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Perspectives of San Diego Bay: Illuminating Standards Video Series

This video features a student project of extraordinary sophistication: a professional-quality field guide to San Diego Bay, published commercially, with a forward by Jane Goodall. The research, writing, photography, and graphics of the book exemplify what students can do when trusted and supported to do the work of adult scientists and authors.

The Illuminating Standards Project

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
~ What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
~ How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
~ How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos

Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- [Narrator] Perspectives of San Diego Bay, a Field Guide, is not only a model of excellent student work, it’s a tremendous example of ways in which standards from both basic skills and deep thinking can be met and exceeded. As we explore this beautiful, genre-bending guide, we might ask ourselves, “How can student research” “improve the places in which young people live and learn,” “all while far surpassing a Common Core state standard” “that asks students to conduct short” “as well as more sustained research projects” “to answer a question, including a self-generated question,” “or solve a problem,” “narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate,” “synthesize multiple sources on the subject,” “demonstrating understanding of” “the subject under investigation.” With these questions and this standard in mind, let’s explore Perspectives of San Diego Bay.

- Pollution and conservation, they of course are ongoing concerns for San Diego’s beaches and bays. Some local high school students are not only learning about pollution and conservation, they’re writing a book about it, and news reporter Jeanie Cabot has the story.

- [Reporter] San Diego Bay, certainly a beautiful part of our city. Students at High Tech high school have been studying the bay.

- My passion is teaching and teaching to show students how they can make a difference in the environment and conservation issues and environmental awareness.

- Mr. Vavra’s students are involved in a program called Roots and Chutes. These Roots and Chutes students found their inspiration through their teacher. Their teacher found his inspiration through the woman who started it all. Probably best known for her study of chimpanzees, Dr. Jane Goodall is the creator of the Roots and Chutes program.

- It’s a symbolic name that roots make a firm foundation, chutes seem tiny, but to reach the sun together they can break a brick wall.

- [Narrator] This remarkable interdisciplinary research project illuminates the standard and meets the need of an authentic audience by drawing upon the expertise and assistance of local scholars and scientists, as well as the environmental and zoological writings of Jane Goodall, and the historical insights of Jared Diamond. Students looked to answer questions regarding sustainability, the life of an urban ecology, and human impact on San Diego Bay. Their original biogeographical analyses, quantification and qualification of species, creative and informational writing not only served as models of excellent student work, they also provide future scientists with baseline measurements, policy-makers with words of caution and visitors to San Diego with a beautiful, diverse guide to the bay. Importantly, this project not only encouraged students to study, conserve and care for their natural environment, but required them to think critically and creatively, weigh and use evidence, and revise their work along the way. The final product not only illuminates the Common core state standard but serves as an example of truly meaningful and beautiful student work. Finally, Khoa Tran utilized and synthesized original research and reflections for Broken Links, a field guide poem that goes well beyond demonstrating an understanding of the subject under investigation. Perspective is an incredible example of student research, but not illuminates the Common Core state standards, but encourages students to care for the natural environment they live and learn in. A special thanks to J. Vavra and the students of High Tech High for conducting and sharing this remarkable work.

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