George Lucas Educational Foundation

The Geo-Literacy Project: Students Use Technology to Explore Their World

Teacher Eva La Mar's third graders become historians, writers, and videographers as they explore the geography and geology of their community. Read the article.
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The Geo-Literacy Project: Students Use Technology to Explore Their World (Transcript)

Blacksmith: See, now I got it spread out even more.

Narrator: These third graders in Fairfield, California are helping to preserve a vanishing piece of local history.

Student: How long did you have to train like for to be a real blacksmith?

Blacksmith: You can learn basic blacksmithing in about six months.

Narrator: Students at Tolenas Elementary School made several field trips to document the history and resources of nearby Suisun Marsh and Rush Ranch.

Student: Okay. Good.

Narrator: They plan to share their findings online with classrooms across the country with what teacher, Eva La Mar calls, The Geo-Literacy Project.

Eva La Mar We wanted to do something where could take our county, our history, our geology, our geography and encourage students to become literate in it.

Narrator: All of the content on the Geo-Literacy webpage grew out of self-directed inquiry by La Mar's third graders.

Eva La Mar: We started with an essential question which is why was the preservation of Rush Ranch important?

The students picked the area they wanted to research. They drove their own projects. The groups were looking at specific plants and specific animals.

Woman: That's called Miner's Lettuce. I don't know if it has a smell.

Student: And it smells a tiny bit.

Eva La Mar: We're just looking at specific Native American issues.

Man: Obsidian, very good.

Student: They used that as a knife.

Eva La Mar: The blacksmith shop and then the history of Rush Ranch from pre-Columbian all the way up to now. So our students became the authors, the photographers, the videographers, and the local historians working with the high school students and historians.

Teacher: Tule is a wonderful material that the Indians used and the Indians made tule ducks. I made this-

Eva La Mar: We realized that we had some local experts. A retired teacher named Barbara Van Putten who had all these wonderful materials. She had original arrowheads, she had original baskets and you can't take those into every classroom, so my students invited her to come into class and bring all her Indian tools that she had and artifacts.

Barbara Van Putten: You're not going to pull this apart, good. Thank you.

Narrator: Fairfield High School students helped the third-graders produce object rotations by photographing artifacts from different angles to create a three-dimensional digital image.

Eva La Mar: My students were the experts with the materials with the objects being photographed, and the high-schoolers were the experts with the equipment.

Student: Okay, one more picture.

Eva La Mar: It was a very happy meeting of the minds.

Jennifer Ogden: See you can see what you're going to take a picture of.

Narrator: Members of Armijo High School's technology club offered to capture video clips and virtual reality stills for the webpage.

Jennifer Ogden: Alright, now I'm working on the virtual tour for Rush Ranch. And basically the project will go on their website and I'm trying to make the highest quality panorama that I can with the footage that I took.

Eva La Mar: I'm looking for something that you learned and something that was amazing.

Student: Oh, oh.

Narrator: La Mar believes that by studying their local history, students can taste the joy of lifelong learning.

Student: It might have been chasing like a salt marsh harvest mouse or something because it showed like the footprints heading to the hill as if it were chasing something.

All of you know what this is, right?

Student: Yeah, that's the horn of the [inaudible].

Eva La Mar: They developed a love for history. They look back at choices that were made historically and they realize that this has a meaning to our lives and that's what you really hope as a teacher that you can get them to understand is what they're learning now does have a meaning. It's not just a hoop they jump through. They develop a love for learning.

Narrator: Using the Fairfield webpage as a template La Mar hopes other communities will make their own Geo-Literacy sites.

Eva La Mar: Part of this project is the hope that we can take students anywhere in this country that we are studying and go to that community's Geo-Literacy site and look at their history, look at their topography, look at their geology.

Student: And some of them did like the same things as we did, we could learn different facts off of them, and like-

Students: Maybe add it to their-

Student: Ours, and show everyone what all of us have learned from off of each other.

Student: Yeah.

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Leigh Iacobucci

Written by

  • Ken Ellis
  • Leigh Iacobucci


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Ken Ellis
  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Miwa Yokoyama

Production Assistant:

  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Susan Blake

Editor's Note: Since this video was produced in 2003, teacher Eva La Mar has moved on from Tolenas Elementary School to teach third grade in Oregon. (However, she still co-directs the Geo-Literacy Project, which now offers curriculum and projects to schools worldwide.) Also, although the Tolenas students no longer visit Rush Ranch regularly, Barbara Van Putten still visits the classrooms, and Tolenas still uses the Geo-Literacy curriculum.

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

lisaedgerson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed the interaction with the environment. I would love to allow the students I teach to go into the community in search of comments, thoughts, and ideas that could be shared in cclass

Betsy Esparza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

1. Describe your initial reactions or thoughts as you watched this video.
I really enjoyed that the kids were getting hands on experience. That kind of experience is fascinating to the kids and it is an incentive to learn more. With that motivation, the teachers got the students to use technology to convey their enthusiasm for history. The technology used was video cameras and digital cameras.

