BLC06: Marco Torres, Making Meaning of the World

Aaahhh…. This feels good. Sitting in an auditorium, waiting for Marco Torres (the keynote speaker) to begin. Haven’t had the chance to do this for what seems like forever, despite having attended more conferences this year than the rest of my life combined. Ironically, just like always, i’m already stressing about battery life. Different year, different laptop, same ol’ problem! This time, i left my power supply at the hotel, so I’m anticipating about 90-120 minutes of typing before I have to resort to pen and paper. Good times, good times…

Marco is showing a video full of inspirational quotes like, “When I become a teacher, I want to maintain the bell curve. I want to sit in the lunge and complain. I want to teach one year, twenty five times. I want to cover, rather than uncover material, and use chalk.” Looked like it might have been part of an Apple campaign, leading into a Think Different ad.

Marco is from San Fernando, inner city LA. The culture is predominately latino and proudly so. He’s sharing a map where students in his government class mapped out where hispanic communities live in the LA area. Then they mapped where low income families lived in the same area. Then they mapped people who never graduated from high school. Can you figure out the trend? Pretty powerful lesson there.

Teachers have three options, you can quit, complain or innovate.

During the lockouts, he sent student camera crews out to cover it because CNN could possibly use their footage. Authentic learning with practical, real results.

With the advent of technology, we have new ways of communicating information. We’re no longer restricted to just text. Or text and audio. We can also add video. His example is a passage from an MLK speach. Just looking at it, do you know who the speaker is? Much more powerful to hear it being read. And even more powerful to see him presenting it himself.

Video tends to be so much more memorable than text alone. He just had us close our eyes and listen to some music by a band named Peru Negro. Very rhythmic, definitely latin, a great beat. Now we’re watching it a second time with our eyes open and seeing them perform the music. It adds an entire other dimmension to the music. There’s traditional dancing going on, and for lack of a better term the music is very physical in nature. The people on stage almost look like they’re possessed by the music. They’re also wearing traditional dress, or dress that I assume is traditional for Peru. It gives it an entirely different flavor. Oh yeah, Marco’s students created the video as well.

He hosts a film festival every year called iCan. He’s sharing a commercial that students made for the festival emphasizing that it’s an opportunity to share films with the rest of the community. Wow. He showed the commercial on local cable, and they went from 200 people to 1000 people. All through a commercial created by students. Impressive.

Marco is a secondary social studies teacher. He just uses multimedia to make classroom experiences relevant and meaningful.

He just shared a digital story called The Power of 1, which conveys how important it is to vote, how powerful a single vote can be and how many historical events were decided by just one vote. I’m going to have to see if I can get links to his videos, because just describing them doesn’t do them justice. I guess that’s the point of the presentation. Some things are just more effective visually.

Another interesting project. He had students try to find the worst fairy tale they coud, (Little Suck a Thumb), and then make a digital story from it. Very cool. I’d love to do that in kindergarten with Kid Pix.

It’s about changing perspective. Taking something traditional and making it new. Make it relevant. Make it meaningful. Make it applicable. Make it enthralling.

Here’s a great slide. “High Tech = High Touch; Connect with self, our feamily and with the community.”

He says that self esteem is an issue with his students. We wants them to be succssful and confident. So he connects his students with younger students. They were going to work with younger students about adverbs. At first they wanted to get all fancy and use Flash and make animations. Instead, they went the simple route and used paper cut outs to make a quick video to act out a story that featured a specific word. In this case, it was ‘fortunately’. Every sentance alternated between beginning with Fortunately and Unfortunately. It wasn’t fancy, lasted about 30 seconds or so, but very effective. His students made about 35 of these videos. The library made a DVD of it and shared with the entire community. Students becoming publishers. The new story for the 21st Century. Why publish for your teacher when you can publish for the world?

Marco shared a video about an elderly man who only knew a few words in English. Everyday he would go into a coffee shop and order donuts and coffee, because that was all he knew to say. He ate that for nearly a month. Then one day he overheard somebody ordering ham and eggs. He wrote that down, practiced saying it and the next day ordered ham and eggs and finally had a decent breakfast. A simple, but powerful story. That man passed away recently, but now his story will live on. Marco points out that his Pueblo’s stories are just as valuable as learning what the original 13 colonies were. You could make a pretty strong argument that they’re more important.

Oh good, he’s got a website with links to the movies that he’s going to share. Many of these videos are shared on local cable access, which appearantly they’re thrilled to broadcast.

Many of his students came to this country alone. Their family would send them to the US so that they could have a better life. They life with extended family, or friends of friends. Some students made a video about what it was like to seperate from their family and living apart from them. Think about that. Seperating from your family and never even knowing your mother and father. Marco mentions that he didn’t want his students to be just another statistic, he wants them to share their stories and to put a face on these issues.

It’s not about the technology, it’s about being different and being distinct. He suggests that everything you do as a teacher should have a life outside the classroom. Find ways to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Make it meaningful. Give it a business plan.

