Examples: Students in Union City make intense use of technology to research and present their findings. They take "virtual" field trips by way of the Internet. One group of math students has even created a Web site to teach younger students pre-algebra and geometry. And the district is trying to find the funds to outfit every student with a laptop or handheld, which would make Union City's kids the most wired in the country.

Teacher Sakoutis' home was wired by the school system so that she can communicate with students after hours. On many evenings, her charges are online with finished assignments and questions. "Kids need to see this is so much a part of their everyday life," Sakoutis says. "Like opening the refrigerator."

Meanwhile in some of Chicago's poorest Southside schools, a partnership with the University of Chicago has equipped teachers not to teach technology, but to teach using technology. The Chicago Public Schools-University of Chicago Internet Project not only works with teachers to develop an online library of research materials, but also created a set of Web-based lessons and projects using the art, artifacts, and research of Chicago's renowned Art Institute and Field Museum of Natural History. Students and teachers have access at any time to the museums' resources, without going outside the classroom for a field trip.

And at New Technology High School in Napa, California, where almost half the students come from communities outside Napa, students present projects throughout the year to show what they've learned - everything from Web sites with original graphics to PowerPoint presentations with original digital photography and text. Deadlines for projects are sometimes deceptively far away, forcing students to develop time-management skills.

Why: Businesses want workers who can manage their time and who have the self-motivation and creative ability to solve problems on their own. Students accustomed to reading and regurgitating don't develop these independent thinking skills.
Examples: Each High Tech High student is part of an independent study group, a different one each school term. The only assignment is a long-term project that must be complete at term's end. "If you're responsible and manage your time, it's great; it just depends on how motivated you are," says Adrian Gardner, a sophomore at the San Diego charter school. "You aren't able to procrastinate."

Meanwhile, at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, or the MET, a state charter school in Providence, Rhode Island, each student's curriculum is entirely independent of the other students. Students, one-quarter of whom are drawn from towns and rural areas across the state, formulate a learning plan at the beginning of each quarter, in conference with their parents and counselors, to make sure they are proceeding toward specific learning goals. They're able to pursue their own interests through independent projects, with the help of mentors in their chosen fields, and then display their new-found knowledge through written reports and presentations.