The Cosmosphere, the Hutchinson, Kan.-based space center and museum, has embarked on a multi-faceted journey of revitalization, with a large amount of the effort focusing on more advanced educational programming. New curriculum that focuses on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and college and career readiness helps teachers and students connect the dots between theory and application.
The Smithsonian-affiliated Cosmosphere’s Hall of Space Museum, as many are aware, houses the largest combined collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts in the world. Whereas the Cosmosphere’s educational programs may be less widely known, the newly expanded science-based education efforts tie perfectly into the national push for better science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and career development. The initiative also addresses issues at the state level, providing relevant learning content for school districts strapped by shortages of math and science teachers and facing extremely tight budgets.
“We know times are tough for schools, and they have to make hard decisions about how to spend their money,” says Tracey Tomme, the Cosmosphere’s Vice President of Education. “As we design our new programs, we are making sure they are meeting the standards schools need. For instance, STEM skills are being emphasized heavily in schools. While literacy and math are key to every child’s future, our programs are meeting all of these core areas along with history, communications and workplace skills. The best way to describe it is that we are no longer just a field trip. We are providing standards-aligned, career-focused, curricular packages that include a culminating event at the Cosmosphere.”
Tomme joined the Cosmosphere in August of 2014, with the role of driving the institution’s commitment to STEM education initiatives and positioning the Cosmosphere as a leader in applied science education. She previously served as President/CEO of the Colorado Consortium for Earth and Space Science Education (CCESSE), the company responsible for running the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado. In that position, she helped turn the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado into one of the region’s premier providers of STEM educational outreach.
The Cosmosphere currently serves approximately 12,000 students each year. With its new programs those numbers are likely to increase to 15,000 to 20,000 or more per year. Tomme said Cosmosphere representatives have visited with many school districts around the area, and it is clear they want to provide the best programs possible for their students.
“We are developing solid programs that schools can truly appreciate as we partner to serve the students and teachers of Kansas and our surrounding states,” Tomme said.
The Cosmosphere’s learning experiences include:
- Known worldwide, Cosmosphere Camps, for students entering second grade through high school, are dedicated to inspiring explorers of all ages using STEM principles and building leadership and teamwork skills. Camps include Space 101-501, where campers train like astronauts using methods employed by NASA; Mars Academy, Forces of Flight, Starship Earth, Lunar Base and Alien Adventure. There are also custom-designed camps for school groups as well as Merits of Space for Boy Scouts from across the country.
- The Cosmosphere takes its education programs direct to students through school visits and live webcasts.
- The Cosmosphere’s professional staff trains, educates and entertains Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, American Heritage Girls, and 4-H participants of all ages. From liquid nitrogen ice cream to hands-on experiments, the Cosmosphere inspires and motivates Scouts. Merit badges and patches are available, and all participants receive a customized Cosmosphere patch.
- The new Cosmosphere curriculum-based packages are grade-level aligned from pre-K through 12th grade. These packages include educator professional development and co-curricular lessons. Every package includes science, math, an historical focus, literature piece, and an engineering design challenge.
Over the years, the Cosmosphere’s education experiences and space camps have provided a learning spark and springboard for many people now working science or high-tech related jobs. A few notable alumni include Amanda Premer, Operations Support Officer, Johnson Space Center (JSC); Theresa Perks, Mission Controller, JSC; Paul Dees, Engineer, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center; and Kate Becker, Satellite Data and Information Service Office of International Affairs, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The new focus in many of the Cosmosphere educational experiences involves translating learning into group collaboration, problem-solving and risk/reward trials. They are cross-curricular, integrating not only science and math but communications/journalism skills, history and other subjects, while also emphasizing life skills and critical thinking.
“Reading about a nuclear crisis or a problem with a crew of astronauts trying to get back to Earth is one thing,” Tomme said, “but working together to address all aspects of a situation and formulate and manage a solution, really makes students think and learn in a way that energizes and inspires them.”
Tomme also explained how experiencing failure and overcoming it – as has happened many times in space exploration – is a key learning that participants take away from the Cosmosphere’s educational programs.
To better position itself for the future and more accurately reflect its offerings, the Cosmosphere recently introduced refreshed branding that highlights its efforts to provide more services to schools and learners of all ages. The positioning includes a new tagline: International SciEd Center and Space Museum. Tomme said the Cosmosphere strives to increase outreach not just internationally but locally as well as to increase the diversity of the participants in its educational programs for schools, camps and after-school programs.
Toward that goal, the center is keeping its prices as low as possible while adding programs that are accessible through scholarships for underrepresented groups. The Cosmosphere has seen significant enthusiasm for its All Girls Physics of Flight camps, Boys and Girls Club programs and rural school outreach initiatives.
The Cosmosphere is seeking additional funds and engaging with corporate sponsors to continue and expand these enhanced STEM-based, experiential learning experiences for kids nationwide and internationally. They are able and willing to match those who want to provide quality educational experiences for students in their region to the schools who are seeking support. General funding support for the education programs also allows the Cosmosphere to keep the price point as low as possible.
That expanded access and the overall new focus for the Cosmosphere builds on the center’s established reputation and world-recognized museum of space history and allows it to touch and inspire youth in entirely new ways.
“Our artifacts collection is truly amazing,” Tomme said. “It should be used as a tourist attraction but also as a learning tool for the next generation. The programs we are creating and delivering are being watched closely by other museums and institutions. We are setting a new standard for engaging young minds in historical events that will inspire them to think big.”