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Simulator brings excitement into J.E. Harrison Middle School classroom in Whitehall

| Wednesday, May 18, 2016, 9:42 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Curran Ripy, 11, (front) explores the IKS Highlander simulator along with brother Wesley Ripy, 13, and mother, Quy Ngyen during a celebration of Remake Learning Days and the one-year anniverary of the IKS Highlander at J.E. Harrison Middle School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. The brothers, both of Baldwin Borough, attend cyber school. Remake Learning Days, held May 9—15, featured hands-on activities and events throughout the region to highlight Pittsburgh as a city dedicated to innovative teaching and learning.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Eighth-graders Nabin Pokhrel (left) and Angela Jesionowski explore the IKS Highlander during a celebration of Remake Learning Days and the one-year anniverary of the IKS Highlander at J.E. Harrison Middle School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Remake Learning Days, held May 9—15, featured hands-on activities and events throughout the region to highlight Pittsburgh as a city dedicated to innovative teaching and learning.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Eighth-graders Nabin Pokhrel explores the IKS Highlander during a celebration of Remake Learning Days and the one-year anniverary of the IKS Highlander at J.E. Harrison Middle School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Remake Learning Days, held May 9—15, featured hands-on activities and events throughout the region to highlight Pittsburgh as a city dedicated to innovative teaching and learning.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
People explore the IKS Highlander during a celebration of Remake Learning Days and the one-year anniverary of the IKS Highlander at J.E. Harrison Middle School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Remake Learning Days, held May 9—15, featured hands-on activities and events throughout the region to highlight Pittsburgh as a city dedicated to innovative teaching and learning.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Eighth-graders Nabin Pokhrel (front), Angela Jesionowski (back left) and Connie Wu stand near the rain barrel they and seven other classmates helped make inside the Mission Ops learning lab during a celebration of Remake Learning Days and the one-year anniversary of the IKS Highlander simulator at J.E. Harrison Middle School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Remake Learning Days, held May 9—15, featured hands-on activities and events throughout the region to highlight Pittsburgh as a city dedicated to innovative teaching and learning.

When Angela Jesionowski arrived home from school, she never wanted to talk about her day.

Then came eighth grade and the opening of the IKS Highlander life-size, video-game-style classroom at J.E. Harrison Middle School — a fun place to learn for Jesionowski, where she made friends, collaborated with peers and did something she was interested in.

Now, Jesionowski can't stop talking about school, according to her mother, Tina, of Baldwin Borough.

“She tells her 11-year-old sister, Sarah, all about it and now she can't wait to get here,” Tina Jesionowski said. “Leaving Harrison next year, her only regret is that she doesn't get to use this anymore.”

The doors of the IKS Highlander opened one year ago and the room, along with a partnering Mission Ops lab, were incorporated into classroom learning for all 947 Harrison students in 2015-16.

The room was showcased to parents and the community last week during a Remake Learning event at Harrison.

Baldwin-Whitehall received a grant from the Grable Foundation to fund a portion of the Dream Flight Adventures-based simulator classroom, complete with fluorescent lights, tiered seating and iPads built into each station.

The room is meant to take students on imaginative adventures while teaching them about health, science, English language arts and history. But it's more than just a game.

“One of the fears of something like this is that it's like a Kennywood ride. The kids come and they love it but how do you connect it with education? Our teachers have done a wonderful job of that,” Principal Jill Fleming-Salopek said.

The Mission Ops lab serves as the connector between the simulator and classroom learning.

This year, Baldwin-Whitehall paired with several people to bring extra learning opportunities into the classroom through the Mission Ops and IKS Highlander spaces.

A Baldwin High School graduate and Duquesne University pharmacy student taught a five-week session in March, when students became junior pharmacists and learned what it is like to work at a hospital, choose the appropriate medication for a patient and determine the right dosage.

Sled dogs were brought in to give students a real-life example of what they were reading about in “Call of Wild.”

“There's so much going on,” STEM teacher Michael Kaleta said. “They get immersion learning.”

Students are required to fill out an application for a job before they go on a mission inside the IKS Highlander. Inside the room, teamwork is required to complete a mission, Kaleta said.

“I've seen a lot of excitement, not just in the faces of the students, but in the teachers and parents, as well,” Fleming-Salopek said.

Dena Walzl, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Harrison, used the simulator to help English-language learners make connections between words and situations. It allows them to see an application of the words they're learning, she said.

“They're making a connection,” Walzl said.

Kaleta said he plans to expand on learning from the space in the future. He would like to bring Baldwin High School students in to pair with the middle schoolers in the classroom and has many other ideas of how to use the classroom space for education.

“We've opened the doors to a new way of learning,” Kaleta said.

The room is fun for the students and it makes them want to learn, their teachers said.

“Go check out this room. It's like Disney,” Kaleta said, as a handful of children walked into the school last week.

Nabin Pokhrel, 15, an eighth-grader, said he was “amazed at the sound and technology” in the IKS Highlander and “how it connected with our education process.”

“Hands-on is much better than learning things in a book,” he said.

“I loved it,” Angela Jesionowski, 14, said. “It's like your favorite video game came to life.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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