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e-Missions: Live Learning WorldWide

location_on District 3, United States

Save a lunar base, diagnose an epidemic disease, or rescue a community from a volcanic eruption, live & online.

For 20 years the Challenger Learning Center of Wheeling has presented live video-conference simulations of space and medical emergencies to classrooms around the world. Our e-Missions immerse students as experts working to save lives. Our newest initiative brings e-Missions to youth incarcerated in juvenile centers, encouraging individuals to collaborate with others and rebuild their self-esteem.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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March 15th, 2023
Teacher-in-space astronaut Christa McAuliffe had a dream of touching the future by teaching. For me that dream becomes a reality every time we bring e-Missions into classrooms and see children's faces beam with wonderment.

About the innovation

What is an e-Mission?

In 1998, our Challenger Learning Center (CLC) at Wheeling Jesuit University created Operation Montserrat, a live video conference simulation of a Caribbean island with an erupting volcano and an approaching hurricane. Middle school students act as volcanologists, meteorologists and emergency personnel, employing their math and science skills, to evacuate and save the population. Operation Montserrat has been deployed in thousands of classrooms around the world, earning praise from teachers who choose to use it every year. 

Operation Montserrat has been so successful at immersing students in role-playing simulations that we have developed 28 different online simulations, or e-Missions, that provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education experiences to K-12 students worldwide. Students become the “experts” at the scene, providing critical analysis and recommendations as the scenario unfolds. The class responds to the changing situation throughout their 60 to 120-minute mission until they resolve the emergency. Sometimes students become so immersed in the activity that they ask at mission’s end if they rescued everyone. 

During an e-Mission our STEM educators, portraying a Chief Medical Officer, Lead Meteorologist or Commander, connect to a classroom with Skype, Zoom or other video-conferencing equipment. Students have specific roles that they have prepared for in pre-mission lessons that provide STEM content review and use of the web interface that delivers data and alerts. For example, in the CyberSurgeons e-Mission, high school students act as medical officers, examining patient symptoms and x-ray and other data. Students apply knowledge from their prior science coursework and from pre-mission preparation to diagnose the disease/ailment, order tests, analyze results, and recommend treatment. Often teams of students spontaneously compete to see which can diagnose the most patients. At the end of a CyberSurgeons e-Mission each team describes their most unusual patient/disease (such as Guinea worm exiting a sore - ugh), and teachers often review and build on the simulation excitement for the next class periods. 

A recently developed spinoff from e-Missions are e-Labs and e-Labs, Jr. - live science demonstrations videoconferences for grades 4-8 and K-3 classrooms. These labs allow observation and discussion of real experiments that often cannot be done in elementary and middle schools because they lack lab space, equipment, trained teachers, and permission to conduct dangerous (dry ice, Bunsen burners, liquid nitrogen) experiments. Students participate by asking questions, predicting experiment outcomes, and recording processes and results in their lab notebooks. Evaluation is by a playful online app with spoken questions, and answers often indicated by selection of images. 

The great innovation of e-Missions and e-Labs is in bringing science to life by engaging students in realistic simulations of fascinating problems such as epidemic outbreaks, meteorological extremes, and space rescues. Students collaborate to solve problems, experiencing how everyone’s contribution is critical, and sometimes surprising themselves by becoming leaders. e-Missions ignite the potential within each student, opening their eyes to unanticipated career possibilities, and sparking a passion for learning that may last a lifetime. Indeed, a few early participants now work for NASA. Teachers also benefit from e-Missions by participating in professional development that strengthens their skills in effectively using technology and problem-based learning. 

In our newest initiative, we are presenting e-Missions to incarcerated youth in juvenile detention centers. Commonly these kids have lost connections to normal life and learning. Our e-Missions awaken interest in better futures, with one student asking what classes he should take to get a job like the role he played in the simulation. From the quotes below from two participants in a recent e-Mission we know that we will spread this inspiring experience to many more places where hope is rare:

I’m pretty sure everyone loved working with one another. We found out what people were good at, tracking, leading their teams and most importantly the people that are good under stressful situations. Even though it was a simulation, it felt like a real life situation with everything that was going on. The people from different teams were interacting with each other really well. I really think I want to make that sort of thing a career

I’m not going to lie, for two hours there I forgot I was behind bars.


e-Mission Impact: We create e-Missions in a small town in West Virginia, and through the magic of video conferences they have appeared live in classrooms in every state and in many countries. More than 300,000 students experienced emissions, and 1600 teachers benefited by professional development in educationally effective uses of technology and simulations. More important, e-Missions have changed the lives of students who now realize that they can turn life dreams into reality. 
Challenger Learning Center of Colorado--Highlands Ranch e-Mission
Distance Learning Promo - E-mission & E-lab together
"The best part about the mission was the math. The easiest part about the mission was the math. The hardest part about the mission was the math." Team of 5th grade boy."The decoding to find the correct planet was intense but a lot of fun!"  5th grade girl who found the correct planet Robin Brown, St. Joe School
Thank you for guiding our students through the "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" e-Mission last week. Most of our students worked really hard and truly enjoyed the experience. We even received hugs from students on Friday because they had so much fun! Mrs. A, Mrs. L, and I are very proud of our students and happy we were able to bring this experience to them. Mrs. L prepared a poster for students to share what they liked about it and there were many comments about how they enjoyed the coding challenges. Students assigned as communicators were also very pleased with their roles. We even had a student identify that it was fun to work as a team to solve the problem! Thank you for this experience! I will definitely keep you in mind for future projects.- Rachel, Southbeach Schools Florida 
"The students left the session begging for more! What a wonderful feeling that was…to know that at least for one day we were able to make learning a positive thing for these students. I can guarantee you that these students will remember this e-Mission for years to come."— Gary Phillips, Director of Technology, Gallia County Local Schools

Implementation steps

Preparing for an e-Mission

The steps before flying an e-Mission are:

1. Select the one that fits your students' needs. 

2. Register for teacher training.

3. Register for the actual mission.

4. Conduct the pre-mission training with your students. Here is an example of trainingfor the high school Cybersurgeons Mission.

For additional information about any of our e-Mission packages, please contact Laura Ondeck, Lead Flight Director,  at emission@wju.edu

Flying your e-Mission!
The detailed instructions depend on which mission comes to your classroom. The pre-mission prep (Instruction 1) has the details, and each mission website gives information on classroom setup and possible needed materials.
Enriching your Mission with Deep Resources
Comprehensive Research Centers exist for CyberSurgeons, Pandem-Sim and many other e-Missions. These are teacher centered, providing lesson plans, identification of outstanding resources, and professional develop for the effective use of problem-based learning. Each of these can be freely used independently of an e-Mission or to enrich it.

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