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Introducing:
The Thornburg Center for Space Exploration

Our mission is to inspire students and improve STEM education through the design and implementation of an international program on Space Exploration that incorporates elements of a solid transdiciplinary curriculum. We address these objectives through multiple pathways - everything from one hour conference and event presentations to long-term consultancies.  

It is not enough to just learn STEM content; learners need to be aware of why there are people who choose to spend their lives working in these areas with passion and dedication. This program achieves these broad goals by promoting an environment that fosters innovation, creativity and the development of deep understanding and appreciation for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and creativity through the use of inquiry-driven projects done by students. These projects are conducted at school sites and/or at home with the active guidance and support of highly-qualified educators from the students' schools, along with rich materials from international sources related to the topics of their inquiry.  A variety of programs are offered.

On a deeper level, we know that traditional classrooms don't work for many children, and we have concrete ways to address this problem - strategies that have been implemented with success, improving education for all learners.  Our main project in this area is the Educational Holodeck, a flexible immersive and interactive learning environment that provides unique opportunities to engage students in multiple grade levels.

And, in addition to this, we also work on the challenges of incorporating new technologies into education in ways that foster the transformation of educational practice, not just as vehicles for doing the old job differently.


January 8, 2013
In addition to finishing the first draft of our new book (From the Campfire to the Holodeck: How PLace Matters in Education) to be published by Josse-Bass, we've also been working on tools to increase the ease with which inquiry can be moved into almost any classroom by expanding on an older idea of ours, the Knights of Knowledge.  To see our efforts to date, visit our special site!

July 10, 2012
The amazing competition between Apple and Google is addressed in a new briefing just posted.

May 27, 2012
We've added some new presentions and a knockout keynote address on "gadgets" to our list of dynamic presentions.  Lately we've been exploring thw role of computer-controlled devices using inexpensive interface cards like the Arduino.  

May 15, 2012
The George Lucas Educational Foundation (through Edutopia) has released a documentary on Dr. Thornburg featuring the educational holodeck.  You can see the short film here.

January 30, 2012
We have been working hard on a redesigned holodeck that does not require an entire room.  We are in the process of partnering with a furniture company to provide the framework in which our technology will fit, and should be announcing something soon.  In the meantime, we continue to work on new missions and have expanded our project to include students in 4th grade as well as all higher grades.

As for other activities, be sure to keep up with our blog (link below).

October 14, 2011
Time has this nasty habit of zipping by so fast that sometimes it takes awhile for us to catch up.  Toward that end, I invite you all to the blog, thornburgthoughts.wordpress.com to see some of our current thinking.  We are busily working on two new Holodeck missions that will be announced here as soon as they are ready.  With a flurry of conferences in October and November, I hope to see some of you in one of my sessions!

August 6, 2011
The mobile revolution is transforming education in new ways according to a new briefing posted here.  Our holodeck in support of STEM efforts is gaining attention in the US where several schools are in the process of getting the modest funding needed to bring this program to their schools.

May 9, 2011
Between conferences and other tasks, we have continued our work on the Educational Holodeck.  At this time, we are developing a large mission (semester-length) on interplanetary communication with (supposed) other species.  This mission involves the integration of STEM subjects with the nature and uses of language, opening the door to holodeck use in the liberal arts!

We are also engaged in conversations with two sites in the US for our first domestic holodeck installations.  Once funded, you will hear all about them here.  In the meantime, if you want to secure an educational holodeck for your site, please contact us.

February 23, 2011
Yesterday our Brazilian holodeck was visited by the local press, with resulting newpaper and television coverage that stressed the advantages of creating a learning space vastly different from a traditional classroom.  The concept of the educational holodeck is getting a lot of attention.

Holodeck February

In addition to our original mission to Mars, two new missions are under active development.  Our March speaking schedule in the US includes NSTA in San Francisco, CoSN in New Orleans and CUE in Palm Springs.  Please visit us at one of these presentations!

