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Dream Flight Simulator ‘Takes Off’ at Stewart

You might say the students at Stewart Elementary School are on a mission.  Since the January debut of the school’s state-of-the-art adventure-simulation lab, they’ve been called upon to stop the spread of a mysterious plague, determine whether an island is about to be destroyed by a volcano and prevent a time warp from altering the course of history — no small undertakings for anyone, let alone fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders.

But those are, in fact, the “missions” that serve as immersive learning opportunities within the adventure simulator, a converted classroom that looks and feels more like an Epcot attraction, with 16 iPad-equipped stations and a large flat-screen television where you’d otherwise expect to find a chalkboard.

Principal Dr. Gregory Egnor says that at STEM schools like Stewart — with their focus on collaboration and problem-solving — the future is now.

“It’s an opportunity for kids to experience this immersion as part of our curriculum,” he says. “Talking about having kids collaborate is one thing, but saying these opportunities exist in our curriculum is another. And that’s what we’re about as a STEM school.”

Egnor explains that even a mission ostensibly about the science of a volcano incorporates elements of civics and government, as the scenario calls on the students — who assume roles as Infinity Knights, an elite force dedicated to peace and justice — to virtually travel beneath the surface of an island, assess the potential for catastrophe and determine whether an evacuation is necessary.

“They all have tasks and roles to play,” Egnor says. “They take a virtual trip through the mission, and there’s always an outcome — success or failure. Successful missions rely heavily on good communication, collaboration, teamwork and creativity. They have to think on the fly.”

Egnor credits science teacher Brian Colgan for leading implementation of the simulation lab, which was made possible with a $20,000 grant that the district matched and exceeded. Colgan, who’s responsible for teaching his colleagues how to lead the missions, says that students have been enthusiastic, to say the least.

“The first words I hear from students after a completed mission are ‘That was awesome’ or ‘That was so cool’ and ‘When can we do it again?’ ” says Colgan, who’s been designated flight director of what’s come to be known as the IKS Buccaneer. And he’s just as excited about the whole thing as the students.

“This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as an educator,” Colgan says. “It’s awesome to see these students so highly engaged and working together in a positive manner while learning and creating lasting memories.”

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