Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Tech Tales: Marco Torres on Empowering Students Through Multimedia

July 1, 2002

Marco Torres, a social studies teacher and technology director at San Fernando High School, explores how the creation of multimedia projects empowers his students, as well as those who participate in the San Fernando Education Technology Team (SFETT).

1. You’ve been a teacher for five years now, but you started in politics. Why did you switch professions?

I felt that working in politics gave me the proper skills to establish relationships to help schools out. I didn't think schools took advantage of elected officials enough to try to bridge together all the different resources available for its schools. And I think that our community was going through a transition. We started electing people that were from our community, for the first time ever. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to bring them into the classroom. I felt that I can take those relationship skills that I learned in politics -- while I was [working] with L.A. city councilman Rich Alarcon -- and his philosophy of getting it done, and apply that in the classroom. I tried to do it for a year and I won the Teacher of the Year Award, so five years later I'm still there.

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2. Talk about San Fernando High School and the surrounding community.

San Fernando's an old immigration city. It has been ever since the lumber and olive industry and orange and citrus industries made their way through there, so we've got a long history of being an immigrant-receiving community. And we still are that way -- we're 99 percent, 99.8 percent, Mexicano.

Like many Mexican immigrant towns, it struggles financially. It's one of the poorest areas in Los Angeles County, as far as median income and income per household. We're very quiet, very humble poverty and many times that really bothers us because we've never had the political connections and the politicians looking in our direction and seeing what they can do to help.

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3. You are an advocate of multimedia as a way for your students to represent their knowledge and ideas. Why?

As Latinos, our history traditionally has been told through dance, through song, through literature, like poetry for example, through the arts, murals, through stories that our ancestors told. So we've had a very multimedia approach to learning about ourselves but I think that the people who traditionally gave us those stories or those abilities, as they're dying off, we need to take advantage of the resources we have now to preserve that and to give the kids those tools so they can continue their story because we have a very multimedia history. Well, now we have multimedia to help us preserve that.

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4. Talk about the process your students use in developing multimedia projects.

Whenever we do any project in my class, there's a process that takes place. I call it the four P's. The first P is planning -- the most critical part. In the planning, that's where the kids write things like the script, the timeline, storyboards -- very, very important. I must be able to, as a teacher, sit down and visualize what it is that they're trying to do before I hand them a camera. Here's a camera or here's a computer and to be able to tell me that you understand exactly where you want to go.

The second P is production. That's when the kids actually go out and either shoot or start to collect the information needed to do the project. The third part is a presentation. This is where they actually present the information and now the presentation takes many forms. It can be in a form of, in front of the class, in form of an essay, in form of online documentary. So it has different ways.

And then the final P is assessment. I call it assessment with a final P. Well, let me go back. I call it assessing with a silent P. And assessing with the silent P involves the kids to develop rubrics -- what it means to have a good project.

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5. How do you blend multimedia and social studies in your teaching?

Last week, my students learned about special-interest groups. And one of the things that I asked them to do was to research a special-interest group. And after they found the research, they had to present the information to the class in a form of a documentary, kind of a Ken Burns kind of documentary.

We established the questions ahead of time and the kids went out and found the answers. Sometimes they contacted those special-interest groups and they did a little documentary. And then in front of the class -- because I'm really big on presenting -- they presented the information and then we assessed it. The students developed rubrics to assess the product, in other words, the content. But they also developed rubrics to assess the process. Was it a good use of color? A good use of framing? Was the sound adequate, were pictures used appropriately, etc., because I really want the kids to understand the role of media in the process.

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6. What impact has this brand of multimedia storytelling had on your students?

I have a student in Connie, Consuelo Molina. She did a project for my economics class. And she had to take a look at the effects of the world economy. She really internalized this information. This was a period of my curriculum that she wanted to uncover, rather than just cover. And she wanted to talk about some of the consequences of the world economy and the world market and the protests that were happening in Washington and Seattle around the World Trade Organization. So she decided to focus on sweatshops and wanted to alert the people in her class on what she found while doing this report on sweatshops.

She knew that if she had done this project traditionally, in front of a class, the information would have died there in the class. She knows that if she had written it on a piece of paper and given it to the teacher, the teacher, because of the large number of the students, would probably just look down the sheet, look for mistakes, and not read what Connie felt.

But Connie decided to do a documentary on this process. She talked about the facts that she found and shared them with the class. What I like about it is at the end she says, "Look, this is what I found. You decide what you want to do with this information. Just remember that the workers are moms and sisters, like ... you and me." She posted this documentary on the Web. And several people have found it -- the women's human rights conference in Paris saw it and asked her permission to show it. Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, asked if he could show the project to about 10,000 educators. For Connie, the fact that her passion and interest in talking about something that really bothered her has reached every corner of the world was an experience she'll never forget.

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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.

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