January 26, 2011
President Obama's State of the Union Address called for renewed emphasis on STEM education with a focus on innovation.  He correctly perceives the connection between education and economic recovery, and we are thrilled that our activities are so clearly focused on this goal.  Please stop me to chat at TCEA, NSTA, CoSN, or California CUE (four conferences at which I'm speaking in February and March) to explore how we can help your school or district achieve the focus needed to reassert the true creative power of the United States.

December 12
Our TEDx presentation has just been posted and I invite you all to see it!  It explores the rationale behind the Educational Holodeck and explores how the physical structure of classrooms can impede learning.

November 30
November has been a month filled with conference speeches.  We've been all over the US and in Canada sharing the exciting results of our Educational Holodeck project.

In addition to our continuing work on the Educational Holodeck, we have also created a STEM curriculum and workshop for Middle- and High-School that is starting to receive international attention. We would love to bring this program to your school.  Details can be found here.

Note:  Because of the high level of interest in this workshop, you should contact us soon to have the best selection of dates.

Finally, go to our briefings page to see an update of an article I wrote a decade ago!  Boy have times changed!

October 7
On the 5th we had Middle-school kids visit Mars using the Educational Holodeck.  The journey was taken to search for life, but it was not an easy trip!  Several disasters almost killed the entire crew. Once the students fixed these problems, though, they continued their mission.  A summary video of the first trip is shown here. This project was one of several in Brazil undertaken as part of World Space Week.  It was astounding to see how much students learned about Mars on their own, without any lectures or "assigned" readings.  We hope you are able to hear more about this project by attending our TEDx TLN presentation in Phoenix on October 21.  Of course, if you can't make it there, we will gladly come and visit your site as well!


September 27
WSW logoOctober 4-10 is World Space Week.  We are thrilled that our Educational Holodeck Mission to Mars: The Search for Life is one of only four entries from Brazil!  This UN-sponsored event has activities in 55 countries taking place that week.  Ours is the first flight of the Beagle (our "spacecraft") as it heads to the Red Planet under the command of some students from Colégio Atual, the first school in which we have installed the holodeck hardware and software.  Photos will be posted on this site at the end of the event.

In the meantime, we are hearing from schools in the US who want this project in their schools.  We are designing missions in many subject areas - from space exploration to paleontology - the flexibility of our architecture makes just about anything possible.  We will be in the US from October 15 on, so contact me to set up meetings on how to bring this project to your school or district.


September 13
Our first educational holodeck is nearing completion and we are working on our first "missions" now. Our first STEM-based mission will involve going to Mars to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. We are also starting the design of the "Time Machine" interface that will be used for the exploration of history, archaeology and paleontology.  An excellent interview on this project appeared last month here.  

There is much more to announce, but that will have to wait for another week or two!

August 7
We formally announced the construction of the world's first educational holodeck for STEM education being built in Colégio Atual, a pre-K to middle school in Recife, Brazil.  The English language press release on this announcement can be found here.  The holodeck will initially be configured as an interplanetary spacecraft for missions to the the Moon, Mars, and other objects in between.  Other configurations for the deck are under development.  As always, this will be the place to check on our progress;

Also, as promised, we have converted the bulk of our free briefing papers to the ePub format allowing you to either download pdf versions or to download the electronic book version to ePub devices such as the Apple iPad, iPhone, and other devices.  These papers can be found on our briefings page.

August 3
Our work in Brazil continues to evolve.  One of our client schools was remodeled over the (Brazilian) Winter break.  One teacher nearly burst into tears of joy, and one girl was smiling from ear to ear when she saw that the "science room" was now a professional laboratory!  And, that's not all.  We hope to have our first holodeck installation finished by the end of the month.  Our team has done an amazing job with the hardware, and we are still refining software and project "missions".  In addition, we wrote yet another free briefing paper that builds on our earlier ones relating to Theaters Without Audiences and Educational Holodecks.  Our new paper, "Culture, Education and Theaters Without Audiences", can be found here.  Now is the perfect time to schedule a chat about how we can bring some of these transformations to your school or district - as always, e-mail me here.

