George Lucas Educational Foundation

Multimedia Serves Youths' Desire to Express Themselves

Southern California's San Fernando Education Technology Team focuses on learning by doing and speaks to students' fascination with technology.
Edutopia Team
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VIDEO: Students Speak Their Minds Through Digital Media

Running Time: 8 min.

Editor's Note: Though the San Fernando Education Technology Team is no longer active at San Fernando High School, some of the former participants have created their own company to tell stories through media, and continue to foster the program's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.

Until Consuelo Molina discovered the San Fernando Education Technology Team (SFETT), she wasn't particularly engaged in school, and her extreme shyness kept her from being anything more than an uncomfortable, silent observer in class. However, through the technology-team program and its photography, videotaping, sound recording, editing, and presentation instruction and equipment, Molina's voice is now loud and clear, and her opinions are known around the world.

A Sacrifice for You, Molina's Web video on sweatshops, has been praised and used by participants at the Women's Human Rights Conference in Paris, by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and by a teacher in India, among others.

"Her passion and her interest to talk about something that really bothered her and to have it reach every corner of the world was an experience that she'll never forget," says Marco Torres, the teacher who started the technology team at San Fernando High School, north of Los Angeles. The school has a population of predominantly poor Latino students. Ninety-six percent have no access to computers at home, and 83 percent perform below grade level. So far, about 300 people have participated in the SFETT program, and all of the 80 SFETT participants who graduated from San Fernando have gone on to college. Torres says the program catches students' interest because it focuses on learning by doing and speaks to their fascination with technology and all things digital.

Student Cesar Larios's video explores the struggles of life in an immigrant neighborhood.

Credit: Cesar Larios

Multimedia for Learning That Sticks

What Torres remembers about his own education are the things he made in school: the plaster cast of his hand in kindergarten, the spouting volcano in third grade, the model of a California mission in fourth grade. His students, he finds, enjoy coming up with a tangible product as much as he did. "I see kids that don't traditionally do well in school succeed because this was another way for them to express themselves," he says.

"Media is the language of kids," Torres adds, saying that students who may not take to learning by reading a textbook or listening to a lecture often jump at the chance to understand complex concepts by presenting finished products in the form of a film or a Web documentary or a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

Junior Marisol Garcia had a choice between "really big-deal" cheerleading and SFETT. She chose SFETT. "It is more than just a class," she says. "It is lots of work, but work I look forward to. There are always new things, new opportunities. It's exciting." She says adds if all classes were hands on like in SFETT, students would learn much more in school than they usually do.

SFETT is in part funded by the California Digital High School grant program. It also enjoys the support of a number of private businesses. Norstan became a major contributor toward equipment for the program's Computer Inspiration Studio. Apple Computer, as well as individual Apple executives, contributed equipment and expertise.

Multimedia tools are introduced through projects in several formats: documentaries, music, experimental video, advocacy/selling ideas, and storytelling/feature production. Content for the projects comes from the students and is often based on assignments given in other classes. Molina's sweatshop project, for example, fulfilled an assignment in her economics class. Using up-to-date "presentation of learned information makes for realistic, contextual, emotional connections" to what is learned, says Torres.

Recent projects run the gamut from lighthearted to serious, and at least two focused on politics:

  • Su Voto Es Su Voz (Your Vote Is Your Voice) provides students with an experience in taking a position on a current issue, then researching and supporting it via visual essay.
  • Cesar Chavez March for Justice includes colorful still photos from a San Fernando rally and a lively song sung in Spanish about the United Farm Workers hero. SFETT students also made a separate video with interviews of local politicians and civic leaders advocating a holiday honoring Chavez and his work.
  • What could have been a dry, routine social studies report on immigration graphically places the viewer with a contemporary immigrant family in Mi Barrio. Viewers meet Cesar Larios and his mother, who talks about her grueling work as a housekeeper -- the price she pays to build a better life for her children. The video walks viewers through the neighborhood and near a house where a drive-by shooting left bullet holes in the stucco.

Other projects have included animated stories and commercial ads, some of which were entered in a "Got Milk?" competition sponsored by the California Milk Processor Board. One ad made it to the semifinals.

Devising storyboards helps students plan and visualize video productions.

Credit: Edutopia

Planning, Planning, Planning

Once a topic is chosen, extensive planning begins. Students must present convincing written and verbal arguments to Torres before being allowed to use the equipment. They develop critical questions to address in their presentations. Storyboards are created to communicate graphically the angle or scope of individual camera shots or segments of a visual presentation. A timeline of daily deadlines gauges progress. Students design evaluation rubrics to ensure they are on the right track while working through the process. Once the plan is approved, students check out the equipment appropriate to implement their idea.

Torres's mantra for his students is "Planning, production, presentation, sssessment, and sdministration," with an emphasis on planning. "It's easier to take an eraser to a blueprint than a pickax to a foundation," he says. Students learn through practice that careful time management and teamwork help them accomplish their goals. Torres marvels at the way the kids work together and learn from each other as they try every route possible to create a high-quality final product.

Consuelo Molina made schoolwork personal and meaningful through video productions like A Sacrifice for You.

Credit: Consuelo Molina

Building Leaders and Futures

"Anything is completely possible, really possible," Torres, who has been recognized by California governor Gray Davis as a model educator and named an Apple Distinguished Educator, often tells his students. "Never give up. Be leaders." An effective way to instill leadership, he emphasizes, is to share expertise.

