After using traditional high-school lesson plans to teach his students, Harrell ALC teacher John Prchal realized that he needed something different to grab their attention. By chance, he discovered Knowledge Matters virtual computer simulations, and started using them to teach courses such as accounting, personal finance, and retailing. Twelve years later, Prchal is still using Knowledge Matters’ business sims, and so have more than one third of all the high schools in the U.S.
John Prchal wears a lot hats at Harrell Accelerated Learning Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. For the past 12 years, he has taught business, accounting, marketing, entrepreneurship and more to his 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students. He credits Virtual Business - Accounting with keeping his teaching interesting and rewarding. But it wasn’t always so.
Prchal knows that it can be hard for students this age to sit still and take notes for an hour. So he was looking for computer programs that would keep students’ attention by reflecting more of the culture his students experienced every day-one of instant feedback, interactivity, and self-paced learning. That led him to computer simulations, and then to Knowledge Matters. Prchal visited the Knowledge Matters website, went through the free product demos, and could see right away that the simulations were right for his students.
As all teachers know, finding funding to purchase new resources can be a challenge. Fortunately, Harrell’s Career and Technology director was impressed by the Knowledge Matters simulations, such as Virtual Business - Accounting, and gave Prchal immediate approval to purchase them.
“As I’ve used Virtual Business - Accounting, the school has seen how well students respond to it, and how it improves their comprehension and their grades,” Prchal says. “My supervisors fund it because they know it’s a top-notch program.”
Quantifiable Progress: Reading materials and pre-tests are built into Knowledge Matters simulations. That makes it easier for teachers–and students themselves–to gauge progress. Virtual Business - Accounting includes 11 assignments, and within each assignment are a reading quiz and a math quiz. Only after students pass those quizzes are they ready to run the simulation. Prchal says that he has seen a big improvement in grades since he began using the sims.
Self-Paced Learning: Students can access Virtual Business - Accounting any time of day or night and can complete assignments at their own pace. And the sim gives students instant feedback on their answers (rather than having them wait until the teacher grades and returns the quizzes), which makes learning that much more immediate.
Relevant Material: It is not uncommon for students to complain that course material “doesn’t have anything to do with their lives.” Knowledge Matters’ simulations, on the other hand, use real-life scenarios to make sure content stays relevant to students’ lives.
Curricula that’s Challenging, but Fun: Prchal recounts the story of one of his students who used the Virtual Business - Accounting simulation after being taught accounting in a more traditional way. “The sim is more challenging, but more fun, than the way we learned it before because it really makes you think,” she told him. Prchal says the simulation engages students-while still meeting or exceeding Texas state curriculum guidelines.
Tech Help from Real People: Good customer service (and from a human being) can be a rare thing. But Knowledge Matters still knows the importance of one-on-one, dedicated customer care.
“One of my students recently had a problem with a new release of a sim,” Prchal says. “I just picked up the phone, went through the sim step-by-step with a Knowledge Matters specialist, and resolved all of the issues.”
Real-Life Experience without the Real-Life Costs: In the past, students have had the opportunity to learn job skills through internships. But these days most schools don’t have the money to manage programs like this. Knowledge Matters sims make it possible for students to learn jobs skills without leaving the school.
Streamlined Teacher Support: Knowledge Matters understands that for their simulations to work well, teachers must get the training and support they need. That’s why it puts online all of the information teachers need to successfully bring the simulations into the classroom. Through Knowledge Matters’ website, teachers have unlimited access to the lesson plans, reading quizzes, math quizzes, simulation exercises, and projects.
Good educational tools can improve the way students learn. They can also improve the way teachers teach, and how much satisfaction they get in the process. Prchal says that using Virtual Business - Accounting has made teaching a “wonderful experience “ for him, and has even extended his career.