July 1
Our first demonstration of the educational holodeck took place in Michigan City, Indiana.  We are continuing to refine the hardware and missions and will report on our progress as it evolves.

The ISTE conference in Denver went well.  I send our apologies to those of you who could not get in our session because the fire marshal closed the doors when the room was full.  I hope you can attend our presentations at other conferences this year.

To support the large number of Apple iPad users, our briefings are being converted to the ePub format (for Stanza and iBooks) over the next few weeks.  These versions will be available along with our normal pdf files.  I also plan on making our STEM book available on iTunes.  Once these plans have materialized, we will post an update here.

June 10
Why is student inquiry important?  This is a topic explored in a new free briefing paper: Why "Why" Is More Important Than "What" in Education.  I encourage you to read it.  As always, I welcome your e-mail comments on this or any of the other briefing papers posted on this site.

June 9, 2010
Our presentation at the international Space Development Conference went quite well.  We explored workforce development issues centered in education, and showed how our "holodeck" might be used as a transformative tool.  Now we are working on a one-week workshop on STEM and PBL for Michigan City, Indiana, and prepping for the ISTE conference.  If you are going to Denver for ISTE, please say hello!  Norma and I have a session on Monday from 2 to 3 PM and we'd love to see you there.

May 7, 2010
I am proud to announce that we were selected as one of the "Best of CUE 2010" for our presentations at the recent CUE conference in Palm Springs.  This honor is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our team!  In other news, we are continuing our design for the first educational holodeck that may be built either in Brazil or the United States.  If you want to have your school or district involved with this project, e-mail me right away.

April 26, 2010
Our continuing work has resulted in a new briefing paper on the changing face of educational narratives, Theater Without Audiences, which can be found here.  The next few weeks will be spent exploring these ideas with educational leaders as we prepare to create an immersive and interactive learning enviroment especially geared to the STEM subjects, primarily with students in Middle- and High-School.

April 13, 2010
You don't need to be a "Trekkie" to know about the holodeck - an infinitely reconfigurable space where amazing things can be made to happen.  We have been thinking about this kind of space from a learning perspective and have concluded that it is not only effective, it is well within school budgets for those wanting to transform STEM education for their students.  The briefing paper, Learning on the Holodeck, explores this topic in more depth.  We will be conducting speeches and workshops on this topic.  Schedule us soon before our calendar fills up!

April 9, 2010
While this site has been quiet for a few months, it is not because we haven't been busy.  We are preparing the launch of a ground-breaking educational innovation that can help transform STEM education in truly astounding ways.  This project is tailor-made for Middle-School to Community College.  Check this site often in the next 30 days - our new project can engage your students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in ways you will hardly believe possible!

January 28, 2010
The new year brough a special announcement!  Dr. Thornburg's eagerly awaited book, STEM Education: From Sputnik to the 22nd Century, is now available.  More information can be found on our books and briefings page here!  Special pricing is available for quantity purchases.

December 22, 2009
With conferences in the US and continuing our classroom work in Brazil, the end of the year has been  busy for the Center.  A new briefing on the important role  of engineering on STEM education is on the Briefings page.  This work is based on a series of mechatronics workshops Dr. Thornburg did with children in grades 4-7.  Those of you going to FETC in Orlando in January will have the chance to get the new book, Stem Education: From Sputnik to the 22nd Century at David and Norma Thornburg's session on space exploration as a STEM curriculum.

November 26, 2009
The STEM book is finished and is on the way to the printer.  In January we will have a link to it here.  In the meantime, we have been busy with STEM workshops for educators, conference presentations, and STEM workshops for children in grades 4-8.  Our next US event is FETC in Orlando, Florida and I hope to see some of you there.


October 12, 2009
Our new book is in final edits, and is on-target for a late November release.  In the meantime, visit the Briefings page to see our latest paper on Playing With the Future!

