Challenger Learning Center develops learning labs for every giant screen film on their schedule, which provides students the opportunity to apply what they learned in the film, and reinforces the message and educational content in the film. The film/learning lab combo has also convinced school principals and committees to approve field trips.

The Program

The Challenger Learning Center (CLC) in Tallahassee, Florida, strongly believes in the power of the giant screen to tell a story and, more importantly, inspire action. CLC has also found that once educators have seen the format for themselves, the school field trip is an easier sell for the next school year. However, CLC received feedback that some educators don’t want to take their students on a field trip to “just see a movie.”

To address that, CLC develops learning labs to accompany each film on their schedule. CLC’s primary goals for pairing films with educational activities are to enhance the value of school group experiences in the IMAX and planetarium theatres, and to highlight the educational and standards-aligned content in the films in order to reinforce learning and engagement. Current learning labs include programs to accompany Dream Big: Engineering Our World, Amazon Adventure, Mysteries of the Unseen World, Tiny Giants, and America’s Musical Journey, to name a few.

These learning labs include hands-on activities and a demonstration focused on the main concepts highlighted in the accompanying giant screen film. The labs are also tailored to individual field trip groups and are aligned to current state standards (Florida, Georgia and Alabama) and Next Generation Science Standards. For example, the Dream Big learning lab for grades two and three includes a demonstration on learning the engineering design process and determining which traditional shapes are structurally strongest, while the hands-on component is to build a structure using toothpicks and gumdrops that can withstand an earthquake. The labs are primarily booked by field trip groups from CLC’s region, but they are available for adult groups as well.

It Takes Teamwork

Multiple departments within CLC work together to create the learning labs. First, the marketing team is responsible for selecting the films. Once a film is selected, a staff screening is arranged to give the education team an opportunity to sketch out their ideas for the learning lab. The official educator guide, when provided by distributors, is a great asset when developing the learning labs.

Once a lab is developed, the description and standards for each lab (grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8) are relayed back to marketing so they can create a flyer and other promotional assets. This information is sent to teachers in the region with an invitation to attend an exclusive pre-screening before the film’s official opening. At this pre-screening, the marketing and education teams work together to showcase the film’s educational content and the great opportunity to pair the film with a learning lab. Demonstrations of the lab’s content are conducted by CLC educators at the event.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Student engagement is a major success of the learning labs. The CLC’s mission is to inspire interest and enthusiasm in the STEM areas, create positive learning experiences, and motivate students to pursue careers in these fields. Building learning labs into its field trip offerings has provided CLC the opportunity to fulfill these aspects of its mission. In particular, bundling activities into packages is a successful strategy for selling field trips to teachers. It is crucial to make it an easy, simple process, and the film and corresponding learning lab package has proven to be a success.

CLC has encountered a few challenges with the program, including selling to teachers who do not wish to deviate from programming they have done in previous years, and conducting learning labs with groups that encompass a wide range of grades. CLC has a fair amount of requests for grades K-5 or K-8, and although they do offer learning labs for all of these grade levels, it can be difficult to teach a single lesson to a wide age range, particularly since labs include a hands-on component.

Moving forward, surveying teachers post-field trip with more specific questions regarding labs will provide more comprehensive feedback than the general questions currently asked. This feedback will help CLC fine tune the individual learning labs and make sure they are conducted as effectively as possible.

Throughout the process, CLC has learned that offering learning labs is an effective strategy to carry out the powerful messages and lessons brought to life on the giant screen. Additionally, CLC has found that if you can find creative ways to cross-promote and find natural ties between your own programs, you are offering a quality, cohesive set of programs to your customers. Constantly strive to improve all of your programs.

The Results

Since the implementation of CLC’s learning labs, over 8,000 students have participated in the programs. CLC has also heard many times from educators that the addition of a learning lab convinced a school principal or committee to approve the field trip. Some feedback from visiting teachers includes:

“Students enjoyed the movie immensely and were proud to answer so many of the questions during the follow up learning lab.”

“The learning lab did a great job with visual demonstrations and hands on learning.  I loved the lesson!”

“We LOVED the Dream Big film and learning lab that accompanied. The film was very motivating. My students are still talking about it with so much enthusiasm. The learning lab was challenging, yet highly engaging. It was perfect. Thank you for an awesome experience!”

Samantha Reaves, Communications Manager at CLC, says, “We find that these programs add value to field trips that include giant screen films, and we will continue to offer them with every new film. At the annual Giant Screen Cinema Association conference, we consider the learning lab potential when screening the new films and films in production.”

“People learn in different ways,” continues Reaves. “Giant screen films are visually stimulating with incredible surround sound. However, for messages and concepts to really absorb, some need to do something kinesthetic, such as a hands-on activity. Repeating a message is also a proven method to increase learning and retention. If you develop an activity to reinforce the important messages in a film, you are on your way to increased engagement and success.”

If you have questions or would like further information about Challenger Learning Center’s learning labs, please contact: 

Samantha Reaves, Communications Manager
Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee