To help students consider and understand the type of planning involved in designing a mission to another planet.
This lesson is based on the book Mission: Mars, by Pascal Lee. The book is one of the winners of the 2015 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. SB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The class will read it as a group, taking turns reading. Alternatively, the class could be helped by guest readers from upper school or parent volunteers.
In this lesson, students will co-create a mock Wikipedia page called Mission: Mars about the U.S. plans to send the first crew to Mars by the year 2035. The goal is to help them extract meaning from the book and understand key technologies that make travel to Mars by humans possible. Working in three groups to break this large topic in thirds, the students will write and illustrate Wiki contributions that are then integrated into a single Wiki entry, led by you.
A Wiki is a digital genre of collaborative writing to produce ready access to knowledge created by multiple authors. The fact that a Wiki is collaboratively written makes it different from a blog, which is distinguished by its solo authorship, and, occasionally, a celebrity voice.
To ensure alignment with the Project 2061 benchmark 3A/M2 that focuses on technology, kids will group-write their Wiki entries under these subheads, which echo the language of the benchmark:
- Getting to and Landing on Mars (Access to Outer Space),
- Living and Working on Mars and in Space (Collecting Samples, Collecting Observations, Storing Them), and
- Communicating about Mars (Technology Needed to Connect to Earth, What to Say, Joining the Conversation).
To ensure alignment with National Science Education Standards, the lesson focuses on two of the eight categories for content standards. The first is Science as Inquiry, such as observation, inference, and experimentation in which students focus on science as process so they begin to appreciate the skills and abilities that power scientific discovery. (National Science Education Standards, pp. 101-105.) The second category is Science and Technology. General content here describes the subject matter of science using facts, concepts, theories, principles, and models that all students need to know, understand, and use to be fluent in scientific understanding. Particular content at this grade level keyed to Space and Technology learning standards includes exposure to evidence-based content about Earth's history and the structure of the solar system. (National Science Education Standards, pp. 105-107.)
Students at this age have been exposed to many fantastic and likely wildly inaccurate space stories in videos and movies enhanced with computer-generated images. Acknowledge the fanciful and fun nature of these exposures, and use them to actually engage the students more deeply with phrases such as, "If you loved the story of alien life as it was imagined in movies such as Avatar, or in video games, you'll be even more amazed by the facts and evidence for what Mars as a planet is like, and the technology humans have already developed for getting there, living, working, exploring, and understanding the universe."
The 45-page award-winning book is cleverly organized into six "Phases" of training for a mission to Mars, and ideally formatted for visual learners and those with digital reading habits in which content is delivered in bullet points, not nararative. The six content phases are: Discover Mars, Prepare for Launch, Navigate Space, Gear Up for Survival, Explore the Red Planet, and Plan a New World. You might take a chapter a day for a nice M-F + M unit.
The engaging voice of real-life planetary scientist Pascal Lee provides both the narrator's perspective (which is fun, positive, and folksy, including asides to his dog Ping-Pong) as well as authorative as an academically-trained NASA space scientist. As a read-a-loud, the book may be a bit difficult to continuously read left-right, line by line due to its design for digital reading habits. It may work better to assign "clusters of content"—ask a student to read a paragraph, then a call out (e.g., "A Day On Mars"), then the subhead (e.g., "Why Pick Mars?"), then the blue box. The bonus here is that they come to understand the anatomy of modern Web reading design.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RI.6.1
Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RI.6.3
Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RI.6.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RI.6.7
Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1
Cite specific evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.6
Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text.
- CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.8
Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
To prepare for this lesson, it may be helpful to obtain background on Mars and also on how to create a free, online Wiki, from these websites:
- Humans on Mars by 2035? Dream Could Be a Reality
- NASA_Journey to Mars
- Scholastic Mission: Mars
- Pascal Lee – Mission: Mars
- Free Wikispaces for Teachers
- Teachers Create a Free Wikispace Now!
- Introduction to Wikis
To get students' attention on the topic of technology used in exploring Mars, they should use their Mission: Mars student esheet to go to and watch this two-minute long NASA video, called Curiosity Rover Report: Rover Walkabout, with live footage from exploration by the Mars rover, Curiosity, narrated by an engaging young geologist and space scientist with magenta blaze in her hair, Eileen.
Ask students these questions from their Mission: Mars student sheet:
- Name three of Curiosity's instruments and describe how technology helps produce information about the Martian landscape.
- Why is the Martian geologic feature called Pink Cliffs interesting for scientists to investigate?
- (Curiosity has 1. cameras on her mast that function as eyes to scan the landscape and pick a site to investigate as well as 2. the APXS [alpha particle x-ray spectrometer] and 3. the Mahli Mars Hand Lens Imager that both help scientists get data to determine if the site is a good place for taking a sample to examine in the onboard laboratory.)
- (Because it is rock with a crystal structure of blade-shaped crystals that suggest the presence of water helped the crystals form. Knowing if Mars once had water is important for assessing its suitability for sustaining human life because humans need water to live.)
Then, to get students primed about the specific topic of Mars and this book, they should visit The Scholastic Mission: Mars website. It has a video of Pascal Lee, the book's author, in which he discusses his work and the book. This will help students bond with the narrator and get in the spirit of the book to motivate them to learn more about the topic.
Ask students these questions:
- Why is Mars interesting to study?
- Why does an astronaut talk about ping pong? Do they play it in space?
- (Because there might be life there and that is a major scientific question: Does life only exist on Earth?)
