- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

SHERIDAN, Wyo. (AP) - There are perhaps few things more challenging in the medical profession than patient diagnosis - transforming a list of symptoms and a review of medical history into a potentially life-saving conclusion in a short period of time.

Attempting this feat is even harder when you are 10 years old, but that is exactly what the students in Sheridan County School District 2 Seminar class were tasked with recently.

Luckily for them, the patients were hypothetical, and exceeding the budget for research and testing cost them evaluation points not cash.

Seminar is a pullout class for high ability students in third, fourth and fifth grades. The students represent the top 5 percent of performers for their grade levels based on scoring 95 percent or above on a cognitive test or receiving a high-ability score on both math and reading on the Measures of Academic Proficiency test.

The term “high ability” is used to describe the students as the more commonly heard “gifted” term refers to the top 3 percent of a population, and educators say they rarely have enough information at this stage in the student’s life to make that distinction.

Enrolled students leave their home classroom once a week for 90 minutes to engage in dialogue with like-ability students and activities based on creative or critical thinking, research, computer skills and the needs of highly capable children.

Third-grade students districtwide are bused to one meeting site while fourth- and fifth-graders group together at one of three locations under program educator Molly Kinsey.

“The intent is to enrich them in directions that they can’t necessarily be enriched in the classroom and to take things one step further,” Kinsey said, adding that no homework is assigned in the class and no grades are given. “They work darn hard while they’re here and I don’t think they need homework. Also, we do a lot of discussion and bouncing things off the group, and that is not very conducive to homework.”

This year, the fourth- and fifth-grade groups have spent time learning about and practicing logic and reasoning skills.

As a way to use their reasoning skills in a real-world application, the students completed a medical simulation where they were placed on teams as interns at “Mount Semnarian Medical Clinic.” They then “interviewed” a patient, researched symptoms, developed three possible diagnoses, ordered tests and ultimately reasoned a final diagnosis and treatment plan.

Following treatment, the students presented their findings through a PowerPoint presentation in a Mortality and Morbidity Conference for their colleagues, parents and teachers.

One team of “doctors” - fourth-grader Aidan Sawyer and fifth-grader Medora Perkins - saw a patient with diverticulitis. With their physician’s journals in hand and personal laptops on their desks, the team worked together to justify their finding through citing research and resources.

Perkins said the project was very challenging, but she likes to push herself.

“When we were researching I felt like giving up but you’ve gotta push yourself; then you can tell yourself you can do it, if you’re mentally strong,” Perkins said. “Seminar is a lot more challenging than class. If we don’t know, Miss Kinsey says, ‘Figure it out on your own.’ Our other teachers don’t do that and it’s not very challenging in class most of the time, so this allows us to use our brains.”

Sawyer said this is the only time during school that he is able to work with someone from a different grade. He added that he enjoys the group work in Seminar more than in class because everyone he works with works hard, whereas sometimes working with students who are at different levels than he is causes him to do all the work.

“I’m not going to just give you all the answers,” Sawyer said of working together. “You have to challenge yourself. If you’re just going to stay here and not challenge yourself, the other classmates are just going to keep going up and then you’ll be behind.”

One recent Tuesday, the students of the Highland Park and Sagebrush Elementary Schools Seminar class took a trip to the Wyoming Simulation Center to complete the two-month long medical learning program. The remaining two groups will have the opportunity within the next couple weeks.

With stethoscopes around their necks and the knowledge of normal ranges, each student set off to discover the heart and respiratory rate of a virtual patient. They listened to mechanical bodies for heart irregularities, found the pulse in a patient’s foot, heard the noises from a stomach, checked lung sounds and even wiped sweat from the brow of a patient on the verge of a seizure.

The teacher said that students found the experience “great, amazing and kinda creepy.”

In the end, some students blew their budget, some students struggled with their diagnosis and some students flew through the project.

But every student learned how to use deductive reasoning, how to create flow charts and PowerPoint presentations, new vocabulary words and how to speak intelligibly to a crowd about a long and detailed process they had completed.

___

Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press, http://www.thesheridanpress.com/

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