Computer labs let students document environment, history

Posted February 28, 2010 11:32 a.m. EST
Updated February 28, 2010 1:12 p.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows how computer labs are helping students document the environment and history.

The technology that makes it possible are EAST computer labs – or Environmental and Spatial Technology labs.

EAST coordinator Rick Washam gave students a challenge on the first day of class at Horace Mann Middle School in Little Rock, Ark.

"This is not a computer class," he said. "This is a problem-solving class in which you take a community service project that may well be an idea, and you make a reality."

EAST labs are in more than 200 schools in eight states. Each school has raised $150,000 for the equipment and teacher training.

At Horace Mann Middle, students spend five periods a week and countless after-school hours in the computer lab, dreaming up ambitious projects that they must see to fruition. Many projects have an environmental theme, such as surveying a nearby watershed or creating a model of a greenhouse.

Another project began as an effort to document camps where Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II. The original plan was to locate the two camps that existed in south Arkansas and GPS them.

"These kids became so passionate about what had occurred that they wanted to make the citizens of Arkansas aware of what happened in their own back yard," Washam said. "So it became a documentary film."

More than 1,300 copies of the student film have been distributed worldwide. The production also led to the creation of a memorial garden at the school.

"They want to make a difference," Washam said. "They have been told for the past 10, 12 years that 'You're too young. You can't do it.'

"Then, all of a sudden, you say, 'Yes, you can do it.' And these kids become very passionated about what their cause is," he added.