BIG & Digital’s Cinema Learning Challenge Brings Films and Lifelong Learning to New Audiences
By night, Eclipse Theaters, located in the Arts District in downtown Las Vegas, is an upscale, concierge-style 4K cinema showing first-run movies, independent films, and live music. But by day, these same theaters offer educational field trips to area students as part of the Cinema Learning Challenge (CLC) program. CLC is the brainchild of Tina Ratterman, founder and president of GSCA member BIG & Digital, a distributor of family-friendly, educational films and documentaries for museums, planetariums, and attractions. BIG & Digital's CLC program features museum-quality films in theaters that don’t typically host educational screenings.
In addition to the films, the program includes hands-on learning activities led by scientists, lunch, and time for Q&A. The three-hour field trip provides students an experience beyond the classroom, connects them with practicing scientists, and inspires them to consider future careers in STEM, art, and more.
The most popular CLC field trip is the #GirlsInSTEM and #GirlsInTECH Package, which is funded by grants and organized by the Clark County School District (CCSD) Career & Technology Education Office. As 100 middle school students and their teachers pull up to the theater in coaches, they are greeted and then escorted into two auditoriums to start the morning learning about space science. The presenter is a scientist and outlines the plan for the morning. Then the lights dim and Space Next comes on screen to introduce students to space science technology, engineering, and the current science and advancements about our solar system.
A hands-on activity featuring the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) follows the film. The BEAM is an experimental space station module being tested on the International Space Station, and it supports the NASA advanced exploration system objective to develop a deep space habitat for human missions beyond Earth’s orbit. To reinforce the engineering aspect of these programs, students make their own origami BEAM during the activity. Students are encouraged to work together as they are led through the process step by step, with a DCP of the BEAM video playing silently on the screen to guide them (https://youtu.be/EqHkBfT498o). Lunch is then provided, followed by a screening of In Saturn’s Rings. The trip wraps up with a Q&A session, where students are encouraged to ask the scientists questions not just about space science and current events, but also about careers in science and how they are making their own personal journey toward a career in science.
“Bigelow Aerospace is located in North Las Vegas, and their inflatables are seen in Space Next,” explains Tina Ratterman. “I started the CLC Program in Las Vegas to inspire students with films they would not have the chance to see otherwise and to provide connections to STEM careers in the community.”
Snehal Bhakta, with CCSD Career & Technical Education, has brought more than 600 students to CLC events so far and is bringing 16 groups to #GirlsInSTEM in Fall 2019 to watch the film Touch the Stars, which will be packaged with a visit on the same day to the “Beyond Curie: A Celebration of Women in Science” Exhibit at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art. "I believe videos are this generation’s books,” Bhakta explains. “The movies open their minds to a world of opportunities that are out there for them to explore.”
In addition to space and STEM films, the CLC also offers a program featuring the film Watermelon Magic, connecting over 180 local elementary schools with gardens on school property. The educational partner for this program’s hands-on activity is Garden Farms Foundation, a local Las Vegas nonprofit organization, whose experts help students plant watermelon seeds to take home while learning how to grow together.
The activities for the CLC programs are customized for groups depending on the film and student grade level to ensure an enriching experience.
The CLC Program is officially part of CHOLLA [Connecting Hands Offering Lifelong Learning Adventures-- https://www.chollanv.org/field-trip-members], the source for field trips in Las Vegas. The CLC team has also participated in local STEM and professional development conferences for teachers, hosted educator screenings and more, helping the program to gain awareness and credibility among Nevada education and school administrators. As with most markets, paying for field trips and buses is a challenge for Las Vegas-area schools, so special events, sponsorships, and grants are the primary funding sources for the program.
Because of the program’s success, BIG & Digital has plans to expand it to other markets and offer it in conjunction with films that are not in the BIG & Digital distribution library.
Acknowledgements and Thanks
Dr. Pamela Maher and Dr. Kraig Knapp are featured scientists and presenters. Andromeda Hightower is the leading Doctorate Student Presenter. Autumn St. John is the Program Intern. Dana Willoughby is the Program Manager for BIG & Digital. Carol Wilhems is the Program Development Director. Tina Ratterman is creator of the Cinema Learning Challenge Field Trip Program. Theater Partner is Eclipse Theaters, co-owned by Rodney Chichester. He and his team participate by hosting Educator Screenings and work with BIG & Digital on every group visit with a gorgeous venue, excellent food and beverage, and stunning image and sound quality for a perfect environment for learning while having fun.