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Cyber Schoolhouse rocks!

Getting high school kids to read about science can be a challenge at best. Many consider the topic boring, hard to understand, or irrelevant to their daily lives. But now teachers, physicians, researchers, and web designers have worked with the Community Outreach and Education Program (COEP) of the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Center at Detroit's Wayne State University to develop a way to reach teenagers through one of their favorite media--the Internet--and package environmental science information in creative ways that students can get excited about.

The Environmental Cyber Schoolhouse, located online at, is a set of interactive, web-based curricular units geared toward students in grades 9-12. On the site, students can choose one of two "quest" scenarios through which they can help characters confront an environmental problem and return to good health, much like an engaging video game. The Health Quest addresses the issue of lead poisoning through a character named Maria who visits a health fair with her mother and takes a variety of medical tests to tell if she has been exposed to dangerous levels of lead. The Sports Quest delves into asthma through a teenage basketball player named Charlie who begins to have breathing problems while exercising. Students must follow the story lessons in a linear fashion and successfully complete each chapter quiz before moving on to the next chapter.

To incorporate the Cyber Schoolhouse into their curricula, teachers must attend an online class offered as a regular course in environmental health through Wayne State or an in-person workshop given by the COEP staff. After learning about the curricula, teachers may register their student group online and are given login codes for their students. They then also have access to teacher's notes and a discussion forum where they can exchange information with other educators. A Teacher Administration area allows them to check on their students' progress, download various files, post questions on the discussion forum, and visit any chapter. To date, 112 teachers have been trained to use the Cyber Schoolhouse, and about 1,300 students have used the website in their classrooms.

Guest visitors to the site who are not teachers or students can access a selection of topics and downloadable articles from each quest lesson as well as a list of additional online and other resources on lead poisoning and asthma.

Reaction from teachers to the interactive site has been positive. Says one, "The students play an interactive role in the entire process, from the start of the problem to solving the problem in the end. Incorporating real labs along with the virtual labs and streaming videos not only refines the students' skills, but allows them to see the entire process instead of just being told the results. The graphics, pictures, animations, and explanations made it easy to understand and grasp concepts that would be very difficult to explain in a book or a lecture."
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Title Annotation:beyond the bench
Author:Thigpen, Kimberly G.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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