Andrea Lucas and Zachary Mehal are high-school teachers at PA Virtual Charter School, a K-12 public cyber charter school serving students all across Pennsylvania. Andrea teaches art and Zach teaches chemistry. You can see their workshop “Making in the Virtual Classroom” on Saturday, October 15, at 2:00 pm.
What made you choose to get involved with Maker Faire Pittsburgh?
Andrea Lucas: I am a huge believer in the cyber model of education and have a desire to move it forward. The Maker Faire is all about innovation and we chose this because it is a great opportunity for us to showcase our new ideas and styles of teaching.
Zach Mehal: It’s important to share how we are innovating in the classroom. Once I heard about the opportunity, how could I say no?
What are you interested in/excited about seeing at Maker Faire Pittsburgh?
Zach: Everything! The amount of creativity in one place is amazing, and I’m excited for the robotics and 3D printing demos.
Andrea: I don’t even know what to expect but I’m so excited to see everything I possibly can in the two days we are there.
What is something that people in the Pittsburgh region might not know about PA Virtual?
Andrea: One of the cool things about PA Virtual is that the model is really centered on parent involvement. The teachers, parents, and Family Support Coordinators all support one another to make sure that each child is receiving the best education they can get. The school’s Scholar Program allows students who excel academically to graduate early without jumping through any hoops. I have had students in my classes graduate and head to college at the age of 16.
Zach: Even though we work in a virtual setting, we are still really connected to our students. There are so many opportunities to interact in the virtual classroom and through the social outings in each region (of the state). The outings connect students from an entire region, not just one town or school district.
Andrea: We teach students at every level. I had a student who was a traveling professional concert pianist, and another who was training for the Olympics – their passion doesn’t work with the traditional school model. On the flip side, I have had students with special needs who wouldn’t have been able to graduate without an option like PA Virtual. To see someone with severe physical or mental disabilities be able to express themselves through art is a really beautiful thing.
What is something that people might not know about online education?
Zach: When I first started teaching at PA Virtual, I thought there would be little interaction. I had the stereotype that students would just sit and stare at their computers, silently clicking away at lessons. I could not have been more wrong! It’s really amazing how the students interact with their peers and teachers.
Andrea: The opportunity to personalize your educational experience is there if you know where to look.There can be a bias against cyber education, and families might not be aware of everything you can do in an online setting.
Zach: Technology isn’t going away and being in a virtual world doesn’t mean that students won’t be able to get the skills they need to be successful. Cyber education prepares students for the next generation – technology is the future. We can prepare them for this, and encourage them to be makers themselves.
PA Virtual Charter School is a tuition- free public cyber school of choice chartered and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in 2001. Celebrating 15 years of cyber excellence, PA Virtual serves approximately 2300 students throughout Pennsylvania from Kindergarten through 12th grade. PA Virtual is an award-winning and innovative online school in PA that provides K-12 home-based public education. For more information visit http://www.pavcsk12.org/ .