SHALER TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- From outer space to a lifesaving mission inside a human body, students in the Shaler Area School District are diving into virtual environments.
"Your mission today is to go into the human body of a delegate who is working on a peace treaty."
Teacher Michael Penn challenges his class at Shaler Area Elementary School with an imaginary, life-and-death scenario.
Young team members pass through the "air lock" and into the realm of "Dream Flight Adventures."
"An epidemic is spreading," the teacher explains, "and it's reaching pandemic proportions. They have to figure out what's causing this virus, why it's spreading, and how to stop it."
The interactive learning environment is modeled after the Christa McCauliffe Space Center in Utah. Assistant superintendent Kara Eckert says the new simulator, funded by the Grable Foundation, is the first of its kind in a school.
"We'd love to expand it, K through 12," she says, "as well as to invite other school districts in our local area and around to come in a field trip opportunity."
Animation on a big screen depicts red and white blood cells hurtling past, as students search for viruses to destroy.
"It also teaches me a lot about the nervous system and the immune system, and the intestines, and all that," says young team member Austin McKabeney.
It's not just biology. The simulator can take them to just about any place, and any time period, in the history of the world. If you can dream it, it can happen.
But mission captain Mia Fantozzi warns there can be bumps in the road.
"Earlier during this mission," she says, "we had it so all of our systems were failing, and it was really hard to get them all back up again."
No one said saving the world would be easy.
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