An idea that originated in a computer lab at North Heights Junior High School in Texarkana, Ark., helped a blind woman in a nursing home enjoy Christmas a little bit more.

Junior-high students Lori Hensley and Angelina Leonesio developed the idea in the school’s Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) lab. In the lab program, students work out concepts for service projects on their computer screens and then apply them to real-world situations and people, said Michael Vincent, EAST lab teacher at North Heights.

The term "spatial technology" refers to the function of any number of different hardware and software tools that help students engage with the physical world. Students in the lab use technologies that teach them computer-aided design, engineering design, visualization, database design, web page design, programming, office automation, global positioning systems, and geographic information systems.

Students work in teams on service-oriented projects like the one spearheaded by Hensley and Leonesio. In the process of solving actual problems, EAST initiative officials contend, the students learn to become creative, intuitive, adaptable learners who can solve unpredictable, real-life scenarios.

Established in the 1996-97 academic year at Greenbrier High School in Arkansas, the EAST program now involves more than 220 schools in seven states, with more than 12,000 students involved. The initiative is funded through public and private partnerships that include the U.S. Department of Education, institutions of higher education, and businesses such as Oracle Corp. and Softimage Co.

Bill Dirst, communications director for the EAST initiative, said students in Eureka Springs, Ark., developed a helicopter evacuation network, for instance.

"They used geographic information system (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS) programs to develop good landing zones for emergency evacuations in rural north Arkansas," Dirst said.

"They studied vegetation and slope data to identify risks at possible locations. Then, they went out and … made sure, for instance, there were no power lines and that no vegetation had grown up that would prevent a safe landing."

The two Texarkana students came up with the idea of helping people in nursing homes who might not have any visitors during the holidays, and gradually other girls and boys became involved, North Heights’ Vincent said.

 

"This project kept developing and was going to be more than a grade. It was social growth," the lab teacher said.

The students at first thought about designing a Christmas card on the computers and mailing copies. But they realized it would be expensive to mail the cards, and it seemed impersonal. Instead, they designed the cards and used a photography program to make the images–then hand-delivered them.

"The students and parents handed out the cards at the nursing homes and raised an awareness with the students of some people having no one to visit them at Christmas," Vincent said. "One woman said it was one of the neatest cards she had ever received. We found out later she was 100-percent blind."

He said students also have developed a peer-counseling program.

"At first I didn’t think it could be done, because students can’t formally counsel each other. But they continued with the ideas and developed goals and made an assessment form in counseling," he said. "They put up an anonymous message board. They used [Macromedia’s] Dreamweaver program to set up the [message board]." The EAST program’s philosophy is to embrace at-risk students. "We don’t care where they come in; we only care about where they go out," Dirst said.

"The foundation of the [program] is built on responsibility and self-direction," Dirst continued. "We find that if students come up with a plan, they immediately see a relevancy in the work they do. A lot of learning takes place in that planning." Students are bound "to come up with some crazy ideas that are not feasible, but we learn a lot from those failures–students learn equally from a project that can’t be done. We learn as much from those failures as we do the great epiphanies that we have."

As a program that permits students to determine the course of their classroom action–and embraces failure as a necessary part of the learning process–EAST has met with some difficulty in a learning environment driven largely by test performance under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). EAST has had to struggle at times to justify such elasticity under sometimes rigid curricular constraints.

"We struggle with that, for sure," Dirst said. "That’s a battle we fight. But the EAST classroom is a place where students can go and apply everything they’ve learned in math, in science. They get just-in-time decision-making skills that make them ready to affect their local economy, whether they’re going to college or straight into the workforce. EAST classrooms facilitate learning; they’re not the information giver."

Links:

Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Initiative
http://www.eastproject.org

 

"This project kept developing and was going to be more than a grade. It was social growth," the lab teacher said.

The students at first thought about designing a Christmas card on the computers and mailing copies. But they realized it would be expensive to mail the cards, and it seemed impersonal. Instead, they designed the cards and used a photography program to make the images–then hand-delivered them.

"The students and parents handed out the cards at the nursing homes and raised an awareness with the students of some people having no one to visit them at Christmas," Vincent said. "One woman said it was one of the neatest cards she had ever received. We found out later she was 100-percent blind."

He said students also have developed a peer-counseling program.

"At first I didn’t think it could be done, because students can’t formally counsel each other. But they continued with the ideas and developed goals and made an assessment form in counseling," he said. "They put up an anonymous message board. They used [Macromedia’s] Dreamweaver program to set up the [message board]." The EAST program’s philosophy is to embrace at-risk students. "We don’t care where they come in; we only care about where they go out," Dirst said.

"The foundation of the [program] is built on responsibility and self-direction," Dirst continued. "We find that if students come up with a plan, they immediately see a relevancy in the work they do. A lot of learning takes place in that planning." Students are bound "to come up with some crazy ideas that are not feasible, but we learn a lot from those failures–students learn equally from a project that can’t be done. We learn as much from those failures as we do the great epiphanies that we have."

As a program that permits students to determine the course of their classroom action–and embraces failure as a necessary part of the learning process–EAST has met with some difficulty in a learning environment driven largely by test performance under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). EAST has had to struggle at times to justify such elasticity under sometimes rigid curricular constraints.

"We struggle with that, for sure," Dirst said. "That’s a battle we fight. But the EAST classroom is a place where students can go and apply everything they’ve learned in math, in science. They get just-in-time decision-making skills that make them ready to affect their local economy, whether they’re going to college or straight into the workforce. EAST classrooms facilitate learning; they’re not the information giver."

Links:

Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Initiative
http://www.eastproject.org