December 2016 Community of Practice Meeting

The space between Christmas and New Years provides a rare reprieve from the standard whirlwind of life—which gives us a bit of time to write about our most recent Community of Practice meeting.  Earlier last week, moments before kicking off Winter Break, a swarm of forward-thinking Flight Directors, dreamers, space cadets, and administrators descended upon Shaler Area Elementary School for a four-hour session packed with discussions about all things related to immersive simulator-based education.

Welcome to the COP meeting

Here’s Mike Penn welcoming us to his domain

We started with about 30 minutes of meet and greet. At about 10:30 we started the meeting.  Everyone introduced themselves.  Of special interest were Andy Princener from the YMCA, Tracey Armant from the Grable Foundation, and a variety of leaders from Grove City, Frazier, and South Butler, and Sharpsville school districts—all of which are in the process of pursuing simulator installations of their own. We were also delighted to welcome Todd Lichtenwalter (a.k.a Admiral Sai) of the IKS Artemis Charger, who flew all the way from Venezuela to attend.

Todd presented about all of the incredible lessons, connections, and tools that he’s developed around his simulator program in Venezuela.   He talked for about an hour and he had everyone mesmerized.  He was great—and as any good admiral he did it all in full Star Trek uniform.
Behold, the mighty Admiral Sai

Behold, the mighty Admiral Sai

We had Bobby Gasowski, the mighty shipwright, in attendance to show everyone—especially the first-time attendees—how world-class simulators are built.

Bobby Gasowsky, Master Shipwright

Bobby Gasowsky, Master Shipwright

Mike Penn

Mike (left) explaining a crucial mission tactic, or possibly conducting an orchestra of ghosts (right).

The entire four hours was full of people talking, sharing and being a thriving community of practice.  A special thanks to everyone who took the time out of their busy days—especially that this hectic time of year—to attend this event.  The collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and friendships that emerged are what this Community of Practice is all about!

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Merry Christmas from Dream Flight Adventures

To all our friends, family, cadets, admirals, students, and Flight Directors across the universe, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!  It’s been a magical year, and we’re looking forward to even more magic in 2017.  May your ship’s windshields never frost over.

Merry Christmas!

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Frozen in Time

Alert!  In the middle of an epic mission, the IKS Artemis Charger was hit by a Denubian freeze ray and frozen in time!  Admiral Sai was the only one unaffected, so he leapt into action with his camera and documented the whole scene.

Mannequin Challenge:  Unlocked

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Explore! Mission Mobile Flying to new Heights

It’s been a while since we’ve posted news on our blog, but today we’re delighted to share a bit of news from the IKS Horizon… also known as the Mission Mobile at Explore! Children’s Museum in Washington DC.  The IKS Horizon was recently selected as a model program by the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology!


When Richard Culatta, former director of the Office of Educational Technology, hosted various Latin American directors of educational technology, the Explore! Children’s Museum team brought the Mission Mobile to them and they participated in a mission. They all loved the experience, and Richard Culatta later shared the Mission Mobile as an example of innovative practice in one of his presentations.  Congrats to everyone at Explore! for a job well done!

It’s a bit late for Giving Tuesday, but the Mission Mobile is running a donation campaign to bring their simulator adventures to more students than ever before—and to expand the museum’s other programming as well.  If you’d like to support their growth, please consider donating on their website.

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Keystones Technology Innovators Summit

This past week, Pennsylvania held a state-wide summit for its top innovators in education:  the Keystones Technology Innovators Summit (KTI).

The term STARS stands for: State Technology Advocates Redefining Schools. Keystones STARS are advocates and influencers within their school districts when it comes to teaching and learning with technology. Many Keystones have become district administrators and key decision makers in educational technology planning. The week-long Summit was designed to enrich and invigorate the skills and competencies of those attendees.

Principals throughout the state nominated key members of their district, who then went through a competitive selection process.  The top 100 nominations were selected for the five-day summit, which was held on the the campus of Shippensburg University.  Our very own Mike Penn and Debbie Reynolds were both chosen among this elite group!

Upon arrival, Mike had to prove his identity to ensure he wasn’t one of the many con-artists, lookalikes, and spies attempting to infiltrate the summit.  To do this, he passed through a rigorous series of tests on colors, shapes, and building blocks.


Mike’s tower wasn’t the sturdiest, and his evaluator began clicking her tongue as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead.  Things were looking grim for Mike, but in a moment of brilliance he made a comment about improved airflow through the gaps in the tower, along with a quiet mumble about eco-friendliness, and Mike soon found himself being handed a bright yellow lanyard and shepherded into the ranks of the KTI, where Debbie was waiting for him.  Debbie, of course, had no trouble passing through the initiation trials.


The KTI summit was packed from 7am until after 9pm all week long!  Mike had this to say about the experience:

The summit has been a really great experience based on the four pillars of Develop, Lead, Connect and Advocate for the effective use of technology in our schools. It has been really gratifying to spend time with other tech savvy educational leaders. Debbie and I have had some opportunities to tell folks about our simulators.  In every case, everyone that we have talked to about the simulators have been very impressed.

