Project Profile

Activating Student Potential through Innovation and Real-World Experience


This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by engaging in hands-on field experience, laboratory/project-based entrepreneurship tasks and mentorship experiences.

The Challenger Center will design and develop a new instructional model that will be used by teachers to enhance student understanding of and interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) occupations. Specifically, the project will develop and pilot problem-based, computer-driven, simulated STEM missions with 1,000 fourth and fifth grade students across Powhatan and Frederick Counties in Virginia and Washington, D.C. The missions will include ocean science, life science, and Earth science concepts that align to the Next Generation Science Standards. Students will engage in role-play that helps them develop teamwork, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Elementary teachers will connect the STEM curriculum to real-world applications and STEM occupations, while also reinforcing key STEM concepts and enabling students to develop new skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving. The mission will capture student imaginations, engaging students through their personal involvement in a real-world application of the STEM subject and exposure to related occupations. The primary goal is to develop and pilot problem-based, computer-driven, simulated STEM missions for fourth and fifth grade students that will increase their STEM Engagement, STEM Occupation, and Perceived Self-Efficacy in Science.

The Challenger Center model encompasses four innovations beyond other classroom simulations: (1) integration of simulations and problem-based learning; (2) real-time assessment of student progress integrated within the technology platform; (3) strong professional development to ensure teacher understanding of content, technology, pedagogy, and efficacy; and (4) combined virtual and hands-on experiences to reinforce learning. Both formative evaluation and an outcome evaluation will be conducted. The implementation evaluation will assess the feasibility of implementation in a classroom setting. This will include teacher feedback through a survey and focus groups.The project  will help answer the question: What culturally-responsive instructional and curricular practices and models used by teachers enhance student understanding of and interest in STEM occupations, and what factors influence the outcomes of the practices and models?

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Award Number
Project Duration
2018 - 2021
Challenger Center for Space Science Education, District of Columbia
Project Work State
District of Columbia
Target Gradespan(s)
Elementary school (K-5)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Target Participants