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Center for Educational Technologies projects have ended (except Challenger Learning Center) and are no longer funded.

Bringing NASA Science to Life for K-2

Thu Sep 16 2010

By Keri Brown
West Virginia Public Radio

A new interactive space center for young students will open next year at the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University. The Micronauts program will give kids the opportunity to fly a simulated space mission and conduct scientific experiments.

There are 48 Challenger Learning Centers worldwide that allow students in grades 5 through 8 to fly simulated space missions and learn more about math and science.

The centers are named in honor of the crew who died when the space shuttle Challenger blew up nearly 25 years ago, killing seven people on board, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

"Christa's dream was to teach from space, and this is all part of Christa's dream to continue teaching students about space and science, and so we are really excited to now go the gamut from K-middle school and hopefully excite students about science and math careers," said Jackie Shia, director of the Challenger Learning Center at WJU.

The Micronauts program in Wheeling will be geared to a younger audience—children in kindergarten through second grade. It will be the only Challenger Learning Center with its own exhibit hall.

The journey begins in the planetarium where students are greeted with bright blue colored walls depicting the skyline at Cape Canaveral.

"Once inside, students experience a life-size blastoff and liftoff of the shuttle, and they are taken on a journey into outer space to set the stage for their mission, which is that they will be heading to the International Space Station so they can act as scientists and astronauts on board the International Space Station, and they can conduct their experiments and hands-on activities," said Annie Morgan, assistant director at the Challenger Learning Center.

Once students leave the planetarium, they enter the International Space Station. Bold-colored artwork and hands-on activities set the stage for their mission.

"Here's our germ station, and what the students are going to do is take this formula and wipe it on their hands and come over here and turn the water on and wash their hands. They will then come over here to this black light, which will show the germs on their hand. We also have a microscope here that is going to show different germs on the strips in the microscope so they get to see what germs look like under the microscope as well," said Shia.

The center has tested its Micronauts program with some local schools.

Other exhibits include Nutrition Station, where students create breakfast lunch and dinner for astronauts; Color Your Senses, where students sniff bottles with colored formula and identify scents; and Rock Tumbler, where students use a robot to help understand gravity. A focal point is a large orange rocket in the center of the room.

"We call this Good Vibrations. The vibrations cause the rice to dance around the top of the balloon that is stretched over top of the can and they dance. You look and they are dancing," said Morgan.

The students are given objectives and work as teams during their missions to solve problems and conduct experiments in science and math. Morgan said the program is also a big benefit to educators.

"With this program I think it brings science alive to the younger students because teachers are hitting standards and have goals and objectives they are working on in the classroom, and when they bring their students here, it really brings it to life, and students finally understand that is why Mrs. Smith told us we need to learn or do that, and they get to feel and experience and do in an environment that is completely different than what they would ever get to experience in their classroom."

Shia said in the future, the center plans to add more activities for third and fourth graders.

The Challenger Learning Center is booking missions for its official launch of the Micronauts program next spring.