

A fifth-grade field trip from Ferryway School, near Boston, to the nation's oldest ironworks is captured with the latest tech. Read the article.
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Teacher: So, welcome to the Saugus Ironworks National Historic site.

Narrator: It's a big day for the fifth grade at Ferryway School just outside Boston.

Teacher: What's this simple machine right here? Wheel and axle, right.

Narrator: This field trip is the highlight of a six-week project that integrates science…

Teacher: This works like a lever that presses the bellows closed, blows the air into the furnace.

Narrator: …math, art, English…

Teacher: So this is America's first rolling and slitting mills.

Narrator: …and history.

Teacher: There we go. My metal's hot enough. This is called a hearty. What kind of simple machine is this?

Class: Wedge.

Teacher: Wedge.

Narrator: Students use the latest technology tools to study the country's earliest innovations.

Teacher: And how's that? A good-looking nail?

Class: Yeah.

Teacher: You guys are too easy to please.

Narrator: To earn the right to go on the field trip, students spend weeks accomplishing various tasks to get their passport stamped.

Margie: All of those stamps are based on our state standards, from writing assignments to design assignments. And, as they finish the assignment, the passport is stamped.

Narrator: All of the assignments involve hands-on activities, from creating an outfit for a rock person…

Student: And it looks like shiny metal.

Narrator: …to studying rocks and minerals, which also involves Internet research.

Student: Chemical composition with an organized structure of a natural inorganic origin.

Narrator: Technology specialist Bob Simpson helped the team integrate technology on the project.

Bob: Well, the teachers have done all the really good research and constructed the structure of how the students are going to navigate through that unit, and ultimately what that does is it empowers the students to make decisions. So, when they're researching rocks and minerals, they get to pick which Web site they want to go to to select their rock or mineral.

So, go ahead and click on your Internet browser.

Narrator: Students also access the Web to study the history of the ironworks. The Saugus unit site also features a parent page that is translated into several languages.

Student: It's over here in the X.

Tom: We've had about 75 different languages spoken in this community, so you can imagine what that brings to the table every day, but this kind of cooperative work environment, teachers and students, supersedes that, and working with the computer, working with a partner, going on the field trip, those things are the intangibles that bring this whole project to life and can reach kids that you may never be able to reach in other ways.

Student: This is a picture and right here is a caption.

Bob: Your mission is to write a description caption for the pictures you took today.

Narrator: With digital cameras the school received as part of a technology grant, students add their field-trip photos to an ironworks wiki.

Bob: Let's get these pictures into your laptops, so connect your cable to your camera.

Margie: I've seen lots of intrinsic learning. I think the kids own what they've learned. They're very proud of their work. They can talk about their work, and they share much more.

Student: Do you like the other one too?

Student: Yeah.

Margie: They're learning through the technology definitely and with the technology, and they're able to sort of publish themselves at a level that we haven't been able to do before.

Student: Wait. What's that?

Student: I don't know. I think you took that.

Narrator: The integration of various subjects in one project also seems to work.

Anxhela: If you're in different classes, you sometimes forget, because your mind's on one class, and then you have to be focused on another class, but when it's all together you can just focus on one thing, because it's all the same.

Margie: The circumference of the circle, so when you measure around…

Narrator: The most exciting hands-on activity is a competition to build the most efficient Styrofoam water wheel.

Teacher: Sixteenth of an inch. I mean, we're talking maybe two millimeters.

Narrator: As part of a team of more than a dozen teachers and mentors on the project, Earl Fitzpatrick runs the school's tech lab.

Earl: The technology education lab is a place where the students can come into the room, actually physically construct a project. It gives them ownership. They built it. They'll test it, and in this case we'll have not only learned about the water wheel, but they learned about all the tools and machines that it takes to produce a working prototype, the steps in the design process and, whether it succeeds or fails, they can come back and rebuild it to make it a success.

Earl: And they can actually test it to see if it works and compare their work against other students. It's almost self-grading.

Two hundred and fifty grams plus one thousand grams.

There's no need to grade the project. I mean, you put it on the test stand and see how much it lifts, and the kids can know, "Hey, I made a good effort and my water wheel is efficient. I've achieved the goal."

Narrator: Whether they finish first or last, the teams are encouraged to learn from their efforts.

