Teachers take off on e-Mission | SummitDaily.com

Teachers take off on e-Mission

by: Kimberly Nicoletti

COPPER MOUNTAIN – Three teams of school teachers worked furiously to crunch incoming data and map evacuation routes in a simulated volcanic eruption and hurricane on the island of Montserrat Friday.

The Challenger Learning Center of Colorado Springs (CLCCS) led about 20 teachers through a simulated disaster to introduce the latest technology in learning, called “electronic missions”. The hands-on learning experience was part of Technology in Education, a regional conference for teachers to share information and learn more about utilizing technology in education, held at the Copper Mountain Conference Center June 25-28.

CLCCS uses computer-simulated space exploration and missions to motivate middle- and high-school students to pursue careers in math, science and technology by firing up their expectations of success and by supporting a long-term interest in math. The programs meet state and national educational standards for math and science and foster critical thinking, communication, teamwork and decision-making skills.

As CLCCS trained teachers to facilitate the e-Mission in classrooms, they formed a hurricane team, a volcano team and an evacuation team to receive and analyze data coming from mission control located at the Challenger Learning Center via the Internet. The volcano team analyzed seismic activity while the hurricane team calculated the hurricane’s distance from the island, how far it had traveled and how soon it would hit. Both teams reported to the evacuation team, which mapped routes of escape from the island. The sense of urgency intensified as mission control updated everyone in real time.

“It’s a fascinating simulation for integrated learning,” said Josh Schwartz, a technology teacher at Summit Middle School for the past 16 years. “Because it’s so real-life oriented, (students) would have great buy-in to do the job right. Their focus would be on saving lives. In another setting, they might choose to ignore math or science data, but here it causes them to focus and do the calculations.”

The program’s success lies in its experiential learning process, which appeals to both genders. Since girls’ interest in math and science tends to wane in middle school, the e-Mission appeals to their natural sense of teamwork and collaborative learning, Communications Director Debbie Hertzog said.

“It helps to equip (students) to become part of our workplace competencies,” Hertzog said.

The student adventure begins four weeks before the live event, as they study volcanoes, hurricanes and Montserrat’s geography and history. Teachers attend two days of professional development to guide students through the program.

The Colorado State legislature has allocated money for 280 missions in public schools, and teachers may register for the program through the superintendent’s office. Private schools, civic groups and businesses may also schedule missions for team-building events.

Though CLCCS doesn’t officially open its doors until September, it is part of a 43-center franchise. Families of the crew who died on the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986 formed a nonprofit group, which created the centers to excite young people about space and exploration. The center in Colorado Springs will be operated by the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science Education and the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado Springs Advisory Board. For information, visit http://www.clccs.org or call (719) 598-9755.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

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