February 20, 2009

The last time U.S. astronauts visited the moon was 1972, but recently, Kentucky 4H Youth development agents and educators got a chance to go themselves. Of course they did not physically go to the moon, but they participated in an exercise in teamwork and problem solving at Paducah's Challenger Learning Center.

As the liftoff countdown began, half of the group role-played astronauts returning to the moon. The other half served as crew members at mission control. Midway through, the two groups switched roles. Their mission was to stay and establish a permanent base on the moon.

"They get to spend half the time in our mission control room, so they will be on Earth half the time," said Melissa Duncan, director of the Challenger Space Center. "They get to go in what we call our spacecraft simulator, and they get to spend time in there. So the mission scenario runs through that (the simulator) until they get to and land on the moon."

While on the moon, participants observed and explored as they tested the feasibility of establishing a settlement there. They also analyzed a variety of data that they gathered from the lunar surface to select a settlement site to establish a permanent moon base. The activity is designed to give agents and educators tools to use in an educational setting that will hopefully raise student awareness and interest in science, technology and engineering fields.

"I hope they come away with an activity or program that they can do in their classroom, club or youth group that inspires some youths to pursue a career in engineering, science or a technology-related field, whether it be computer engineering or computer sciences, even buildings and construction," said Torey Earle, University of Kentucky 4H Youth development agent at-large.

Challenger Learning Centers, like the one in Paducah, were started by families of the Challenger Space Shuttle crew members who perished in 1986. These centers have been perfect locations for educational opportunities for people of all ages.

"The Challenger Center's program is great because it can touch a wide variety of audiences," Duncan said. "Our mission is to provide opportunities for all to have real-life learning experiences. I've seen ages 8 to 98 in the simulator.  We do a lot of teacher training, a lot of summer camps, a lot of scout programs, a lot of school missions."

The in-service training at the Challenger Learning Center was also an opportunity to introduce participants to the 4-H Aerospace Adventures curriculum and how agents and educators can use it to set up technology-related clubs and also as a way for classroom enrichment.

Elizabeth Eklund, 4-H program assistant in Christian County, said she can see a future for the curriculum at Fort Campbell in her home area.

"This is something we have used with our kids out there to teach them a little more about aerospace," she said. "It kind of opens them up to thinking about careers in this area and gives them the opportunity to put some of the math and science that they use every day in school to use in a way they can really enjoy it."

This was the second time the in-service training has been based at the Challenger Learning Center in Paducah, and 4-H agents said it was time well spent.

"Especially with science, engineering and technology being a big push for part of our curriculum, you know this is definitely a package deal," said Gary Templeman, Logan County 4H Youth development agent. "You've got professionals in there who run that program, and they are doing something a little different than we can do in our home counties.

This summer, for what is believed to be the first time, the West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Dawson Springs will hold a 4-H Aerospace Camp.

News Topics: