George Lucas Educational Foundation

EAST -- A Way Forward: Tech Inspires Self-Directed Learning

Students in the Environmental and Spatial Technology program, at Horace Mann Magnet Middle School, in Little Rock, Arkansas, connect with nature through projects that serve their community.
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EAST -- A Way Forward: Tech Inspires Self-Directed Learning

You see now, you could draw a little mouse.

Narrator: Most schools have computer labs where students come a few periods a week to do homework and polish their digital skills. But EAST labs are different. EAST stands for environment and spatial technology and in labs like this one at Horace Mann Middle School in Little Rock, Arkansas, students spend five periods a week and countless hours after school designing buildings.

If you put a door, I guess, right here.

Narrator: Making films.

Play it from there.

Narrator: And dreaming up ambitious projects that they see through to fruition.

I made a model based on a greenhouse outside.

Rick: I tell them the first day, this is not a computer class, this is a problem solving class in which you take a community service project that may be very well an idea and you make it a reality. Not pie in the sky, make it happen. Believe that you can do it, and that really opens a lot of doors for these kids.

Narrator: To participate in the nonprofit EAST initiative, schools need to raise about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, which covers the cost of technology tools and ongoing teacher training.

Turn it to the side so like they can look.

Narrator: Many EAST projects have an environmental theme.

Adiba: Our project is the bird sanctuary project and students can come out during their lunchtime and during their class time to observe the birds.

We can just like move it down, can't we?


Adiba: The average teenager only goes outside twenty minutes a week, and this project hopefully will help kids learn about nature and appreciate the birds [inaudible].

Rick: I don't select the projects for them. They buy into those projects because they believe in them.

We contacted the people who own the rights--

Rick: They want to make a difference. They have been told for the past ten, twelve years that, "You're too little, you're too young, you can't do it." And then all of a sudden, you say, "Yes, you can do it. Give me a plan, find the money." And these kids are very inventive about it and they become very passionate about what their cause is.

Justin: We're actually designing a stadium to go out where our football field is. Hopefully, they'll actually come up with enough money to build it. Right now, it's gonna cost really expensive, 'cause we've come up to where it's gonna be turf versus grass. And then the popcorn and everything.


Popcorn, that's important.

To raise money for the school.


Narrator: One project began as an effort to document a dark chapter in American history.

Rick: The Japanese American internment project started out as a very simple idea and the idea was to find the two camps that existed in south Arkansas and GPS them.

Student: This is the camp. All around it are cotton fields. All I'm trying to do is put things on a map so people can tell there's history lying just so far away, just that far.

Rick: What ultimately happened is, these kids became so passionate about what had occurred that they wanted to make the citizens of Arkansas aware of what had happened in their own backyard. So it became a documentary film. That documentary film came about because they figured out a way to go to California and interview Japanese Americans.

Man: You know, like I always say, the wound has healed but the scar remains. And it remains as a reminder that this should never, ever happen again.

Narrator: More than thirteen hundred copies of the student film have been distributed worldwide, and the production led to the creation of a memorial garden at the school.

Lauren: It made me more serious about what changes kids can do and that we can actually make an impact, and people will listen to us.

Teacher: What we're looking for now is ideas from students on how--

Narrator: Students also make an impact on their community through service learning projects. Working with the local Audubon Society, Mann students surveyed the Fourche Creek watershed adjacent to their school.

Rick: The number one goal of this particular project would be to really get students to tune in to their environment, where we're able to literally take down the four walls of the science classroom and put students out in the field, where they're doing real world data collection.

Nineteen point nine.

Neelam: We are testing the water quality for dissolved oxygen, turbidity, fluorite and a coupla other things.

Student: The temperature in the air is twenty-nine point nine. Temperature in the water, about twenty-one point six.

