In their own words: PA educators talk about how they challenge students

Every day, educators across the commonwealth challenge students to achieve new goals. We asked some of them about the ways that their students are challenged at school. Here's what they had to say:

Helping students with special needs accomplish new goals

Biglerville High School's Unified P.E. Class

Danielle Thompson, an autistic support teacher at Biglerville High School in Adams County, had this to say about a physical education program that pairs general education students (mentors) with students who have autism or intellectual disabilities (peers):

"I believe the greatest benefit of the Unified P.E. Program is the motivation that the mentors are able to inspire in their peers. This motivation carries over to the classroom with students wanting to impress their mentors with their grades and achievements …

"My students have expressed to me that this class has made them stronger, allowed them to learn how to run faster, and given them the opportunity to learn new sports and exercises. They have shared that having mentors with them makes them feel like they can accomplish anything, and it relieves their stress."

Empowering students with technology

Google Classroom at work in sixth grade classroom at Wilson West Middle School

Steve Rhoades, a sixth-grade science teacher at Wilson West Middle School in Berks County, uses a variety of online tools to challenge students to think outside the box. Students can collaborate on lab work, interpret data, and map it out on Google Classroom with charts and graphs. They even use a game-based approach to learning in which students must complete a series of quests to earn experience points, level up, and unlock special powers.  Here's what Rhoades had to say about challenging students with technology:

"The interest level increases for students to have this technology at their fingertips. If they have a question, a connected question not directly related to what we are doing, they have the ability to go online and find the answer to that question almost immediately …

"It changes the way I am teaching, and it puts more focus on what [students] are doing rather than having me up here talking and showing them things on a screen."

Encouraging students who challenge themselves

Student Prosthetics - Pine Grove

When high school freshman Nick Brown asked Pine Grove Area technology teacher Brad Fessler to use the school's 3-D printer to produce prosthetic hands for two students who wanted to be able to play musical instruments, Fessler was all in. He provided the guidance and support Brown needed to use 3-D modeling software to develop his ideas. Here's what Fessler had to say about that experience:

"This was a huge learning process for me. I'd never worked on a project like this one. It's so rewarding to be able to help a student develop an idea this big and see it through, and it was incredible to see the middle school students try on their new prosthetic hands. It justified every minute of hard work, to watch them try on the final product."


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