He encouraged one of his more difficult students to find a band, any band, and then to record and promote them. This student hooked up with the band, built them a web site, a MySpace account, created some videos, and helped get their name out there. He said the student didn’t even like their music, but the project itself was real and real applications. Unbelievably, one of the songs by this band wound up being used for the trailer in Batman. He is now doing the same for Sony. This is a student who was failing class. A failure in class, successful in life. What does that teach us?

I just realized that they’re video taping this presentation. I seriously hope that it’s going to be available somewhere.

In conclusion: Embrace your obstacles, make it relevant, make it meaningful, amke it applicable. Innovate and infect others with curiosity. Why are you doing the things you’re doing?

The two websites he lists are and

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By | 2006-07-18T07:26:12+00:00 July 18th, 2006|BLC|10 Comments

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  1. Jack MacLeod 7/18/2006 at Jul 18, 06 | 7:43 am


    Keep up the great blogging – it helps those of us who couldn’t be there this year feel like we’re at least keeping in touch.


  2. […] This posting is about Marco Torres, a secondary social sciences teacher in inner city L.A., and how he is making a difference in his classrooms using technology. Very inspirational story. He is doing some wonderful projects with his students and I have no doubt he is changing some young lives. […]

  3. Weblogg-ed » Of BLC and Books 7/19/2006 at Jul 19, 06 | 3:43 am

    […] The keynote by Marco Torres was phenomenal I thought. And I loved the message, which was basically to tell educators that we have tools now that just about every type of learner can flourish with, and we need only to find the creativity within us to make it happen. The examples of student work he showed were nothing short of amazing, and worth sharing to every educator audience out there. His kids come from the most undereducated and poverty stricken areas of LA and yet they are succeeding in multimedia. The big question that we’re going to have to deal with is whether we can teach the fundamental literacies through the media that kids are most motivated and driven by. Steve Dembo blogged the session in full. […]

  4. Kyle Brumbaugh 7/19/2006 at Jul 19, 06 | 7:46 pm

    I’m from Northern California, but we are very aware of Marco Torres’ work. We are trying to use some of the same principles here that Marco is using in his program. I am glad to hear that Marco has had such an impact in Boston!

    Thanks for keeping those unable to be in Boston up to date with the events of the conference!

  5. Amy Hendrickson 7/19/2006 at Jul 19, 06 | 9:12 pm

    Hi Steve:

    I really needed this post today. I’m in the process of starting a charter school in an area that has none. I’m leaving my teaching job in my local, small-town public high school to do so. I know a lot of people in my town disagree with what I’m doing (fearing for our traditional public high school), and some people who I thought were friends appear to not be right now.

    “Quit, complain, or innovate” is really where I feel I am. No one listened when I complained. I was going to just quit, but I realized I love classroom teaching – so here I am. Not sure if I’m really “innovating”, but each day I learn a little more and get a little closer to something that I think is going to be really, really neat.

    Thanks again. Keep up the posting; it is appreciated.

    Amy Hendrickson
    Eveleth, Minnesota

  6. Mike Dulay 7/24/2006 at Jul 24, 06 | 12:10 am

    Thanks for your thoughtul review! I wish I could have been there.
    Last year, I was fortunate enough to see Marco Torres’ lab and meet a few of his students. It’s a magical experience that I doubt could be captured in one keynote. Marco’s lab- housed at San Fernando High School- is exemplary of a learning community that teaches technology, as well as work ethic, content, and critical thinking. I fear that the latter three get overshadowed by the technology. Marco’s real innovation is pedagogical, and you can see it in his students.
    Those who are enrolled in his courses have a delightful confidence about them that probably propels them well beyond their own expectations. I suspect this is because they’ve learned to see the technology as a tool over which the could develop mastery, which then empowers them as critical thinkers. Buidling confidence with contemporary tools is a powerful pedagogical innovation that we probably all should examine more earnestly…

    My most sincere thanks for sharing!


  7. Accelerating Minds : Quote from Marco Torres 7/25/2006 at Jul 25, 06 | 8:21 pm

    […] Quote from Marco Torres Teachers have three options; you can quit, complain, or innovate. Marco Torres' thoughts, posted by Steve Dembo as he summarizes Marco's presentation, pretty much say it all (although I would add that many of us choose a fourth option: showing up and keeping a low profile). Marco's first two options take a great deal less effort and have a pragmatic allure to them. However Marco has most certainly gone for the latter. Colleagues like this give the rest of us a reason to get out of bed and hold our head high. Kinda like the Mac commercials… which would you rather be? Maybe there's a reason we chose this profession after all. Check these out… Tuesday, July 25, 2006 7:17 PM cmbrown Filed under: White Salmon School District […]

  8. Left Lane Ends » 2008 » February » 20 2/20/2008 at Feb 20, 08 | 2:44 pm

    […] has been a while since I have heard a really good keynote speaker and Marco Torres fit the bill. Digging around online revealed a popular phrase that he must use: Quit, Complain or Innovate (while he didn’t use […]

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    Suckathumb (2010) – Movie…

    Suckathumb is a Animation, Short, Comedy, Fantasy, Horror, Music Movie of 2010 made in Canada. Director: Xstine CookCast: Xstine Cook, Mooky Cornish…

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