Classroom-size simulator to provide educational adventures at J.E. Harrison Middle School
Travel to an interstellar colony to help keep the peace during a conflict, much like the American Revolution. Or, take a journey through the human body on a shrunken vessel and help stop a pandemic.
The 900 students at J.E. Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District will have a unique opportunity this fall to partake in hands-on, interactive, educational learning experiences through a classroom-sized simulator that will be constructed at their school.
“This is like Disney World brought to a school,” Principal Michael Wetmiller said.
Harrison Middle School, the new Penn Hills Elementary Center and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History all were selected to receive a grant from the Grable Foundation to partner with education-technology firm Dream Flight Adventures, where they each will have a simulator built in their buildings to take students on missions through real-life, imaginative adventures — sometimes, with a twist, think: the Magic School Bus.
“This magic bus takes kids on an incredible adventure to anywhere they want to go,” said Gary Gardiner, creator of Dream Flight Adventures, who came up with the idea for his company as a fifth-grader attending space camp. Dream Flight Adventures opened in 2011 and the first classroom simulator was built in the Shaler Area School District, launching last March.
The classrooms have tiered level seating, and each student is given an iPad at his or her workstation, where they sit in front of a large viewing screen, working together to complete a mission — like helping to stop a pandemic, Wetmiller said.
“At every station, the kid has a different job. You're going to have a pilot, a navigator, an engineer, a doctor,” Wetmiller said.
The students work together on jobs, like entering the human body, each with an academic focus. The missions align with state curriculum standards.
“If you attack the wrong thing, like if you attack the white blood cells, you're going to lose the game, but then you learn how white blood cells work from doing it,” Wetmiller said.
“This is a real life experience,” said Michael Kaleta, science department chair at Harrison Middle School. “The choices that the kids make individually will affect the outcome of the simulation and will affect the outcome of what the other jobs will have to do.”
Each mission often has an ethical decision that the students will face.
“Yes, they're doing the science behind it, but then there's that point in the mission where the kids will have to make a decision that they know is going to affect people in a certain way,” Kaleta said.
Eight missions already are available, Gardiner said.
The staff in Baldwin-Whitehall, though, is creating its own, tied to the school's STEM, or science, technology, English and math, focus, and Wonders of Water project that ties in all those subjects for students in grades six to eight.
“We really want to make it an academic focus, but expose them to real-world experiences,” Baldwin-Whitehall director of programs Darlene DeFilippo said. “It's like the cherry on top. It brings everything full circle.”
A teacher planning room at Harrison is being transformed into the simulation space. The area likely will include a debriefing space, a control area for the teacher and 17 stations for students.
Yet, nothing is finalized as construction has yet to begin. The hope is to open the simulation room at the start of the 2014-15 school year, Wetmiller said.
“The wheels are still turning in here,” Kaleta said.
Having a simulator in each quadrant of the Pittsburgh region — north, south, east and central — is important, Gardiner said, as requests have been coming in from across the country.
Baldwin-Whitehall stood out for the project because of the excitement of district leaders to partake in the initiative, Gardiner said.
“It's a unique experience,” Kaleta said. “It's like you take a student and drop them off in the middle of a movie and they have to write the end of the script.”
After visiting the Shaler facility, Wetmiller said, none of the descriptions he heard did it justice.
“All this talk, looking at the drawings, reading the descriptions, did not set the expectation high enough for what it was when I walked in. When I walked in, it was a ‘Wow' factor,” he said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Students serving as representatives to West Jefferson Hills board
- Whitehall property owners sound off on storm water fee
- Glass Run Road in Baldwin to remain closed through December
- Baldwin basketball players stand up for coach at school board meeting
- West Jefferson Hills school officials analyze state scores
- Book highlights Brentwood’s 100-year history
- Medic Rescue South to stuff ambulance with toys at Caste fest