Thursday, September 24, 2009

Education's Trapdoor

“You can not drop out of school and just drop into a good job.”

- President Obama

Would we notice if two large high schools disappeared? Would we notice if it happened every school day?

We recently viewed President Obama address students across the nation through a live telecast at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. His message reinforced what high school teachers have been lecturing to students for years. We have high hopes for you. Take responsibility for your own education. Put forth your best effort. Graduate – don’t drop out. And it’s not just your future, but also the future of our nation that is at stake.

Is it too cynical to worry that perhaps students only half-heard the words of another adult they mistakenly believe doesn’t get it? Is it too much to hope that the next iPod confiscated has a copy of this speech and not just a pirated copy of Super Bad?

In an August 2009 brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education, it is reported that every school day sees more than 7,000 students become dropouts. That’s the equivalent of two large high schools gone for good. Apparently, our lectures have gone unheard. Did they hear the President’s speech?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pioneers in Virtual Learning Environments - Chesapeake High School

“We are not teaching technology. We are using technology to engage students in the curriculum.”

- H. Edward Parker,

School Board Vice President of Baltimore County Public Schools

This fall students of Chesapeake High School will have the opportunity to virtually travel the region of Mount St. Helen in a vehicle that can morph from a car to an aircraft to a boat to solve problems in scenarios created by their teachers.

New to the school will be the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Lab. It’s modeled after the visualization facility at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). The VLE lab will have 10 high definition 72-inch TV monitors arranged in two 5-screen semi circles. A custom designed digital switch and touch panel controller will allow students to interface with what they see on screen. The adjoining classroom will house 30 workstations that will run the same scenarios so lessons can be applied to an entire class or for individual students.

APL developed and support the software used in the VLE lab. The Johns Hopkins’ Center for Technology in Education also supports the project by helping Chesapeake teachers develop curriculum and scenarios for the lab.

“We’re providing a very compelling environment to excite students about math and science,” says Jim Miller, APL’s senior software engineer for the project. “It’s a different way for them to learn, and for teachers to present math and science concepts.”

Like many online 3-D games and simulations, students will be able to explore their virtual environment to meet characters and encounter challenges. Mount St. Helen was chosen to be the model for the geographically accurate virtual environment because its ecosystem has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. It’s a living lab suitable in a virtual environment to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts in schools across the nation. In one scenario, students must investigate and determine why fish in a lake are dying.

Teachers are also able to integrate documents, photographs, and videos into the learning modules.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has plans to develop additional virtual worlds, like the lunar South Pole. And there are plans to include content for Social Studies and English courses.

As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Rachel Martinez, a 16-year-old junior, states, “There’s endless opportunity here.”

Also, Christina Robertson, a social studies teacher, describes the new lab as absolutely fantastic. “I’ve never seen,” she said, “anything like this outside of movies, or maybe Epcot.” She is looking forward to using the VLE lab for her class.

Aren’t we all?

Gencer, A. (2009, September 1). Lab at Chesapeake High School designed to bring students into real world. Retrieved September 5, 2009 from,0,1222470.story

Marren, K., Calder, K., and Peloff, D. (2009, August 21). APL develops virtual learning software for Baltimore County Public Schools. John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory news release. Retrieved September 5, 2009 from

Prabhu, M.T. (2009 August 24). Virtual 3-D labs aims to stimulate learning.eSchoolnews. Retrieved September 5, 2009 from

Spotlights: Virtual learning environment launched at Chesapeake High School. (2009, August 12). Baltimore County Public Schools news. Retrieved September 5, 2009 from