George Lucas Educational Foundation

Anatomy of a Project: "Kinetic Conundrum"

Art, history, engineering, language arts, and technology, both old and new, come together for eighth grade students in this rich project learning expedition at King Middle School in Portland, Maine.
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Anatomy of a Project: "Kinetic Conundrum" (Transcript)

Gus Goodwin: Today, you’re gonna bring all the work that you’ve done to the cafeteria for the culminating event.

And I think each of us are gonna describe what you need. For tech ed obviously, you need your kinetic sculpture. I think it’s best that each person brings their own sculpture down there, because we don’t want any accidents to happen.

Paul Clifford: Also, we don’t want you to forget those two guiding questions: how does art reflect the community?

And the other one is, how does science, math and engineering connect to art?

And also you’re gonna wanna show them your Google Maps on the public art sites, okay?

And all of those things, you have to be prepared to talk about. And also, you don’t wanna--

Voice Over: The eighty plus students in King Middle School’s York House embarked on a twelve week learning expedition in the fall of 2009. They researched and photographed public art sites, produced a Google Maps walking tour and created a model of an original kinetic sculpture, and a proposal to install it.

Paul Clifford: I think it’s fine tuning a product to a certain extent and--

Voice Over: The project began with a teacher planning session over the summer.

Teacher 1: It’s very difficult to have a really deep, meaningful conversation around curriculum and how that’s all gonna fit together if you don’t actually have the thing made and can connect the kind of learning that’s most important.

Voice Over: Once the goals were set, tech ed teacher, Gus Goodwin, took up the challenge of building a model prototype.

Gus Goodwin: So I decided I’d take a sculpture course, and so this is what I made in that course.

So I brought this in and the kids right away pointed out, “Well, it doesn’t work

Mr. Goodwin,” or, “This is bent and you need to fix that and that.” It was pretty funny.

Student 1: That’s pretty.

Student 2: Yeah. Okay, try to get one with the sun.

Sarah: Today we’re out here taking photos of already existing public art that we’re studying in social studies.

Student 2: Yeah, [inaudible].

Sarah: We’re gonna make a virtual tour where if you click on the piece of art, it will come up with information that we’ve found and written about the statue or piece of art.

Paul Clifford: Log in using this address right there under Google and then we go to my maps.

Students are working with Google Maps and they are identifying all of the public art pieces that exist in the city of Portland. And then all of our kids have created a description of different art pieces out there, so that these different public art sites can be connected as a walking tour.

Student 3: I know how to get there.

Teacher 1: You know how to get there?

Student 3: Yeah.

Teacher 1: So if we went to the other map, would you be able to get us there?

Student 3: Yeah.

Paul Clifford: So basically, everything that anybody would want to know about that public art piece will be here, and it’s designed by our students.

So it’s sort of a public art public service.

Asiya: This is called Art Underfoot, ‘cause they got like leaves, feathers, like anything that you can find on the ground, and they’ve made it out of like bronze bricks and stuff.

And I found out that Art Underfoot wasn’t made by one artist. It was like a community of people.

It kinda shows our community can come together with different people and how they can help each other make one piece of art.

Voice Over: In language arts class, students wrote letters to Portland city officials and created proposals for the installation of their original works of public art.

Gus Goodwin: I loved shop when I was in school, but the big difference is the teacher had a plan and said, “Okay, kids, we’re making this pump handle lamp and if you follow the directions, it’ll come out just like mine and that’s great.”

That was good for those times, but times have changed, so the focus is more on the kids inventing their own stuff.

Student 4: And if the wind is blowing hard enough, then it’ll make this spin around, and the weight from this guy makes him come back down.

Nasser: This class is like fun because like the teacher help to be creative and to make our own designs. So like we will have that experience as we go along.

Gus Goodwin: Well, I think kids have the opportunity to kinda tinker. They get to think about something, but then also actually build it, create it, and in that process, fix it when things go wrong. It’s an incredible value that I think is lacking, where they don’t have a class like this or like an art class or music or something where the kids actually have to do something, get their hands dirty and make stuff.


Last night, when I put all the sculptures, so there’s like eighty sculptures in the front of my room and it was really amazing, thinking of where we started and where we ended up, just the variety of ideas and the ingenuity you had. Well, you should be really proud. It’s just so cool to look at them all together, ‘cause it’s really very cool.

Student 5: It’s kinetic because it moves on its own, so it blows in the wind. These things blow in the wind. And this is how it works.

Voice Over: On a Friday after school, students displayed their model sculptures and discussed their installation proposals with parents and members of the community.

David Ruff: What do you mean, you did the math to figure out the balance?

Student 6: Well, this one, which is two inches by two inches, so I did half of that.

David Ruff: It’s pretty exciting to see the kids get engaged in the work that they’re doing, to take ownership of the work they’re doing, feel responsible for it and then be able to talk about the things that they’re learning.

So you had this side balancing this side.

Student 6: Yeah.

David Ruff: And sometimes, I think we get too concerned about the standards. And there’s an assumption behind a lotta that that we actually know what our kids are gonna face in the future. And I’m not very convinced of that. And so the pieces about creativity, cooperation, problem solving, those are gonna be there, and so the kids getting those here is crucial and key.

Adne: It’s a weeping willow and it’s called the Miss Lincoln Tree.

The name was named after Lincoln Park, where I wanna put this.

Man 1: And these will blow in the wind?

Adne: Yeah. It has a little bit of aesthetics, and it’s three based--

Man 1: It’s got a lot of aesthetics.

Adne: Yeah.

Man 1: Well, I think you just got my first vote.

Adne: Oh, thank you.

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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

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely


  • Carl Bidleman

Original Music

  • Ed Bogas

Support for Edutopia's Schools That Work series is provided, in part, by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

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Comments (2) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

This is a wonderful video example of innovative cooperative community participation "real-life" multi-subjects education, and to see it happen at the middle school level is an additional "awesome"...

I have lots of "teacher" questions that the brief video did not answer, could not answer...because it was meant to be brief...

So I will email the school administration and teachers directly to inquire further about their "tools shop" program and to hopefully get a more complete understanding of how the "kinetic sculpture public arts project" continued toward completion, and "lessons-learned", etc.

This is Inspiring Education, but there are lots of practical questions for me to follow-up on...

just a few examples:

1. What kind of Administration Official Rules and Regulations go with the day-to-day functioning of the "Tools Shop" in the school?
--Unsupervised use of power tools by middle-school students can be a very dangerous proposition...
1.1 What are the legal liabilities involved, and there is no explanation of the shop tools training sessions, and semester(?) course outline scheduling, signed-parent statements of understanding for student participation, etc.
1.2 Can I assume that King Middle School is a Public School
with District Rules and Regulations and Administration Responsibilities, etc.
1.3 How large or small is King Middle School? The Teachers Summer Meeting session felt like this was a small charter-type school... with perhaps only a half-dozen teachers...?

2. Perhaps the State of Maine has a "laptop for every student policy"...? It looked like every student in the video had their own Mac(?) laptop...? That would be pretty amazing for public education

3. And I would like to have a fuller report from the School Teachers about the overall curriculum units and time-frames involved, and the continuing project towards completion...

Thank you for presenting this video... it is inspiring, but it leaves me with lots of important questions about practicality, implementation, results, lessons-learned, and legal liabilites, etc.

Allen Berg

MJustinCRGR's picture

Not only did that look fun and engaging for the students but also for the teachers. What a fantastic project. I am definitely going to be looking at how I might be able to use Google Walking Tours to implement some sort of variation to this project.

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