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ReVOLT: Illuminating Standards Video Series

Eighth grade students in Portland, ME tackle a real world problem by designing devices for developing countries that transform energy and benefit society during a five-month interdisciplinary project. The project combined sophisticated STEM learning with social studies and language arts content and skills. This film features interviews with former students and with a range of teachers, documenting in particular the collaboration of the teaching team. Illuminates Next Generation Science Standard MS-ESS3-3.

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 (EL Education) 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.


- What if kids could use design to solve a real world problem?

- [Girl] What happens when kids are expected to solve real world problems across disciplines? During a five month project at King, a high-performing expeditionary learning middle school serving the most economically, racially, and ethnically diverse population in the state of Maine, eighth graders and their teachers learned what it takes to Revolt.

- You’re gonna create a device that captures natural energy that transforms it into something that’s useful for people in some part of the world.

- [Nat] We’re building robots that are made to collect resources which are in tunnels.

- [Gus] You have to program the robot, build it, tinker with it, and get it to work.

- [Peter] I think it internalizes the design process. They know it’s an ongoing process, they know you need to engineer your designs and constantly revise to get feedback and so we’re on our way.

- [Nat] We managed to build a big wind turbine, powers house and we did it all with a book and some trash.

- I think I just remember that was a big kind of element that was brought not only into English class, but throughout the entire expedition.

- It kind of showed the importance of like making simple devices.

- [Gus] The criteria for this project is a wind turbine that is stable and sturdy. It has to generate at least one volt of electricity and the other piece is we want it to be creative, outrageous and genius and inspirational.

- [Mark] The product was a site plan to install wind turbines somewhere in the state of Maine. The students started using the language of tech-ed where they built the device, the science language and the geographic language altogether.

- [Peter] You’re gonna create a device that captures natural energy and transforms it into something that’s useful for people in some part of the world.

- So they gave us books and they have us time to research. We did a lot of fieldwork and so we house everything we need right there and then they sort of let us loose.

- The boss was kind of a quiet King head and we were able to encourage him to present to the culminating that in front of 200 people. It was eloquent and beautiful and he called it the Electromagneto and it was just a really simple, outside-the-box idea. Let’s take gravity and turn it into light and change some things on it.

- When I remember Revolt, I remember engineering design.

- [Grace] When I think of Revolt, I think of development and teamwork.

- [Emma] When I think of doing Revolt, I think of innovation and clarity.

- [Luca] When I remember Revolt, I remember grit and frustration and perseverance.

- That was just a wild project.

- It was.

- It was intense.

- When everything is over, all the parts are integrated and sometimes we don’t know how it happened, it just sort of fell into place.

- [Girl] Let’s take a look at the conditions that make a wildly intense inner disciplinary project fall into place.

- That’s where I start. What do I want the kids to know? That starts with a standard.

- Standard is the foundation of what we did. What is gonna prepare them to be a learner in high school? Is this something that is gonna be important for them to know for the rest of their lives?

- [Lily] I can apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

- I really don’t care which room they’re in. They’re still talking about, you know, scientific principles or design principles that they’re using downstairs and they’re applying it to the conversation that they’re using in social studies.

- The teachers knew what was happening in the other classes like a lot.

- [Peter] The book comes form the interdisciplinary intrepid expedition.

- [Gus] To have common curriculum, that’s where to start and then you can go from there to develop and go in depth as possible.

- You need time to plan. You don’t need money, we have no budget.

- The teachers, I mean having that dialog. It’s bringing that to meetings and trying to get something from other teachers because I think that’s hard to do sometimes.

- We’re just all on the same team. We’re all working together.

- [Girl] At King Middle School, students solve real world problems. It takes collaboration among an interdisciplinary team of teachers and the expectation that kids can.

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