Scientists may dispute the size of the universe, but there's no question of boundaries at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska -- it's growing.
G&S Construction of Soldotna recently broke ground on phase two of the center, which will add dormitories, classrooms, a workshop, kitchen, multipurpose room and distance learning studio to the facility.
The $2.9 million project, funded through NASA by an appropriation from Sen. Ted Stevens, will add 9,714-square feet to the facility, nearly doubling its size. Construction is expected to be complete in March.
"Our intent is to host resident space camps," said the center's executive director, Steve Horn. "Kids from here go to Houston, Alabama, Florida for space camps. We want them to come here."
The new space-theme dorms will be able to serve 38 students and teachers at a time. There also will be showers and a kitchen to facilitate overnight stays at the center.
When students visit the center, they participate in either "Voyage to Mars" or "Rendezvous with a Comet" activities in which they apply science, math, communication and teamwork skills from the classroom to a hands-on space mission.
The dormitory facilities will allow students who live further away from the center to experience the space mission.
For those students who cannot travel to the center, a distance learning studio will enhance the center's ability to provide "e-missions" and lessons by Internet.
Last year, 395 students from around the state participated in distance learning missions. Teachers are trained in curriculum, spend four to six weeks teaching students about geography, geology and atmosphere, then log onto the Internet for a culminating lesson.
Using video and audio conference technology, the students "visit" the center for a hands-on activity in Earth sciences.
At present, the online lesson is hosted from a decorated supply closet at the Challenger Center. The new wing will have a state-of-the-art studio to provide better lessons.
Extra classroom space also will allow the center to provide more teacher training. The center brings in teachers from around the state and trains them in teaching Challenger curriculum to take back to their classrooms.
The center also sends Challenger and NASA educators to schools throughout the state to bring science curriculum to students.
The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska is part of an international network of 43 learning centers and is the only designated Challenger site in Alaska.
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