Mission simulator offers Penn Hills students lessons in teamwork, independence

Over the past few weeks Jamie Martines, a reporter at the Tribune-Review, paid several of our simulators in the Pittsburgh area a visit.  Check out the great article she wrote about us!

Fifteen crew members were at their stations aboard the IKS Dreamcatcher.

Their mission: Locate and disarm the sunlight inhibitor device, a weapon designed by enemy forces to destroy the sun and ultimately, Earth.

“Captain, do I have your permission to light the turbo boosters?” asked Mission Control.

Capt. Rohan Amin stood on the bridge in his glow-in-the-dark Nike Pittsburgh shirt, gazing into space. He ordered takeoff, and his crew jumped into action. First and second officers buzzed around, working with engineers to maintain the craft. The doctor distributed medicine. Hackers and cybersecurity officers kept the ship safe from virtual intruders.

Within an hour, the crew visited all seven continents, met with astronomers and historians and discussed global history.

They also saved the world. All in a day’s work for Amin and his fourth-grade classmates at Penn Hills Elementary School.

The students were participating in the school’s flight simulator program. It’s an interactive learning experience designed to give students a chance to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world, and this particular mission matches the content they’ve been studying in their social studies class.

The program also is intended to help the students develop teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills.

Young students learn best when they’re immersed in real-life situations, said David Carbonara, assistant professor of instructional technology at the School of Education at Duquesne University. This type of experience makes learning more meaningful and helps keep students engaged. And with the teacher physically behind a wall, observing the students using a video camera, students learn to work with each other instead of relying on the teacher as the source of all the information. Having a title such as “Captain” or “Doctor” gives a student even more ownership over the learning experience.

“It helps to engage them more as a team,” said Jamie Harris, teacher at Penn Hills. In her role as flight director, she runs all of the school’s simulator missions. “They’re looking at this as the role you are assuming, and this is a role you need to do.”

As flight director, [Harris] has the ability to change the difficulty of the mission to match the students’ learning needs. That flexibility makes the program accessible for every student in the school, not just the high achievers. It also allows her to challenge students who could use an extra push, or give others a chance to shine. But that doesn’t mean the missions are a break from work.

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