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No books, no problem for North Hills teachers

| Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

As summer vacation winds down, teachers Jennifer DiPasquale and Jackie Karenbauer know they'll be starting over when a fresh batch of ninth-graders at North Hills Senior High School enter their classrooms in late August.

They'll adjust their curriculum to suit students' needs, but they'll keep teaching biology as they have for the past five years – without textbooks. Instead, their students will use Apple iPad tablets and MacBook computers.

“They like it. They embrace it,” said DiPasquale, 39, of Hampton Township. “They say the class is challenging but fun.”

The two women and Mark Buccilli, a special-education instructor, earned the Carnegie Science Award in the high school educator category from the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh recently for their innovative teaching. Buccilli teaches science while concentrating on improving his students' reading and organizational skills.

“This makes them better learners first,” DiPasquale said.

Since earning her teacher National Board Certification, Karenbauer, 46, of South Butler, said, she always is making changes. More recently, she and her colleagues have made changes to fit the new state Keystone Biology Exam. Her students had a 75 percent passing rate this past year, she said.

“The classes are different from fall to the spring,” she said. “We're always making it better. It's mix-and-match teaching to suit our kids.”

During the school year, students study biochemistry, ecology, energy in systems, evolution and genetics. The topic might be photosynthesis, but students work on different aspects of the subject matter at their own rate. This permits more individualized learning and time for the teachers to assist students with any difficult portions of study.

The course content is self-designed, said DiPasquale, who has been with the district for 14 years. Both teachers supplement classroom instruction with videos that students make.

“What we create, we remember,” said Karenbauer, a 19-year veteran educator.

In 2010, the women's text-free approach to teaching earned them an innovation award from blendedschools.net.

“The technology allows us to supply content to students during class, as well as outside of class,” DiPasquale said.

She found students took more responsibility in their own learning.

“They are excited when they are able to create projects displaying their content knowledge,” Karenbauer said. “Students come in the mornings to do extra work, and they are willing to come to our classrooms after they eat lunch to add extras to their projects.”

Best of all for any teacher, Karenbauer said, she had heard students talking about biology to other students outside of their classroom.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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