Friday’s Epic Challenge Program Offers a Glimpse into NASA’s Innovative Learning

Chrissie Wywrot is a freelance writer and social media expert with focuses on LinkedIn profile development and blogging. She is also an advocate for The ChadTough Foundation which raises funds and awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Learn more about Chrissie and her business at

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epic challenge program
Charles Camarda presenting at the Epic Challenge Program.

By Chrissie Wywrot

Allison Zmuda was on a plane headed for Atlanta working on her ASCD blog for Learning Personalized. The gentleman next to her, Charles Camarda, couldn’t help but notice the content of the blog: personalized learning. He quickly struck up a conversation because, as a Senior Advisor for Engineering Development for NASA, he is entrenched in personalized learning himself. In fact, he is hosting an educator workshop at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, on Friday, April 15.

“Charles and I chatted about the biggest education hang-ups in schools,” wrote Allison. “Turns out that NASA and schools have the same basic problem — challenge of creating a culture of innovation in a world of bureaucracy. Real change, powerful shifts in practice that disrupt practice to create meaningful change.”

The event will showcase the presentations of the Epic Challenge Program and the ICED (Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design) methodology, which teaches students to use both sides of their brain – the analytical and logical left side as well as the artistic and innovative right side – to solve problems as a team. The idea for teaching and utilizing ICED methodology was born from the work to identify the cause of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in 2003 and develop technologies to prevent such catastrophes from occurring in the future.

When teams came together to collaborate in this way, they were able to develop technologies to predict and repair critical damage to the space vehicle in the event of a subsequent debris strike prior to landing. Charles Camarda was an astronaut on board the Return-to-Flight Space Shuttle mission (STS–114) that flew right after the accident as a way to test that new technology.

He now works to implement that same collaboration and learning with students who are working their way through the STEM program.

“My job, my passion is to help (students) create curriculum grounded in real-world problems from graduate students all the way down to middle school,” Charles told Allison. “Want to connect kids a couple of grade levels up around these problems or challenges to set up a mentor-peer network, a continuous pull that inspires students and build relationships. When you put them together, it pushes them to do better, to be better.”

The workshop begins at 8 a.m. with a welcome and introduction followed by a brief overview of the program by Charles Camarda, who will explain his involvement with the ICED method.

“You have to fail in order to be successful and there are smart ways to fail,” he says. “So I try to teach students how to fail smart, fast, small, cheap, early, and often.”

Finland will begin presentations at 8:30 a.m. by discussing the challenge of sustaining life on Mars. Questions being addressed: how do we get there, what does living off the land look like on Mars, and what resources can we use to produce consumables to sustain them.

If you are interested in attending the event in person, please reach out to Ms. Tamika Coleman to inform her of your intent to attend and provide her with your required information to ensure your badges will be ready for pick-up. Anyone who cannot attend the presentation in person can participate virtually.

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