Our number one goal here at Challenger is to inspire student interest in science and math. When students fly their Mission to Mars, not only do they have fun, but they also exercise the development of their Math, Science, and Technology Process Skills by completing curriculum-based activities aligned with New York State Learning Standards.
It's truly a state-the-art facility that utilizes technology unavailable to any classroom. Every single student is 100% engaged in hands-on science activities that help improve problem-solving skills and enhance creative and critical-thinking abilities.
The Challenger Center has enjoyed a positive relationship with area schools for over 30 years in the Rochester area. It began as a living memorial to the original Shuttle Challenger crew, and a way to continue the educational goals of Christa McAuliffe. The Mission features a spacecraft and mission control simulator, designed around teamwork and hands-on science and math activities.
Prior to the two-hour mission event, we offer training for teachers to give them some strategies for preparing for the mission. A side benefit of the program is that after seeing their students collaborating at Challenger, teachers return to the classroom with many new ideas and techniques for their own pedagogy. Often, we see that students who struggle within the everyday classroom will come alive at Challenger – providing their classroom teachers with new strategies and ideas to motivate them.
Curriculum and Standards
A common misconception about Challenger is that it is solely for the purpose of studying astronomy or space science, which may be a narrow part of a teacher's curriculum. The space science here is just a context for studying broader, more universal curricula. Within the framework of space travel, students learn precise measurement with various interval scales at the isolation, life support, and remote stations. They learn data manipulation when they calculate mass given an object’s volume and known density. They practice latitude and longitude on different types of maps. They practice verbal and written communication skills for the Com and Data stations. They use dichotomous keys for rock identification and microscope field of views for estimation and measurement. They interpret graphs, make critical decisions on data, and suggest hypotheses to explain natural phenomena.
We’ve made a real effort to modify Challenger's curriculum to meet the needs of teachers and students in our area. Challenger has made great progress in aligning our tasks to New York State Learning Standards, and in incorporating activities that help prepare students for the NYS Intermediate Science Exam. We’ve gotten a very positive response from teachers who agree that we are practicing the very skills and content likely to be assessed on the exam.
Science Process Skills
Perhaps most importantly, students at Challenger get to practice their science process skills. By questioning, measuring, hypothesizing, inferring, classifying, and interpreting, students apply the skills they’ve practiced in the classroom in an authentic assessment setting.
Teamwork and Esteem
On top of all this, students must work together as a team to accomplish their mission. Our motto is that Together Everyone Accomplishes More, and that is true here at Challenger. Teachers will see students of all ability level, learning style, and personality working together to problem-solve, while at the same time, having the adventure of their lives.