In Tyson Schoeber’s class at Nootka Elementary School in Vancouver, 15 fourth through seventh graders struggle to read, write or do math at a level near that of their peers in other classes. Ten-year-olds have entered Schoeber’s program, called THRIVE, virtually unable to read independently (see “One Man’s Mission to Save Struggling Students”). Yet Schoeber brings this group of students, all of whom have dyslexia or other learning disabilities, far above the grade in one unusual and challenging subject: filmmaking.

For the past four years, his students have participated in the Canadian portion of the Panasonic Kid Witness News contest, an international student filmmaking competition. Together, the kids choose and research important environmental stories, write the scripts, interview experts, narrate, create illustrations of scientific concepts, design costumes, make props, act, film and edit. A couple of years ago, a supportive associate superintendent with the Vancouver school board provided the funding to purchase a ceiling mounted LCD projector and big-screen for the students’ extensive technical work.

Filmmaking draws the kids into science—and out into the field, where they interact with decision-makers and scientists. It provides practice in reading and writing. It also gives them a huge sense of accomplishment, especially since the finished products have won major awards. A film the class created called "I Am Still Creek" that detailed the process of daylighting a long-buried stream, was deemed “Best Documentary” in 2009. Another, "LEEDing the Olympics," chronicling Vancouver’s attempt to build environmentally friendly venues for the 2010 Winter Olympics, captured the “Best News” category the following year.

And this month, the students learned they earned two awards for their most recent film, “Poisoning the World,” about the effects of rat poison overuse on owls and urban wildlife. The movie won the "Best Documentary" and "Best Video" categories of the contest, boosting the film to the international level of the competition. “That's the best we've ever done!” Schoeber says. This latest victory shows that children who do not score well on standardized tests can nevertheless make significant contributions to our society through perseverance and hard work. Watch these films to appreciate the talents and efforts of these children—and to learn something new and important about the world.