Press Release: Hitchcock Center’s Apollo 13 Challenge Rouses Educators

Franklin County, MA – Inspired by the film depicting America’s third Moon landing mission, on Friday, December 8, Hitchcock Center for the Environment will lead an innovative Science and Engineering professional development program for 60 Pre-K through 6th grade teachers in the Union 38 School District.

An on-board explosion during the Apollo 13 mission deprived the spacecraft of most of its oxygen supply and electric power, forcing NASA’s flight controllers to abort the Moon landing, and turning the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely. Learning from this harrowing experience and the astronaut’s incredible ingenuity and know-how, the Hitchcock Center’s program will combine engineering and design knowledge with tinkering and making skills as a creative way for teachers to meet the Next Generation Science Standards in their classrooms.

The Apollo 13 Challenge, designed by Hitchcock Center’s Education Director Colleen Kelley, requires teams to learn from each other, share ideas and solutions across grade levels, and experience the hands-on challenge before implementing it with their students in the classroom. This workshop is a continuation of a two-year professional development series with the Union 38 district that focuses on strengthened STEM education through engineering and design.  This is the first time the Apollo 13 Challenge will be offered as a professional development program for teachers, one that the Hitchcock Center plans to expand.

A clip from the Apollo 13 films will be screened to help establish the parameters the teachers will use in working on their group’s challenge.  In mixed-grade level groups, teachers will complete a time-limited mission through one of three engineering and design activities: Touch Down on Mars Challenge, Mars Thermos Challenge, and Clean Water in Space Challenge. Following the challenge, teachers will debrief on their group’s process, learning from their shared successes and failures.

Each year, the Hitchcock Center offers innovative professional development opportunities to nearly 500 teachers, in districts across Massachusetts. Using hands-on and inquiry-based project learning approaches, Hitchcock Center educators develop new curricula and project ideas for teachers to better engage students in meeting Massachusetts Science Standards. Making and tinkering, as well as Rube Goldberg style engineering design challenges, are among the Hitchcock Center’s most popular professional development programs.

The Hitchcock Center also offers Summer Institutes for teachers. Last year’s institutes focused on digital photography and their newly designed Learning from Nature curriculum.

The Union 38 School District serves Conway Grammar School, Deerfield Elementary School, Sunderland Elementary School, and Whately Elementary School. The district has been working with the Hitchcock Center for over 20 years to provide trainings for hundreds of teachers across the district.


Colleen Kelley, Education Director, Hitchcock Center for the Environment
845 West St., Amherst,, 413-256-6006

Louise Law, Curriculum Director, Union 38 School District
219 Christian Lane, Whately,, 413-665-1155

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