Pittsburgh students will soon have access to four classroom learning simulators. What makes these simulators special, says Gary Gardiner, whose company installs the classrooms, is not just the embedded iPads each student gets to control. And it’s not the elaborate challenges that students solve, which range from “Pandemic,” where they shrink to a microscopic size and travel inside the bloodstream of a diplomat, to “Vesuvius,” where students are must tell residents of a town on top of a volcano whether the volcano is about to erupt.

What really makes them special, Gardinar says, is the way this new technology enables good old-fashioned teamwork.

“You can’t single handedly carry the weight.” Gardinar says. “You have to work together.”

Educators say that in order to live and work in the world of the future, today’s students will need to be able to engage in systems thinking and work on complex challenges as part of a team.

That’s exactly the kind of work these learning environments promote. The students each take on a role and must work together to solve the missions.

“No teacher is holding their hands,” says Michael Penn, who teaches at Shaler Area Elementary School in Glenshaw, just outside of Pittsburgh and is lucky enough to play flight director at his school’s IKS Titan. The Titan was the region’s first such interactive learning environment that opened last year.  The technology has been a learning experience for educators as well, Penn says. “It’s been a real challenge to let go and let kids learn and let kids choose what they’re excited about and choose the direction of things.”

Part video game and part classroom, the simulator is specifically designed to build kids’ interest in STEAM subjects and to help hone teamwork, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills

That’s why with help from the Grable Foundation this program is expanding. Pittsburgh will soon be home to three additional classroom simulators, to be installed at Carnegie Museum of Natural HistoryBaldwin-Whitehall Middle School, and the Penn Hills Elementary Center.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has more:

The simulations are designed according to what each school district’s teachers and administrators want and need, he said. For example, Penn Hills educators wanted software that will help students read, interpret what they read and draw inferences from different authors. The Penn Hills Dream Flight simulations will study the Earth, its continents, rotations and the phases of the moon.

At the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, teachers are interested in simulators that involve ecology, showing how one change in the ecosystem causes other changes, Mr. Gardiner said.

Districts will open up their simulators to students from other schools in their districts and they plan to create an app development course that would allow high school students to create Dream Flight missions for their peers.

Watch the video for an up-close look at how this technology works. And if you’re in the Pittsburgh region, come see for yourself. The simulator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be open to the public.