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OHIO Eastern students experience learning beyond the classroom at Challenger Learning Center

Aspiring educators enrolled in the Ohio University Eastern Early Childhood Elementary Education program are exploring the realm of space science.

Under the guidance of OHIO Eastern Adjunct Professor Jane Neuenschwander, students are discovering the benefits of simulation-based learning at the Challenger Learning Center.

The Challenger Learning Center for Space Science and Education at West Virginia University is a leading STEM education nonprofit organization that develops and delivers simulation-based STEM programs to students at Challenger Learning Centers and in classrooms. The Learning Center offers adult and student learners the chance to climb aboard a space station and complete a mission in the role of astronauts, scientists and engineers with its Corporate Missions. A successful mission requires critical thinking, leadership, cooperation, and problem solving. The center serves as a conduit for experiential learning, offering a hands-on approach that transcends the boundaries of traditional education.

Neuenschwander, an esteemed educator with a rich history of teaching and curriculum development, has been instrumental in integrating simulation-based learning into the Ohio University Eastern Early Childhood Elementary program curriculum. When asked about the benefits of this approach, she emphasized the importance of active engagement.

"Students who are actively involved in learning and who invest their energy into learning, own the knowledge they acquire," she said. "Active learning is key."

OHIO Eastern ECEE Challenger Learning Center 2

For Neuenschwander, the journey into teaching science methods with NASA began as an endeavor to diversify her teaching strategies. With a background spanning from elementary education to curriculum writing for NASA's Classroom of the Future program, she found herself drawn to innovative approaches that make learning tangible.

"My role as a professor is to model as many of these teaching approaches and have my future teachers experience the approaches for themselves. That makes learning real," she explained.

Effective teaching, at any grade level, requires a diverse set of instructional methods. One such method is simulation-based learning, which actively engages students and deeply involves them in the subject matter. Neuenschwander's teaching journey with NASA illustrates this commitment to varied teaching techniques. Leveraging her experience in elementary education and curriculum development for NASA's Classroom of the Future program, Neuenschwander advocates for innovative strategies that make learning more engaging.

"My role as a professor is to demonstrate various teaching approaches and let my future teachers experience them firsthand. This approach makes learning more authentic," she emphasizes, highlighting the transformative impact of hands-on learning experiences such as simulation-based lessons and problem-based learning (PBL).

OHIO Eastern ECEE Challenger Learning Center 3

OHIO Eastern student Lexi Stead found herself immersed in an environment that ignited her curiosity and expanded her understanding of space science.

"Getting to visit and work with students at the Challenger Learning Center was a wonderful opportunity that expanded my knowledge and understanding of space science and exploration," she said. "The Challenger Learning Center provides many ways for students to expand their learning and see it work in action."

Ohio University student Tera Parrish echoed Stead's sentiments about the experience.

"Going to the Challenger Center created a simulation that truly immerses students into a real-life space science and exploration experience," Parrish said. "Having this new experience expands my resources as a future educator. My interest in STEM and science in general has grown since this trip."

At the Challenger Learning Center, students navigate the complexities of space missions with critical thinking and teamwork. Each task undertaken was a step towards a collective goal, fostering a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.

"Students get out of their comfort zones for a little while as they complete their assigned jobs with teamwork," Parrish reflected. "At the end, their contributions are acknowledged with all the success they made along the way all while learning and having fun!"

The Challenger Learning Center experience embodies experiential learning, providing insight into the boundless potential of education outside traditional classrooms. As students navigate their academic and career journeys, such experiences act as guiding lights, directing them toward a future driven by curiosity and creativity.

March 20, 2024
Staff reports