Science class with heart Hands-on: A Pikesville teacher-turned- entrepreneur has developed two science courses that actively involve students.

April 11, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Morris Tischler believes that the way to a youngster's head is through his heart.

Let a young person take his own pulse, watch it pick up as he exercises and relax as he does, and he will have learned -- and enjoyed -- a lesson not only about human hearts but about pumps of all kinds.

With experience in teaching and electronics that led him to develop the first pacemaker, the Pikesville entrepreneur toyed with this philosophy until he turned it into a technology-based science curriculum. Through his company, Science Instruments on Reisterstown Road, Mr. Tischler, 74, is marketing a hands-on secondary-school curriculum, Concepts in Biotechnology, and an elementary course, Body Secrets.

About 150 schools nationwide, including several in Baltimore and Baltimore County, are using the courses to supplement their health and science curricula, and to give students hands-on lessons in science and technology.

"The body serves as the golden thread that ties science and technology together," said Mr. Tischler, explaining the secondary-school program. "You start with the human body and teach kids science."

"Concepts" begins with nerves and muscles and goes through nine units, including the senses, the heart and the nervous

system. Each unit then extends the "body lessons" to other scientific processes. In the sight unit, for instance, the principles of how the eye works are expanded into other types of lenses -- in cameras and microscopes -- and even into the transmission of light through fiber-optic cable.

Schools generally use the Science Instruments units to supplement course work in biology, physics, ecology and health. The material cuts across subjects, introducing students to different parts of science rather than giving them an in-depth look at one field.

The units, which can be purchased separatelyor for about $8,000 as a set, come with a detailed textbook, workbook and a number of medical and electronic instruments that are hooked to a computer so students can perform up to 44 hands-on activities.

"With a little bit of time, we have the capability of doing what we would depend on outside sources for," said Arnold Potler, chairman of the science department at Perry Hall High School, which is using the curriculum for the first time this year. "If it weren't for this equipment, we would have to have paramedics come in more often" to demonstrate equipment and procedures in the paramedic biology elective, he said.

Now, the students can perform the tests themselves.

During a recent lab session at Perry Hall, teacher Tony Apicella helped attach the electrodes to "patient" Justin Butler for an electrocardiogram. Other students gathered to watch the pattern of his heart projected by the computer, attached to the EKG apparatus, on a larger screen on the classroom wall.

"You are looking at Justin's EKG. It's pretty typical," said Mr. Apicella, as the thin line spiked and fell across the screen and Justin's heart rate flashed in large numbers beneath.

"What if he stands up?" asked the teacher. Justin did. The line on the screen squiggled.

"What if he talks?" More squiggles.

"It gives you the opportunity to do some investigation," Mr. Apicella said. "Now, the student's actively involved in the taking of data."

Mr. Apicella instructed the students to chart Justin's EKG on graph paper, alongside a similar "normal" EKG seen earlier on a slide and the pattern of a heart in cardiac arrest and another with an irregular heartbeat.

Mr. Potler concedes that Mr. Tischler's product has too many pieces but lauds the firm for its willingness to adapt the basic curriculum to the needs of individual schools -- "to work with the 'what ifs,' " he said.

It's not an unfamiliar question for Mr. Tischler.

Trained in electronics at an early age, he taught in Baltimore City schools for 20 years and at the University of Maryland Medical School in the 1950s. It was there that he met the founder of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, R Adams Cowley, who urged Mr. Tischler to "discover how to restart a man's heart."

From that encounter came the first pacemaker.

Over the next 30 years, Mr. Tischler developed training equipment for medical professionals and wrote more than 80 books on electronics, telecommunications and biomedicine before getting into the science curricula.

"Learning is a spiral. You can teach science at an early age if it is enjoyable," said Mr. Tischler. "All of the activities have the students doing something. I have never yet had anybody say this is not the way to do it."

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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