George Lucas Educational Foundation

Replicating Another School's Success: One Teacher's Story

Science teacher Michelle Underwood once described herself as a "death-by-PowerPoint" lecturer. Today her classroom hums with the energy of students absorbed in collaborative learning projects. Her personal transformation helped change her school.
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Replicating Another School's Success: One Teacher's Story (Transcript)

Michelle: Is there anybody who might be squeamish about touching fish?

My name is Michelle Underwood, I'm a seventh grade teacher at North Whitfield Middle School, and I've been teaching for about 11 years.

Student: This one is huge, dude.

Michelle: When I started teaching, I really had a zeal for teaching. I would come up with creative ideas. They were kind of snuffed out.

Anybody want gloves?

As time passed, I conformed, and did what I was supposed to, like a good teacher. I used my textbook, I incorporated PowerPoint, but it was really death by PowerPoint for my students. When I moved here to North Whitfield, things changed.

You need to wash him off because he's too slimy right now.

The first day I walked into North Whitfield, I was in my suit and heels and pantyhose, and I looked around, and I was the only one in suit and heels and pantyhose. As one of the other teachers said, I had to go get some britches.

You have a dichotomous key in front of you, and without shouting out the answer, I want you to identify the species of fish that you have.

Andrea: She's very, very intelligent. She had her presentations down, and was extremely structured. She would stand up in the front, and expect to give these elaborate lectures, and have these adolescents write down everything she said. And I was very honest with her about, if things don't change, it's not probably going to work out for you here.

Michelle: I went to one of the education advisors, I guess, for the school, and just, honestly, I broke down in tears, and said, what can I do different?

Andrea: She started a book study, started having collegial conversations, and it ended up like a transformation that I've never seen before.

Michelle: We talked about going into cell organs.

Instead of just death by PowerPoint, I started incorporating things like cell phones and cameras, and video recording. I'm on the floor, I'm painting, I've got animals in my room. My relationship with my students now is completely different. Although there's a lot more work that's put into the actual design of the lesson, when you get into your classroom, and you're in with your students, you're playing with your students, you're having fun. You're enjoying what you're doing.

You're actually seeing the text upside down.

Dennis: In my past, we've done a lot of textbook work. I think I like this a lot better.

Michelle: I think, when you see the light in your students, and they're smiling and they're having a good time in your class, and they're learning the standards, I think that any teacher who sees that and experiences that, would change their opinion of project based learning versus PowerPoint and textbooks.

Student: That's our best one.

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Video Credits

Written and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis
  • Grace Rubenstein


  • Grace Rubenstein

Editor/Associate Producer

  • Doug Keely

Camera Crew

  • Doug Keely
  • Grace Rubenstein

Video Programming Producer

  • Mariko Nobori

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

David Beres's picture
David Beres
High School Science Teacher from Magdalena, New Mexico

I have read about this style of teaching. I have been trained through Expeditionary Learning. It is good to see it in action. I am a visual learner and the video supports the written word.

Rob L's picture
Rob L
Assistant Principal in Durham, NC

This is how learning really takes place! I am on a mission....

Hantoon's picture
Assistant Principal Holland Woods Middle School

If class isn't fun or interesting, adults don't want to learn it either. I guess if you ask yourself: "Would I want to be in my own class?", and your answer is not a definite (honest) yes, then this video would be a good place to start.

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