Cases in Point

Protecting the Neighborhood. Pollution in a stream running near their school prompted one group of eighth-grade Indianapolis students—all in a special ed class—to learn more about water contamination. They had seen trash in the stream, and deformed ducks and fish, and wondered if there was a connection. Through Internet research, phone calls, water tests, neighborhood interviews, and trips to water treatment facilities, they learned that levels of toxic contamination were high. They also discerned public awareness was low, and that few of the local citizens unwittingly responsible for the pollution knew that a liter of motor oil could contaminate huge amounts of water. The students mounted a public information campaign, using their laptops to create brochures to inform the public about water pollution and the proper disposal of hazardous waste. Pictures were important, since in the course of their research the students had found that many local residents could not read. They also used Apple’s iMovie to create a public service movie, the highlight of which was an original rap called "Tox Drop." Their next step was to write and record a public service radio announcement. Broadcasting, much to the students’ delight, is free. Printing brochures is not, but the kids are moving ahead, searching for grants, and using their laptops and the confidence and commitment the technology has inspired to polish and publish their brochure. The unit, the products, the outcomes—none fall into traditional assessment categories, which means that teachers are devising fluid, creative ways to portray the measure of students' success. Communicating Shared Experiences. The decade-old concern for problem solving and literacy skills, currently called 21st Century skills, are central to how students use—and are asked to use—their laptops. In the eighth-grade English as a New Language classroom in Crawfordsville, for instance, students initiated a project to address issues they had experienced as Spanish-speaking students in an English-speaking community. They decided they wanted to share their experiences with younger limited-English proficient students through drama. They wrote a three-act play entitled Sueno Americano or American Dream, written in both Spanish and English. As the language arts teachers in the school attest, the laptops have made the writing process much more accessible, as students worked on the play at school and at home. The students shared their writing with their peers, posting each act to the school network where everyone could easily download it and make suggestions for revisions. They also decided to use their laptops to produce a DVD. By the end of the school year, the eighth graders had performed their play at a local elementary school, published a print booklet of the play, and premiered their movie.