ShareThis Page

Simulator takes Baldwin-Whitehall students on a learning adventure

| Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 12:46 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Eighth-graders work together during a demonstration of the new IKS: Highlander simulator at J. E. Harrison Middle School on Thursday, May 7, 2015.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Baldwin-Whitehall School District Superintendent Randal Lutz stands outside the new IKS: Highlander simulator with eighth-graders Olivia Brophy and Ben Marsteller prior to a ribbon cutting and mission launch at J. E. Harrison Middle School on Thursday, May 7, 2015.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Eighth-graders Logan Snyder (left) and Mikayla Davic work as engineers during a demonstration for the new IKS: Highlander simulator at J. E. Harrison Middle School on Thursday, May 7, 2015.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Eighth-graders work together during a demonstration of the new IKS: Highlander simulator at J. E. Harrison Middle School on Thursday, May 7, 2015.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
An eighth-grader works as a doctor during a demonstration of the new IKS: Highlander simulator at J. E. Harrison Middle School on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

There's a plague in the remote city of Sudura. Fish have disappeared, and food is nearly gone.

Enter IKS Highlander, an interactive vessel; the captain and crew have the power to go underwater and find the cause of the plague and save the town.

The mission requires teamwork from 15 students at J.E. Harrison Middle School in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, who must work together in the life-size, video-game-style classroom, with florescent lights, tiered seating and iPads built into each station to save the town.

“It's a whole new level of learning,” said eighth-grader Olivia Brophy, 13. “It's learning, but it's fun learning, and kids want to do it. It's an amazing experience.”

The IKS Highlander, a hands-on learning space, opened last Thursday at Harrison. The room is one of six life-size simulators from education-technology firm Dream Flight Adventures that takes students on missions through imaginative adventures — sometimes, with a twist, like “The Magic School Bus.”

“The whole idea is that one fantastic vehicle can take the kids anywhere they can imagine — into outer space and under the ocean waters,” said Gary Gardiner, creative director for Dream Flight Adventures, who came up with the idea for the life-size simulators after attending space camp as a fifth-grader. He built the first prototype in his home. Then, he debuted the idea with a classroom simulator in the Shaler Area School District.

“When the kids walk into these missions, they become the captain and crew of these vessels,” Gardiner said. “Our main goal is for the kids to come out cheering in the end and also to learn something.”

Baldwin-Whitehall received a $50,000 grant from the Grable Foundation for the simulator. The district funded a portion of the project.

A simulator also was built at the Penn Hills Elementary Center. Others are located in Lower Burrell and Washington, D.C., with one being constructed in Venezuela, Gardiner said.

Baldwin-Whitehall's classroom simulator is the biggest yet, with subwoofers in the floors so the room vibrates, and students get a 3D experience. The simulator was built in a former teacher work area.

A vacant classroom next door will be turned into a Mission Ops lab, where teachers can spend weeks teaching students about the topics before entering the simulator, director of programs Darlene DeFilippo said.

While Dream Flight Adventures already has several missions, “Contaminant,” the underwater mission to save Sudura, was created with Harrison Middle School in mind.

It adds another component to the school's “Wonders of Water” interdisciplinary theme, where students already raise trout in the classrooms to release them into a creek and learn about drainage issues at the Wingfield Pines Conservation Area.

“Water is so global. If you read anything in science journals, water is going to be the topics of the future because it's not only an economic issue, it's a political issue, it's social issues. Everything we do is surrounded by water,” DeFilippo said.

The hope is for all eighth-graders to go through the mission this school year, DeFilippo said. Next year, students in the sixth through eighth grades will begin to use the classroom, she said.

Students at Harrison are clamoring about the IKS Highlander and can't wait for their turn, Brophy said.

“It blurs the lines between education and entertainment,” Principal Michael Wetmiller said. “It's like walking into Disney, but it all ties back into learning.”

Students are learning about the ecosystem, food chains and contamination through the mission.

“It's not just about the mission. It's about teamwork,” Wetmiller said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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.