2. What did you learn about technology integration from this video?
That it entices the learning experience.

3. What did you learn about pedagogy (the art of teaching) from this video?
The teachers appeared to love their job, and the kids seemed to love the learning process. The teachers integrated what they could and made it fun.

4. Do you think these types of projects are possible for you and your students? Why or why not?
I think any subject is possible to teach using technology. It only requires creativity.

Jaime Sostmann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this video because it integrated history, geology, technology and language arts. The project was motivated by the students and they were engaged in their learning. I learned how exciting it can be for students when they are given more tools to learn information about a project they are doing.

MelissaDaigle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed watching this clip. I love the idea of older (high school) students taking an instructional role with the younger (3rd grade) students to help them accomplish their goals. The high school students were able to demonstrate how to use different photography equipment to these youngsters so that they could actually do the photography for their new webpage. What a great way to collaborate! These 3rd graders had a great opportunity to see history come to life by taking ownership of their project and it's central question and then visiting these 2 locations to learn about their history. They had some great hands-on experiences for some "lost arts" (e.g. blacksmithing)and all of this was captured on film. I really loved the students' comments at the end about how they thought it would be "really neat" if other schools could do a similar project on a webpage so that they could all learn from each other. That's what it's all about...students learning from each other!

I would like to try and implement something like this with my students. Perhaps it could become a grade level project and each 2nd grade class could be responsible for one element of the project. We have a social studies unit on Communities that might be perfect for such a project.

Kristin_Kaylor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The Geo-Literacy Project: Students Use Technology to Explore Their World video was amazing. Initially, this project brought back memories from when I worked at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, NY because we would work with local summer camps to help educate the children on the salt marsh ecosystem. The children of those camps would then create projects to share with their local communities on how conservation needs to be taken seriously (side note: a lot of the salt marshes became dumping grounds for trash and waste).

I felt that this video introduced a great concept/project to integrate cross-curriculum studies, technology, the community, and allowing students to take an active role in their education by creating a project based on self-directed inquiry. I enjoyed watching the students become engaged, excited, and in control of how they wanted their project to develop so they could correctly capture the history, ecology, resources, and wildlife of their region.

As a teacher, I hope to create a similar project with my students focusing on conservation and preserving the coastal environment. I know that junior and middle school students love hanging out at the beach, and many beaches in our area become polluted with waste and trash. This pollution not only kills native organisms but can affect the migration of various non-native organisms. I feel that if I could integrate a project similiar to the Geo-Literacy project, that students would learn more because they would become actively engaged. Also, I feel when creating a project like this, allowing the students to work with locals and high school/college students would aid in the students understanding, plus allow the students to learn from one another.

Sarah Becker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought this video was really cool and it was fun to watch these kids being so invested in what they were doing. I absolutely loved the high school students helping the 3rd graders with their projects. I think the more opportunities we give students to be teachers the better off they will be. After all, they say you only really know something if you can teach it. I think this is something I will strive to incorporate in my classroom if at all possible.

I am not sure this type of project would be possible for my classroom simply because of time constraints. When you have the same group of kids the entire day, like at an elementary school, you have more options for large, in-depth, on-going projects. I just can imagine how to make it work when I will have many classes of students for only a limited amount of time each day or every other day.

Julia Eddy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed watching children learn through discovery. I am excited. I hope to engage my 5th graders in a similar activity. I currently teach at a small charter school in Riverdale, Georgia. On our property, it believed that an old train once played an important role during the Civil War. As part of their history course, I want to invite local historians to come and speak to the class and take a look at our treasure. Thank you Edutopia for helping to motivate this teacher!

Donna D. Daria's picture
Donna D. Daria
Subsutitue teacher,Graduate Student on line.

That is what I was thinking. It would be nice for the students to talk to other people in the community.

wrichie's picture

I think it is incredible students are able to learn by discovery through technology. Children are able to see and visit places that as a child we were never introduced to due to the lack of technology. Students are able to make real-life connections, which helps them to truly understand and remember the concepts being taught. It teaches the students to become life-long learners and problem solvers, which I believe to be a necessity to survive in our society. Also, getting the students involved in the community and bringing historians into the classroom with artifacts to show and tell, where they are able to touch and see is extremely important and very beneficial to the children and the learning process. I am an elementary teacher and can definitely see how this would keep my students engaged and inspire them to become life-long learners. I really enjoyed this video.

mohamed elabasery's picture

i like this kind of teaching to make my students more exciting in learning ..i hope i can do that in my school in UAE ..

from : mohamed elabasery
chemistry teacher
RAK teachers's network
United Arab Emirates

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