At the start of the program, Torres identified students and faculty willing to gain proficiency with the sophisticated equipment. They became the team providing technology support and encouragement to other students, faculty, and community members. Torres estimates that 150 San Fernando High School teachers have been trained and says that half the students at the school have used the program's Computer Inspiration Studio, where the equipment is housed. As it has matured, the program also has developed a Web library of lesson plans, professional-development opportunities, and an evaluation rubric.

Molina, the student who produced the acclaimed video on sweatshops, was among those who progressed from novice to expert. During her first year in SFETT, she learned basic multimedia production. By the second year, she was teaching other students and parents on weekdays and Saturdays, when the program is open to community members. She taught computers and multimedia and showed parents, most of whom did not have computers at home, how to preserve old photographs by scanning them into computers.

Now enrolled as a biology major at the University of California at Los Angeles, Molina has far from abandoned her interest in video. She squeezed a film-production class into her schedule, does video editing, works on film crews, and returns frequently to see what SFETT students are doing, learn about new developments, and help out.

The production of Snowfight II involved twenty-six people.

Credit: Ruben Betancourt

Teamwork and Lifelong Learning

SFETT program lives on for many students. "In SFETT, I learned lots of different ways to communicate through technology -- how to gather information, speak, make a presentation, project myself, throw in a joke every so often," says Ernesto Hernandez, a sophomore economics student at Los Angeles's Occidental College. "The program really focuses on using the computer as a tool to express ideas. In school, it is sometimes hard for students to express themselves."

The most powerful lesson he learned, however, had to do with working collaboratively. "The only way to get things done is through teamwork," Hernandez says. Torres agrees, and the physical design of the multimedia studio supports collaboration with clusters of workstations and a "think room" where students meet and discuss projects. One example of the kind of cooperation it takes to make a film is seen in the production of Snowfight II. The project involved twenty-six people in its direction, story, storyboards, editing, modeling, animation, sound, character voices, and music.

"Working in this program has completely changed the students' outlooks, their lives," says Torres.

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.

Comments (63) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

yasmine lopez-verdugo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is wonderful to see someone helping students to succeed. Mr. Torress seems to be making a great impact on his students' futures. It is also amazing to see these students use technology in a way that many people will not experience until they are in college. The technology use also allows students to use other subjects like math and science to create their videos. This is a great way in incorporating technology into education.

yasmine lopez-verdugo's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a preservice teacher at ASU west. I think it is wonderful to see someone that really reaches out to get students to succeed. Mr. Torres is a great man for doing so. Using technology in his class helps the students learn certain career field strategies. It also halps the students learn other subject areas like math and science. These students are doing this with these tools that most people will never do or will learn in college. This is a great example on how technology in education helps students learn.

Danielle Artis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a perspective teacher at ASU West and felt this was an awesome video. To see and hear actual students motivation towards the concept of using technology in different ways to express themselves. The teachers positive attitude and creativity could be seen in his students. Their various projects allowed them to utilize many valuable skills especially collaboration. Utilizing technology is important for educators to do and I think this educator showed the value of technology in the classroom. The documentary about the sweatshops was moving and I hope as a future history teacher that I will be able to provide my students with the skill to express themselves creatively like the students in this video. I applaud this educator for his commitment to his students and his community.

Kara Hemann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a perspective teacher at ASU West and I feel this article shows how important technology is in the classroom. Our students become more involved in their learning in the classroom as technology advances. Technology gives the students a chance to take their education into their own hands and gets them excited about learning.

Rob Hunter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That video is really awesome. I really think its cool how the teacher has engaged his students using hands on- "in the field"- type of strategies. It seems as though the students are learning things across several subjects. From video editing, to storyboarding and some performing arts in front of the camera as well. As a preservice teacher, this is really encouraging to see.

Scott Lauer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher at ASU West, I found it interesting that students use media in their own way to create some tangible form of what they learned and that they can share it with the world. I never thought of learning as needing some tangible form and so this will really help me reach students now that I realize that things that they can keep can keep them motivated through high school.

Beth Gilloran's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Students held accountable {presenting a convincing argument before being allowed to use the equipment} creates an ownership and immediate sense of responsibility for their project. The skills learned {time management; organization; cooperation and collaboration} empower students. I think the technology team has provided an opportunity for students to be life-long learners and I applaud them!

Rukhsana Anjum's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi All! I am an English Language teacher from Pakistan. I teach grade-12 students. I strongly feel that inducting technology in education is working wonder.Visual aides enhance learning of the students and provides them with the opportunity to watch the thing which they used to imagine.

Meeting rooms heathrow's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a preservice teacher, I found this video very inspiring and grateful that there are teachers such as Marcos Torres. I think it is very important that schools and teachers try to keep up with technology so that students develop the knowledge to use it in their future careers, everyday life or just for fun. I remember in my high school, we were fortunate enough to have the technology to create our own videos and learn to edit them and present them to our peers. Once we learned how to do this, we were able to practice our newfound knowledege of the technology to create several videos, which were not only fun and productive, but also taught us how to work as a group in which everyone has a job to do. This is a great idea and I wish every school had the opportunity to have this inspriring technology with teachers like Marcos that have the passion to teach it! It is wonderful that he took the time to learn the technology on his own and have such patience and desire to help his students as well. I look forward to seeing how technology will change by the time that I am teacher and hope I can keep up with my students and help them as well!

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