Investing in Innovation (i3)

Challenger Center was selected as one of 25 grantees nationwide to participate in the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Project. Out of 618 applications, Challenger Center demonstrated a high level of innovation for the effective use of technology in classrooms around the country and will now have the opportunity to take a larger leadership role in addressing the changing demands of a global job market through dynamic, hands-on STEM learning opportunities.

To date, the i3 fund has supported 92 unique projects that provide innovative solutions to common education challenges. With the receipt of this grant, Challenger Center will join 77 other projects that are addressing current education issues. As a requirement to receive funding, Challenger Center is obligated to provide a 15% match of federal funds over the duration of the project, bringing the total match funding requirement to $448,833. These funds must be committed by June of 2014. This represents an excellent opportunity for current and future partners of Challenger Center to invest in a ground-breaking project that has been vetted by the Department of Education and endorsed at the highest levels of peer review.

Program Description
Partnering with regional school districts, Challenger Center’s successful approach will extend deeper into the classroom providing a completely embedded, hands-on, interdisciplinary experience that is typically not part of a student’s day. This cost-effective, scalable and standards-aligned classroom mission will allow students to apply STEM and 21st century learning skills while at the same time improving overall critical thinking skills. Through cutting edge, custom software being launched by Challenger Center in early 2014, teachers will not only be able improve students’ performance and knowledge base, but will also be able to track student progress real time.

Four areas of innovation will be achieved through Challenger Center’s new classroom mission program: (1) integration of simulation and solutions-based learning will be seamlessly infused into a classroom environment; (2) real-time assessment of student progress will be integrated into the technology platform; (3) professional development will be provided to ensure teachers understand STEM content, pedagogy, technology, and efficacy; and (4) combined virtual and hands-on experiences will reinforce learning.

Challenger Center will produce strong evidence that supports the need for a classroom-based simulation program aligned with national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in improving student achievement in mathematics and science. Additional teacher benefits will include improved preparation for teaching science and using technology within the classroom, as well as improved abilities to rapidly respond to student learning needs.

The four-year project is a $3.45 million initiative that involves multiple school district partners, the Virginia Department of Education, external evaluators and technology design companies. It provides the base development for a program that will grow into a nationwide initiative that will make STEM learning exciting and relevant for students. It will also provide our educational system with the tools it needs to increase its educators’ knowledge of and confidence in teaching STEM subjects and improving ability to effectively evaluate student progress.

All investments will be leveraged to greatly advance the effective use of technology in the classroom. This is an opportune time for funders to partner with Challenger Center in a way that both produces a higher level of achievement in math and science at the K-12 level and produces a robust pipeline of STEM qualified workers for the nation’s economy.