Andy: Looking at where the water's spilling out and how the wheel is operating right now, what might you change about it?

Student: Bigger cups.

Andy: Some bigger cups. So why would you add bigger cups?

Student: So there could be more water.

Narrator: Graduate engineering student Andy Mueller from nearby Tufts University guides them through the redesign process.

Andy: This is exactly what engineers do. You don't know how something is going to operate until you build it and test it until failure. Now we know that there's a lot of water spilling out the side of this. You might want to add…

You don't really know what you want to do. If you can see someone that's excited about anything, it helps the kids out to maybe say, "Well, if he is that excited about engineering," then get the kids excited about it, and maybe they'll want to go into engineering.

Teacher: Their water wheels seem far more advanced than the first year. Where did that come from? How did that…

Narrator: Redesign is also part of the process for the teaching team that created the ironworks project in 2002.

Earl: We had time in the shop. Then the two fifth-grade science teachers were very flexible, I mean, to the point where we were on the phone up- and downstairs shuttling students up and down so that they could re-glue. They had time to decorate. They had time to make last-minute adjustments, things that we didn't have before. It adds a component. That technology component makes a big difference.

Narrator: Buoyed by the success of the ironworks project, the team tackled another project.

Paul: So, today we're going to look at pictures of animals and we're going to make predictions about the biomes that they live in based on all the work that you've done to date.

Narrator: As part of a second-year HP technology grant, the fifth-grade team mentored fourth-grade teachers in developing the biome unit.

Paul: And then you ask the question, so it's three different ways.

Teacher: You're going to bring me at least up to here?

Paul: Yeah.

Narrator: The project started with a Web quest, which led to students designing PowerPoint presentations of a particular biome.

Paul: All right. Take a look. Slide looks really good. Climagraph looks good.

Narrator: Information for the PowerPoint presentations came from Internet research.

Sara: Who can tell me what a herbivore is?

It's just been a totally wonderful experience. They actually are looking forward to something for a change. I think it's just hands-on and they don't have to listen to my voice droning on and on and they're discovering things on their own. It's just amazing, some of the questions that have come up from their own discoveries instead of me feeding all the information to them. I think that's the biggest piece.

Teacher: It's related to the wolverines, minx and weasels.

Narrator: At the end of the unit, they were challenged to justify why a certain animal might live in a given biome.

Paul: So, using your remotes, make sure that you select a biome.

Narrator: And their answers were tabulated instantly with a student-response system.

Student: I chose the temperature of the deciduous forest, because there's lots of rodents there.

Paul: We wanted to keep that idea of inquiry-based, so it enabled the students to kind of start that type of learning, which is a stretch for a lot of kids, because they are used to: Open the book. Read the chapter. Answer the questions. This is different. It's not necessarily a matter of right or wrong. If you can justify it, if you can support your answer, then it's a valuable answer, and the students respond to that quite well and they remember what it is that they're learning.

Who chose the rainforest?

Student: I chose the rainforest because there are a lot of insects, and it eats insects, so it's one of its food sources.

Narrator: The biome and ironworks projects inspired both teachers and students, and their test scores rose well above other fifth-graders in the district.

Student: I took that picture.

Earl: There's a lot of life lessons to be learned by physical, hands-on projects, whether it be a science experiment, a tech-ed experiment. They learn leadership roles. They learn how to get along, how to cooperate, and it's good for everyone.

Teacher: Here we go.

Earl: Often you don't have the chance to show kids that education is real, that there is value to it, that it's out there, and they get a chance to put that all together. Once in a while, the magic happens, and it has happened the last couple of days and it's happened the last five years we've been doing this project.

Teacher: You're on the lift.

Narrator: For more information on What Works in Public Education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Production Intern:

  • Neil Tan

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Keith McManus
  • John O'Connor


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Comments (66) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Michaella Palmer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Michaella Palmer and I am a pre-service teacher at ASU in Mesa, AZ. We are learning so many things in school, but I have not had the opportunity to see some of these "theories" implemented. The teachers at Ferryway School are doing this very well. It is so exciting to see that teaching can be fun for us teachers and students. As teachers we have to be skilled at integrating all of these subjects with technology. What fantastic projects they are doing. I hope that when I have my own classroom I will be able to implement the same types of activities where the students are in control of their learning. There is not a better way for them to learn.