Mary: So many of the students that we work with in rural, urban and suburban areas do not get outside. Their only knowledge of nature is based on television and so it's a very superficial. Sometimes when we go out, they think they're gonna see monkeys, and they will say things like, "I've never had my tennis shoes off concrete," or "I didn't know birds made sound," which to me is such a travesty, because Arkansas is an incredibly blessed state.

Neelam: Well, I like learning about the environment because it's something that has a lot to do with our lives and the way we live. And I hope to become a pediatric radiologist, and if that doesn't work out, I was thinking about being an environmentalist.

Narrator: Horace Mann students presented a video of the Fourche Creek project and showed off their other work at the annual EAST conference, where more than two thousand students and facilitators from around the county come to attend workshops...

-- use a drawing program, you should know what layers are--

Narrator: Present projects and compete for awards.

Mary: We do have a medallion for each one of the finalist winners to symbolize and remind them of the environment that they have worked to protect.

Narrator: It's a rock concert atmosphere in which hard work, imagination and community service are celebrated.

David: The critical element of EAST is the subset of skills that EAST kids are developing as a result of their projects. It's not to say their projects aren't important. They are very important, but the skills are absolutely primary and these are the skills that are today being called twenty first century skills. You look at the communication skills, at how personable these kids are, how well they interact with grown ups.

Around here is La Haimo [ph?] and that site is a little warmer as well.

David: Their problem solving skills, tolerance for ambiguity, their sense of being able to do things that they didn't even know where possible, those are amazingly important skills, and that to me is the underpinning of this whole program. When kids leave EAST, they are prepared for the world.

Rick: What does it feel like to be out like this?


Very cool.

Rick: Think this is a place that you could learn?

All: Yes.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Jeff Woodward


  • Kris Welch

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Horace Mann Arts and Science Magnet Middle School
  • Little Rock School District
  • Japanese American National Museum

Watch more videos in the EAST series:

  • EAST -- A Way Forward: Tech Inspires Self-Directed Learning

    Students in the Environmental and Spatial Technology program, in Little Rock, Arkansas, connect with nature through projects that serve their community.

  • An Old-School Coach Becomes a Facilitator for EAST

    A teacher finds new inspiration for a different way of teaching though the Environmental and Spatial Technology Initiative.

  • Student Filmmakers Find a Voice Through EAST

    Middle-school students make sense of local history while creating an award-winning documentary in an Environmental and Spatial Technology Initiative class.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Ali Syed's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What an amazing experiment. I hope this idea spreads.

Diana Sewell's picture

True learning taking place for each student...will definitely spread the word to my peers.

mawheba safey eldin's picture

The EAST Project is a very inspiring idea, especially that it shows you how students can be motivated to contribute their efforts in something real. The students learn new skills that will really help them in their real life endeavors.

Hala Tewfik's picture

Ongoing teacher training is the key to all that progress. Students are already handling all the devices they need for real life experiences, but unfortunately,very few teachers are speaking the same language as their students. When it comes to technology, we, teachers, are far behind our students.

Heba's picture
School Deputy at AlHod School

After seeing this video, I certainly believe that these students are prepared for the world. The key is not just only using technology but taking the stuff they have learnt somewhere else and applying it. A class without walls

Hoda Matar's picture

This is how we prepare students for 21 century competencies. teachers have to be aware of an important point , they are preparing their students for a world different than the one they were learning in.

Caren's picture

What an amazing project! This is such an awesome way to integrate technology, Science, and current environmental topics with real life skills. What an innovative way to teach!

Rain's picture

This is a very inspiring and good video. It is a pity that it is quite expensive but I think there are a lot of people who would like to give money to this project. Once I read about Soichiro Honda. I found this book at shared files SE . To start his business he needed a lump sum of money but he didn't give up his idea. He decided to ask several thousand people to give him little money. In such a way he started his first business. It seems to me that parents will be glad to pay $500 a year so that their child has an opportunity to be involved in such activity.
Can you imagine how clever and experienced these children will be when they leave school? I'd love to organize such a project in some school in my town.

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