September 26, 2009
This has been a busy month at the Center.  Dr. Thornburg is wrapping up a seven-city speaking tour on STEM education, sharing perspectives to educator-based audiences throughout the country and engaging in conversations with JPL/NASA team members on education-related projects.  Norma has spent the bulk of her time working with our clients in Brazil, and is giving a speech on the future of educational technology on September 30 in Recife.

In mid-October, Norma and David head back to Brazil for a few weeks before returning to the US to present at the T+L Conference in Denver.

We have developed a new workshop on systemic change based on preparing youth for the 22nd century.  Since the 21st cntury is almost a decade old, we felt it appropriate to extend our time horizon to encourage true change that lasts!  Contact us for available dates.

Also, Dr. Thornburg's latest book, STEM Education: From Sputnik to the 22nd Century, is ready to go to the printers with a scheduled November release date.  To reserve your copy now, send us an e-mail!  The first 1000 copies will be autographed by Dr. Thornburg.

August 22, 2009
Our Brazilian schools had a special treat two weeks ago when Dr. Rosaly Lopes (one of our board members from JPL/NASA) visited the four campuses where the Thornburg Center maintains an active involvement.

Rosaly Lopes

Dr. Lopes is currently involved wth NASA's Cassini mission, exploring active vulcanism on the moons of Saturn.  Based on students' prior interest in space science, the questions they had for her were quite interesting.

We are expanding our program in these schools with the introduction of the Brazilian version of our "futurework" competition, a short course in the design of a Mars colony, and, possibly, a semester-long course on the solar system for fifth graders.

As you look at the faces of the children in the picture above, think that some of them might someday choose to work and live on another planet!  Our goal in our inquiry-driven project-based approach to STEM is to be sure that the children with whom we work have the skills and habits of mind needed to explore a dynamic and rapidly changing future, whether on Earth or elsewhere.

August 5, 2009
At the end of July we had the honor of conducting a one-week-long workshop on STEM in Michigan Cty, Indiana.  This workshop for educators emphasized guided inquiry and project-based learniing and brought together experts from St. Mary's College, University of Notre Dame, Purdue University, and elsewhere to work with educators from pre-K to 9th grade.  Followup workshops will take place later in the year.  To see a short video of the hands-on workshop in action, click here.

(Note that we will gladly bring this workshop to your school or district.)
July 14, 2009
After presenting at NECC we returned to Brazil to continue our work with schools in Recife and to prepare for a week-long STEM workshop we are conducting in Michigan City, Indiana at the end of July.  This intensive workshop is being done by a team including experts from St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, Purdue and Valparaiso for teachers ranging from the primary grades to the star of high school.  The pedagogical focus is inquiry-driven PBL, a topic near and dear to our hearts.

What might school be like if it was modeled on the structure of the research labs that have given the world the advances of modern technology and science?  This question is addressed in a new briefing paper that can be found here.

May 29, 2009
I just arrived in the US and wanted to share some of the amazing work being done by kids in Brazil in one of the schools we are working with.  We worked with first-grade students who built their own "lunar rovers" - rubber-band powered cars.  This project gave them the chance to learn a bit about design, and some science principles as well.  The photo below shows the level of engagement shown by these kids when their science teacher visited the room afterwards to talk about friction.  The expressions on the faces of the kids tell the success story on project-based learning...

Atual first graders

May 6, 2009
The more I thought about the President's STEM speech, the more parallels I found with the speeches on this topic given by President Eisenhower over 50 years ago.  The comparisons can be seen here.

In keeping with our look at history, I also revisited the Four Pillars of Educational Technology plans championed by President Clinton.  A "scorecard" on our progress toward these impressive goals can be found here.

April 27, 2009
Today, President Obama gave a very important speech at the National Academy of Science that touched on the necessity of improving the US standing in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  The whole speech can be seen here.

In many ways this call to action mirrors the speech President eisenhower gave a month after the launch of Sputnik.  President Obama fully grasps the urgency of addressing this need, and we are thrilled that our TCSE program tackles some of these challenges head-on.

March 15, 2009
The winners of our Futurework competition have been announced
here and we congratulate the one-thousand students who submitted entries.  We have many new projects in development and are actively expanding our reach both in the US and elsewhere.