Suzie Sinclair's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a pre-service teacher at Arizona State University and I believe that technology in the classroom is a must. This video was such an inspiration. The teachers and staff at Ferryway High have done a remarkable job incorporating technology into the classroom. I think that by taking one concept and incorporating all of the subjects is a wonderful way for students to be successful. I look forward to integrating technology in my classroom in the future.

James Tomberlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher attending classes on the ASU Polytechnic campus. I thought that the model being used at Ferryway School was one which could be very successful, but needed the support of the district and school administration, as well as funding, to be successful. I like to believe that all teachers want their students to experience success and to learn and grow as individuals, but I also think that sometimes educators can feel as if they are in a skirmish with the administration and fighting a losing battle over budgeting constraints. I think it is wonderful that these educators took the time to plan this curriculum, apply for technology grants, and follow through by broadening the scope of the new program to include the fourth grade, due to its success. This is the type of learning environment I think we all would like to be a part of when we are in the classroom.

Lenica Ruiz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Lenica Ruiz, I am a preservice teacher attending classes at Arizona State University, the Polytechnic Campus. The faculty at Ferryway School is doing an amazing job with integrating technology into their curriculum. I think it is very important to for to students to be creative with projects by adding their own special touches to it. By using technology in the class whenever possible, is certainly the way to attain this goal. To have a group of teachers all working collaboratively towards one goal is inspiring as a future teacher.

cheryl Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What an inspiring, smart, and common-sense-based video. It was wonderful to see these students using technology, in addition to, not to the exclusion of, basic instruction - as many preach whilst jumping on the digital bandwagon.

I think the most important aspect of the video is that the architecture of theme units fits perfectly with using technology holistically. Also important, but only implied, is that the unit must have had professional guidance. How else could the unit have been translated into several languages? This is a great idea - have the input of teachers for the outline and then have specialists maximize the digital possibilities. I believe the benefits are too great, in many cases, to have amateurs (most teachers) trying to produce high quality digital media products.

Great video. Theme Units make so much sense.

Joan Meza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I liked the idea that the students earned the right to go on the field trip by completing their passport. I liked the idea that the students were using digital photos to chronicle their field trip and then uploading them to the computer for their projects. This allowed them to have hands on experiences with how technology integrates in today's world. The testing lab very effectively utilized manipulatives that allowed the students to do hands on exercises to see and feel their lesson. I think similar projects could be used in my high school math classes. Geometry would be more conducive for this type project but projects for Algebra and Pre-Calculus could be designed also.

Carol Voight's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Describe your initial reactions or thoughts as you watched this video.

I really loved how several teachers came together to construct this project. It was so exciting to see these students learning about so many different subjects in the same project. I loved how the engineering student from Tufts Uni. was so good at explaining that engineers do the same type of testing on things they design before they build them.

What did you learn about technology integration from this video?

That it can be a group and cross-curriculum effort that will benefit students AND teachers.

What did you learn about pedagogy (the art of teaching) from this video?

I immediately thought of three different projects that I could do that used this type of real world field trip to inspire physics, engineering, history, biology and chemistry subject matter. This was an amazing project that I hope I can someday be part of a teaching team willing to do something like this with the ship channel, the hurricane levies or NASA.

Do you think these types of projects are possible for you and your students? Why or why not?

Yes, all I would need to implement something like this is about three weeks of planning, a little bit of money, and a willing high school science team to make this project happen.

bee smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an undergraduate at UCSC viewing your suburb video brings about a plethora of inquiries regarding your audience:

*How are the 'necks that turn heads' affected by your ingenuous project?

*Policy makers will only become policy changers for the good of the upcoming generation if your purpose appeals to their pockets. By this I mean, what are the 'angles' that grabs at the 'global village ideals' of helping while securing votes (job security). Also, how can your project appeal to these policy suites bent on popularity status without disrupting their time constraints?

*Who lobbies (wines and dines) these public representatives? What have been their successful strategies, thus far?

I thrust forward with my fellow students to pave pathways of educational solutions with integrity while fine-tuning the clever old school of 'business as usual' while, at the same time, avoid the 'good old boys club'.

Jan Christopher's picture

this video was truly great,showing how technology teachers and regular classroom teacher can work together the common of next generation.

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