George Lucas Educational Foundation

Anatomy of a Project: "Give Me Shelter"

Juniors at Casco Bay High School, in Portland, Maine, explore homelessness by working in teams to make audio slide-show portraits in a semester-long project about housing issues and public policy.
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Anatomy of a Project: "Give Me Shelter" (Transcript)

Susan McCray: We start with a margin, where we dive in and begin to become exposed to the realities of what we're trying to pursue, and these other…

Narrator: English teacher Susan McCray is explaining a learning expedition to parents who are considering enrolling their students at Casco Bay High School. [ typing ]

Susan McCray: Then building background knowledge in social studies class, they looked at the Great Depression and tried to unearth what happened in that economic crisis and how can we compare…

Narrator: The project McCray and her students are diving into explores the realities and impact of homelessness in their hometown of Portland, Maine. [ typing ]

Susan McCray: Then investigation comes, and that's when we started these documentary projects, where we went out and had the opportunity to talk to people who've experienced homelessness.

Susan McCray: The work that we do that we believe in, it has to be compelling and it has to be looking at the real world, so we designed this expedition to act as a case study of one policy issue. Policy is compelling because it is about need, but it can become very academic, and I think what we can lose is the notion of human story and how these issues impact and affect real lives.

Okay, how long have you each been homeless?

I've been in and out of the shelters on and off, like, 22 years, and…

Susan McCray: So, what this project has done is allowed us to look at the historic piece, while at the same time looking at the contemporary economic crisis and then to really make a link with a human being.

So, how did that affect you?

Because of the way you have to live and the fact that you may not be proud of it. Wears on your self-esteem, no matter how good your self-esteem is. It's going to be -- it's very draining.

Emma Robinson: Even knowing that there's a large homeless population in Portland, like, it's something you know, but actually being able to talk to people about it is -- it's something really different, and that's what I really like about expeditions like this. You get to really know it rather than just look at it and be like, "Oh, that's nice." Like, you're immersed, so… [ typing ]

You know the drill idea. Keep that a little bit higher up.

Hold on a second.

Narrator: During the eight-week project, students will write their own individual profiles and contribute to a group multimedia presentation.

Should I redo that?

Yeah. We already -- we can't…

Susan McCray: I mean, it's incredible what we're able to do so simply. We just click on GarageBand and it goes. Everybody's got a cell phone that can take a picture, and everybody can load the image onto the computer in the classroom instantly, and with my LCD projector, boom, we're looking at people's work.

We talked to Alden in the back room of Down-Home Cookin', a small coffee shop on Preble Street.

Susan McCray: I think it's easy for people sometimes to think, "Oh, well, this multimedia is kind of gimmicky," right? "It's just for the sake of the polish. Where's the learning in it?"

…told us he had been homeless on and off for three or four years now.

Susan McCray: Well, I try peer critique all the time. I'm still trying to work on how am I going to make peer critique happen more effectively when we work on our writing? And in this project they've each written their personal pieces, and then I've asked them to each take a piece of that in their team to produce one story. Well, the process that went on there, I mean, kids were riveted, and here's this authentic reason: "I think we should use your opening, because your -- I really liked your description of the setting and what was going -- and the character there," and that's high-level thinking and crafting of narrative. They're critiquing.

So I think that was really working was their slides. I don't know how to explain it, but it just kind of meshed, like with their words.

Susan McCray: Nice. Yeah. [ typing ]

People lose hope out there, paver-marked, talk about why homeless people stay homeless. They get stuck and feel like there's no way out.

Narrator: On this night, McCray's students read the profiles they've written to this group of parents. Days later, at a local art gallery, they will present their multimedia products to their primary audience: the subjects of their work.

We walked up three flights of stairs in the Oxford Street shelter past 154 6-inch-thick mats. The shelter…

Susan McCray: The process is driven by culmination, because we all get involved when we know that we have a real audience, and our real audience is our community but most significantly the people we interviewed. What could matter more than making sure the story is right for them?

Andrew is 46 years old. There was nothing about Andrew that stood out.

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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.

Additional Resources for the "Give Me Shelter" Project

Samples of Student Work:

"Give Me Shelter" Slide Shows


Casco Bay High School's Web site

View a profile of Casco Bay High School teacher Susan McCray

Click on any of the titles below to download a PDF of one of Casco Bay High School's many resources.

Teacher Planning Guides:

Form: Casco Bay - Expedition Planning Template (568K)

Guidelines: Casco Bay - High School Expedition Guidelines (568K)

Assessment Forms:

Give Me Shelter Project: Research Interview Form (153K)

Multi-Media Presentation Rubric (255K)

Writing Oral History Assessment (156K)

More at Free Resources and Downloads for Project Learning

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Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Patricia Cullinane's picture
Patricia Cullinane
Secondary special ed, and english teacher from Cape Cod, MA

I loved your students documentary on The Homeless. Experiential learning, and true understanding of project based learning is a powerful thing.

Trish Cullinane

Maryalice Leister's picture
Maryalice Leister
Educational Consultant, Instructional Design, Administrator

Currently in a graduate program through Capella University, I chose your program and process to analyze for an assignment showing glimpses into 21st Century Classrooms. Since I have helped to found a virtual K-12 school and have worked there for over 8 years, I know the power of the tools for collaboration, fostering higher level thinking, and creativity, among many other benefits. I applaud this project and ongoing life lesson for your students. This, to me, is the epitome of integrated, high quality, student-movtivated education.

Thank you,

Maryalice Leister

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

This is a fantastic example of learning and growing through a project that is relevant for the students. This is a very powerful example of experiential learning. Thanks for sharing!

I wonder how these ideas can be applied to civic issues in other towns. I know homelessness is an issue in many cities around the countries, but the basic idea of this project can also be applied to hunger, equity in education....I would love to hear more ideas.

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