- (In this case, ping pong is not a game! It is Astronaut Pascal Lee's dog, and he used his dog's ability to obey commands to show us how his book and this class unit on Mars can help us understand the importance of science and technology in space exploration. He doesn't mention the game ping pong, but the weightlessness of space would make the game as we know it on earth very different!)
Students also could visit Pascal Lee's own site, The Making of Mission: Mars, which accompanies his book. They should answer these questions on their student sheet:
- From the left menu bar, select the Drawing and Paintings page and go there. What kind of things does Pascal Lee draw, and why?
- Now click on Paintings in the left menu bar: Compare the Mars Dust Storm painting with the Human Exploration of the Martian Moon Deimos. What do they have in common in terms of what he chose to paint?
- (He likes to draw about Mars, flight, polar and space exploration, prehistory, and disasters. If you go look at some of his drawings, you can see his fascination with spaceships.)
- (Both show the planet Mars environment—and technology! This suggests how important technology is to him in his quest to understand Mars.)
Discovery. After the introduction, assign your students to one of three Wiki writing topic groups: 1. Getting to and Landing on Mars, 2. Living and Working on Mars and in Space, and 3. Communicating about Mars. Students should take 30 minutes per day (for as many days as it takes, depending on your level of readers) to read the book individually or in groups.
Creating Content. After they have read the book, students should use their student esheet to access the Web resources that will help them learn more about their topics. As they go through these resources, they can use them to fill out the information they need for their Wikis on their Mission: Mars student sheet. Note that they are welcome to map, diagram, and make timelines as part of their responses, in addition to writing text. The Mission: Mars teacher sheet helps you evaluate their responses.
Collaborative Writing Using the Free Online Wiki Tool. After all groups have finished developing their topics, guide a classroom discussion on what they learned and how to showcase their knowledge as a Wiki entry.
Together your students can organize entries and avoid duplicates by rewriting entries that are redundant. They then combine their sub-entries into a single Wiki entry, with your oversight and guidance using the free online Wiki tool to set up a classroom Wiki.
Collaborating Using Paper. After all groups have finished developing their topics, guide a classroom discussion on what they learned and how to showcase their knowledge as a Wiki entry. Together the class organizes entries and rewrites where necessary. They combine their sub-entries into a single Wiki entry, with your oversight and guidance. Start simply by pasting paper sheets with hand-written sentences and paragraphs together to make a long Wiki scroll to drape around the room—or roll down the hall to engage other students as a form of performance art. This simple scroll can be supplemented with a sophisticated digital presence through Wiki spaces free online Wiki-creation tool, if available and desired.
Assess students' learning of the main benchmark ideas on science and technology through this lesson with a summative assessment exercise that utilizes a print out of the Boot Print student sheet. It shows the bottom of an astronaut's boot—and serves as a coloring-book template on which each student can invent his and her own "boot signature" as described in the book, and just as real Mars astronauts do with a custom-design on the treads of the boot soles that identify them. This way historians know for sure whose footprints were first to be walking on Mars in the deep red dust of Martian soils.
On the Boot Print student sheet students should do two things:
- FRONT: Design a customized boot sole and
- BACK: Summarize this lesson by writing three sentences that address one challenge in the Martian environment to overcome plus one key feature for living on Mars in a space ship plus one quote from the book they would like to share with friends and family. And if you made an online Wiki, be sure to include the URL of your class Wiki.
Read these aloud as a class, and have students suggest means for improving and revising them—and identify points missing from the class Wiki that would improve it. Revise it as needed.
When finished with the Boot Prints, get creative with your options for displaying the class's collection of custom-designed boot bottoms. Hang them across the room from a clothesline, or post them on hall walls to engage other students' curiosity by having the foot prints lead to your room for Mars Day, where you show and tell what your students know about technology's role in making travel to Mars by 2035 possible. Or make a bulletin board montage.
For an historic and artistic extension of the lesson, listen to genuine primary-source sound clips of astronauts in space at:
- The Eagle has landed: Apollo 11 landing, July 1969 with astronaut Neil Armstrong talking to Mission Control.
- Sally Ride, “That was definitely an e ticket”: Challenger, June 1983, on the seventh mission of the space shuttle. As the first American woman in space, Ride was one of 20 astronauts selected to serve as engineers, scientists, and physicians, rather than pilots.
- Countdown, Atlantis Space Shuttle America Will Continue the Dream: Final Space Shuttle flight 2011 after severe funding cuts to NASA.
After listening to the clips, have a brief discussion about their meaning and ask students to compose their own message for their Mars Walk and make an art mural documenting it. Get a roll of butcher paper to make a mural consisting of gluing all bootprints from their Boot Print student sheet, showing all the bootprints students designed, and hang it around the perimeter of the room. Use the title that mimics the "Eagle has landed" message: "The students have landed on Mars: Many giant bootprints for kidkind." Invite parents and neighboring classes in for a living history Mars show in which you show and explain your mural, and invite them to read your Wikipedia entry.
To take this lesson and its learning a step further in the context of a technology-enriched classroom, write a script for a student podcast that integrates the three historical sound clips analyzed in class, as if you are a Modern Mission Control telling a brief history of the American Space Program. Use GarageBand or other pod-cast creating app to actually make and record the podcast.
For more extensions of learning, these Science NetLinks lessons could be used to extend the inquiry, by reading and discussing.
- In Make a Mission, students explore the purpose and constraints of technology by preparing a spacecraft for a mission to Mercury.
- Exploring the Solar System introduces students to earth's moon and the eight planets in our solar system.
The BotBrain Company sells a planetary exploration set with which students build a robot to explore a planetary environment. This could be an awesome add-on for schools that can afford the set.