Orlando Science Center receives $1.2 million grant from NASA

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The Orlando Science Center receives $1.2M over 5 years from NASA to develop and implement an outreach program to bring science and mathematics discovery and exploration to Central Florida’s children with critical illness. Partnering with planetary science experts and education researchers from the University of Central Florida, the Science Center will design and develop stimulating activities on mobile exhibit carts that can be scaled to the educational needs of a historically underserved and underrepresented population of children from ages 10 through 18. 
 
“Children with critical illness can struggle with formal education due to the fact that their hospitalization keeps them from engaging in active study and attending classes” said Science Center President and CEO JoAnn Newman. “These engaging mobile exhibits will not only shorten the learning gap during their hospitalization, it will help motivate these children to pursue STEM learning and careers. Providing high level engaging and authentic STEM activities to this audience through mobile exhibits is unprecedented.”
 
These STEM mobile satellites will provide patients at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Nemours Children’s Hospital and Florida Hospital for Children with meaningful STEM resources and activities. “One way to prepare this vulnerable and historically under-represented group to enter STEM fields is to build a robust conceptual understanding of mathematics and science through the use of bold, transformative research interventions,” said Dr. Megan Nickels, Assistant Professor of STEM Education at UCF and one of the program’s developers. “Our STEM Satellites program brings about the realization of this goal and marks a crucial turning point in how educational programs are conceived and delivered to children in hospitals.” 
 
The Science Center and UCF will incorporate NASA data and artifacts from prior NASA missions, UCF planetary science collections, and Kennedy Space Center resources into all mobile cart exhibits. These exhibits will be developed over the course of two years and implemented in all three hospitals in fall of 2018. Volunteers from BASE Camp Children’s Cancer Foundation will be trained by Science Center educators to facilitate these programs during hospital visits. 
 
“Space exploration captivates the mind and engages the spirit,” Said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who supported the Science Center’s grant application with NASA. “This program will allow NASA, UCF and the Orlando Science Center to work together to help inspire and educate some of the kids who need it the most.”
 
The project will provide authentic experiences that mirror current and planned NASA missions at a level that the children can understand, addressing real engineering problems facing space exploration today and NASA’s contributions to everyday life.  Its goals align with NASA’s education goal of engaging Americans in NASA’s mission through strategic partnerships and linkages between STEM formal and informal education providers to promote STEM literacy and awareness of NASA’s mission.