February 11, 2020Becca Manis, Director of Curriculum, Challenger Learning Center of Colorado
On Saturday, September 28th, the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado hosted its Grand Re-Opening family open house event - the first major public event to take place in our new 10,5000 square foot facility. This 5-hour event brought in nearly 20 volunteers and almost 900 guests. For larger organizations, these numbers may not seem overly impressive, but for our small Colorado space-themed learning center accustomed to seeing school groups not much larger than 60 students, it was an exhilarating show of support from the community. With minimal experience hosting large onsite public events, our team knew that the NISE Net Earth and Science toolkits would be an integral part of the day’s activity line up.
Our learning center is the only one of its kind in Colorado and part of an international network of centers dedicated to continuing the education mission of the Challenger 51-L Crew and first Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe. Since 2002, the team here has flown simulated missions for nearly 20,000 students annually but hosting large public events could only be a dream for the future with our site’s small footprint.
After 17 years, the dream to expand to include room for public events and on-site summer camps was finally realized through a revitalized partnership with Academy School District 20. Program space was doubled to 10,000+ square feet, creating the opportunity to finally play host to larger groups by expanding student programming and creating opportunities for local families to experience hands-on STEM activities and planetarium shows, in a planned and thoughtful way.
During the September event, our team worked to create areas of the center that were connected by content and cognitive level so that young guests and their parents would feel comfortable encountering new experiences. Visitor feedback lauded the event and interactives as being approachable and low-pressure. This feedback was gratifying for the education team and set the precedent for future public events. “We want there to be a little something for everyone by providing approachable, memorable and engaging activities for families,” said Ron Bush, Vice President of Education. “The beauty of the NISE Net kits and activities is that everything a certified staff member or volunteer needs is provided in an attractive and well-thought out package.”
Center staff used activities from fellow Challenger network partners as well as the Explore Space 2017 and 2018 toolkits throughout the facility in various areas designated for primary, intermediate and all ages. Each interactive station had 2 community volunteers who arrived early to familiarize themselves with the background information and materials for their activity. Volunteers shared that activity write ups made their “jobs” easy and that they felt confident in their abilities to make each interaction with attendees as valuable as possible.
We are now looking forward to expanding public programs by including 1-2 large scale annual events, monthly star parties and more intimate Saturday science sessions with partner activities that will encourage collaboration between parents and their children. We are confident that this year’s NISE Net toolkit will play a large role in successful events and allowing learners of all ages to have access to real, robust and thought-provoking STEM activities.