January 11, 2009
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, and we are working on our Year 2 materials with this in mind.  Our FutureWork contest deadline is January 31, so be sure students have filled out their entries using the forms and instructions located
here.  We already have a lot of entries, but will be holding the door open until the last minute before judging begins.  Winners will be announced by March and top prize winners will receive new iPods!

November 3, 2008

News from our Brazilian partner.ARS

We are proud to announce that students affiliated with our Brazilian partners, Grupo Atual in Caruaru, Pernambuco, and ARS Consult in Recife, Pernambuco, are launching their second rocket (Calango II) in Mid-November.

Portuguese announcement: “O Grupo Atual de Educação, a ARS Consult e o Thornburg Center for 
Space Exploration sentir-se-ão honrados com a presença de V.Sa. para assistir ao lançamento do
Foguete Experimental Calango II, que faz parte do projeto de iniciação científica desenvolvido pelo
Colégio Atual de Caruaru com alunos do ensino fundamental e médio."
September 29, 2008
We have just announced a new contest for Middle and High-school students in which they will identify some of the new kinds of jobs that might be available in the year 2020!  Details of the contest can be found here.

August 7, 2008
We are thrilled to have four schools leading the way with our program this year: one Middle School and three High Schools.  The first round of teacher workshops have been completed, and we can't wait to see students developing interest in STEM fields with the aid of their wonderful teachers and our program.  For those who are interested the the connections among the four STEM topics, there is a new brief paper you will want to read.

July 16, 2008
Our first training weeks for our four pilot sites start next Monday.  Our initial sites include one middle school and three high schools.  Those of you who attended the NECC conference in San Antonio had a chance to see our program up close.  As always, we are pleased to come to your area to give a presentation on our work to see how it could be used to improve STEM skills development for the children in your schools.  Those who have seen our first-year's curriculum have found it to be an excellent piece of work.

May 30, 2008
Our continued growth is reflected in many recent updates to our pages for leaders, teachers and students.  With our Fall training starting soon, we are getting even more student resources ready to post.

May 3, 2008
Our site is now acquiring some structure and will grow significantly in the coming months.  Click on the labels above to see some of the resources we are assembling for school leaders, faculty, and students.  Some of the links are not active yet as the materials are still in development.  By summertime in the US, we expect many of these resources to be ready.

April 19, 2008
We have continued to refine our program as it is developed, gaining strength every day.  Our
Frequently Asked Questions document continues to get refined as visitors to our site ask deeper questions.  You should check it every week or so.  After a meeting with NASA next week, we will be contacting sites that are on our "pilot" list so we can keep moving forward!

 April 14, 2008
We've presented the outline of this project at two conferences and received tremendous encouragement.  2008 is the pilot year for this project, and full-rollout happens in 2009.  If you have schools at the Middle or High School level that might be interested, please have them contact us!  Also, the
Frequently Asked Questions document gets refined on a regular basis, so please download a fresh copy to see the scope of our current program.

March 1, 2008
Today marks the start of a new and exciting venture - the creation of the Thornburg Center for Space Exploration.  As our first project we are developing a three-year STEM curriculum on Space Exploration.

Year One explores the challenges of leaving the gravitational pull of Earth and space activities going as far as the moon.
Year Two explores our solar system
Year Three explores the stars and galaxies

Each year has a rich project-based approach that provides students with exposure and in-depth development and application of skills in the area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  Our program is developed as an after-school program to be implemented by schools initially in the United States and Brazil.  This site will grow in size and depth as the project advances. We are already looking for a pilot school and are well on the way to defining the first year's curriculum.

Of course, please direct any questions you have to our founder: Dr. Thornburg


Who we are:
The Thornburg Center for Space Exploration was created by the founder of one of the longest-running and most distinguished groups of consultants, speakers and authors whose primary focus is on education from Kindergarten to twelfth grade.  Our international team of designers, educators, and technologists are building a world-class project to benefit students all over the world as they develop skills in the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.