Mike also took the opportunity to set up a new Twitter account: @IKSTitanSim.  Be sure to check it out, along with @IKSHighlander.

Congrats to Mike and Debbie for representing DFA and their districts at the summit!

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YMCA Camps a Huge Success

This just in from Admiral Huckleberry—YMCA Dream Flight Camp completed at Harrison Middle School:

YMCA Camp Pano
From July 5th-July 8th the YMCA partnered with Dream Flight Adventures in the IKS Highlander to create 4 of the coolest field trips EVER! Over the course of the week, 120 kids from ages 5-14 were inducted into the ranks of the “Infinity Knights”. They flew 3 different missions that matched the theme of camp that week, all while under the watchful eye of Admiral Huckleberry and the on board computer.
YMCA Camp 1

Our Camp Voyager flew Contaminant on Tuesday, where they learned all about the ecosystem and the damage pollution does to the environment.

YMCA Camp 2
Camps Western and Elroy both shrunk to the size of a blood cell on Wednesday and flew Pandemic. In this mission they worked to fight ancient bacteria and learn all about the different organ systems in the Human Body.
YMCA Camp 3
On Thursday and Friday, Camp Cloverleaf fought off the dastardly Orion Pirates in Succession, where they learned to work together as a crew to accomplish to goal of saving the Oracle of Delphi and bringing Peace to the Universe!

YMCA Camp 4
At the end of every mission, the hardest part, was trying to get the campers to leave. We always had a couple stragglers begging to stay and come back the next day. Even our 5 and 6 year olds had no problem adapting to the technology, and if there was ever an issue, one of the older kids from the crew would rush over and work with the younger Infinity Knight to get all emergencies solved!

YMCA Camp 5

FROM THE YMCA: “We couldn’t be more thrilled that we were able to have this partnership with Dream Flight, and cant wait till we are able to return! I have never seen the kids, or even the Staff, so excited after a trip. Thank you Dream Flight Adventures for truly inspiring our kids to think and dream!”

YMCA Camp Group

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Welcome our newest Flight Director — Debbie Reynolds, a.k.a. Admiral Northgate

Debbie-ReynoldsWe’re delighted to welcome Debbie Reynolds (a.k.a. Admiral Northgate) to our ranks as our newest Flight Director.  Debbie will command the helm of the IKS Highlander in Baldwin-Whitehall School District.  She will be taking over for Admiral Huckleberry (Mike Kaleta).

Debbie is a Texan that ended up in Pittsburgh almost 10 years ago via Chicago, Philly, Minneapolis, and Jacksonville first. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1986 with a degree in Biology and a double minor in Life/Earth Science and Forestry. She has been teaching since 1986 with the exception of time during her job relocations. Debbie and her husband Mike have been married for 27 years and they have three children, Matt-25, Bobby-24 and Kelly-21.

Debbie is starting her 9th year in the Baldwin-Whitehall School District and just finished her first year as a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Harrison Middle School. Previously, she was the Gifted Coordinator at Baldwin High School. Debbie is very passionate about STEM and recently completed her Masters in Curriculum and Instruction with a STEM emphasis. She currently serves on the district’s STEM Leadership team, and she is super excited to be working with the IKS Highlander and integrating the program into all areas of her curriculum.

We’re super excited to have her aboard, and we can’t wait to hear how her missions with the Highlander go.  Welcome aboard, Debbie!

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YMCA Dream Flight Adventures Camps at the IKS Highlander

We’ve mentioned this briefly before, but the summer is upon us and we don’t want anyone to miss out on the exciting news:  the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is partnering with Baldwin-Whitehall School District to offer some incredible summer camps at the IKS Highlander Dream Flight Adventures simulator.

Summer day camps will run for four weeks, beginning on June 27th and lasting through July 22nd.

Each week, a new mission will be run:  Pandemic, Maelstrom, Contaminant, and Succession.

If you or someone you know is looking for an educational adventure of a lifetime, head on over to the YMCA’s website to sign up.  Otherwise, you’ll just have to enjoy the missions vicariously via this blog.  We’ll be sure to post updates about these adventures throughout the summer!

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

This just in:  the IKS Highlander was recently featured in an article in the Tribune-Review.


The simulator classroom was showcased to parents and the community recently during a Remake Learning event at Harrison Middle School.


Here’s a snippet from the article:

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.


Check out the full article.

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Remaking Learning at the IKS Titan

Last week, Shaler Area Elementary School hosted a Remake Learning event and the Simulator was center stage along with the school’s STEM program for the primary schools and their “Engin” program.


This is Tim Bottegal.  He is a very tech savvy 6th grader.  Here he is helping out with running the simulator at the Remake Learning event while Mike was out taking to visitors about the Simulator.  He’s a fantastic Flight Director in training.


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