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Fun Ideas for Mission To Mars Lesson


While Americans are celebrating this year's Fourth of July with picnics on the beach and backyard barbecues, the Mars Pathfinder will end its seven-month journey to the Red Planet by bouncing onto the surface of Mars--aided by airbags described as "gigantic beach balls" that are 17 feet in diameter and take only two second to inflate. The spacecraft will bounce up to 10 stories high before coming to rest on the planet's rocky surface.

What an image! Enough to send children everywhere searching for toy spaceships and beach balls to play Mars Mission!

With its fascinating facts and intriguing mission, the Mars Pathfinder and its sister project, Mars Global Surveyor, provide an astronomical opportunity for learning about science, mathematics, language arts, social studies, technology, the arts--you name it! There's enough going on to work it all in.

The facts at a glance: After it lands, the Pathfinder will deploy a micro-rover--named Sojourner, for the early civil rights activist Sojourner Truth--that will wander the Martian terrain, returning a wealth of new science data. The Mars Global Surveyor, which will reach the planet in September, will explore the atmosphere, orbiting the planet until January 1998, when it will land. Once on Mars, Surveyor will explore the terrain to produce maps of surface topography, mineral distribution and climate.

Studying Mars is a stellar classroom activity, according to the Mars Global Surveyor Radio Science Team, one sure to capture the imagination and interest of nearly every student.

"Planetary exploration is exciting. Very exciting. It is one of the rare subjects which interests almost everyone," boasts the MGS Team in their web site note to K-12 educators.

"It clearly demonstrates to young students that science and mathematics are not inherently dry and uninteresting. Furthermore, it demonstrates that there are jobs for people who study those subjects which are both rewarding and fun. Members of the MGS Radio Science Team have participated in almost every U.S. planetary mission since the dawn of the space age. Most of them would not do anything else."

If your school is Net-ready and if some interaction with professional planetary scientists and explorers sounds interesting to you, the MGS team is considering e-mail relationships with classrooms. Contact Joe Twicken at [email protected].

If you're ready to make the Red Planet part of your curriculum, see below for a galaxy of great ideas. A good place to start is Live >From Mars, a Passport to Knowledge site for K-12 teachers and students.

Think of Mars lesson planning as a long-range project: Surveyor is the first in a series of Mars-bound orbiter-lander pairs that will launched every 26 months for the next decade, so there will be plenty of planet news for years to come.

Related Resources

Lesson Plans & Curriculum Ideas

  • Live from Mars Teacher's Guide Lesson plans for the comprehensive Passport to Knowledge program, plus links to other related sites and lesson plans; also includes a list of teachers who are using the project and who have agreed to serve as mentors.
  • Lessons about the Red Planet from another site for K-12 educators, Live >From Earth and Mars:
    • Could You Live Here? What's necessary for human existence on a planet? This starts with an examination of soil; for grades 4-8.
    • Mission to Mars Gather data to determine a landing site on Mars; for grades 5-12.
    • Way Cool Tools for Mars Exploration Examine how special tools and equipment will reveal the secrets of Mars; for grades 2-5
    • Let's Do Launch and Mission to Mars Projects that connect space exploration to science, social studies, language arts, mathematics, technology and the arts; developed by teachers at Cedar Wood Elementary School, and cited as "exemplary projects" by the University of Washington.
  • Reaching for the Red Planet A multi-purpose curriculum for grades 4-6 that focuses on planning a colony on Mars.
  • Inventing Life Forms A lesson plan from the SETI Institute, adapted from "How Might LIfe Evolve on Other Worlds?"; for grades 5-6.
  • Eyes on the Sky, Feet on the Ground Hands-on, online astronomy activities for children, from the Smithsonian Institution.

Reading List

  • Classic Fiction
    • "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury (1950)
    • Famous Mars Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs: "A Princess of Mars" (1912) ; "A Fighting Man of Mars" (1930); "The Gods of Mars" (1913); "Thuvia, Maid of Mars" (1916); "The Chessmen of Mars" (1922); "The Master Mind of Mars" (192?) "The Warlord of Mars" (1913-1914); "Swords of Mars" (1934-1935); "Synthetic Men of Mars" (1939); "Llana of Gathol" (1941); "John Carter of Mars" (1941-1943)
    • "The Sands of Mars" by Arthur C. Clarke (1952)
    • "Red Planet" by Robert A. Heinlein (1949)
    • "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein (1961)
    • "War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells (1898)
  • Fiction for Young Readers
    • "A Trip to Mars" by Ruth Young (1990)
    • "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars" by Thomas Disch (1988)
    • "Lost Race of Mars" by Robert Silverberg (1960)

      Source: Mars Reading List, the Mars Global Surveyor TES Project and Arizona Mars K-12 Education Program
  • Other Books for Juvenile Readers
    • "Life on Mars" by David Getz (1997)
    • "Are We Moving to Mars?" by Anne E. Schraff (1996)
    • "Millions of Miles to Mars: A Journey to the Red Planet" by Connell Byrne (1995)

Related Sites

Live From Mars The expansive, comprehensive Passport to Knowledge site for K-12 teachers and students about NASA's missions to Mars.

Live >From Earth and Mars The University of Washington K-12 project that teaches students about Mars by comparing it with our home planet.

The Grand Survey of Mars, 1996-2019 A.D. Presented by the Mars Global Surveyor TES Project and Arizona Mars K-12 Education Program, this site (billed as "THE Site to Access the Mars Missions as They Happen!") includes information on the Surveyor and Pathfinder projects, as well as lots of other links to sites about Mars.

Mars Links Links to K-12 Mars sites from the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

The Whole Mars Catalog The Astrobiology Web's categorized links to Mars-related sites, from basic planetary facts to humor on Mars.

The Daily Martian Weather Report When the Mars Global Surveyor achieves an appropriate mapping orbit around Mars and the mapping phase of the mission begins in the Spring of 1998, this page will feature a daily weather report for the planet Mars.

PDS Mars Explorer for the Armchair Astronaut The Mars Explorer allows you to get an image map of any area on Mars at a variety of zoom factors, image sizes, and map projections. These orbital images are created using data from NASA's Viking missions.

Mars - Viking Lander Image Data NASA images from the surface of Mars.

Article by Colleen Newquist
Education World®
Copyright© 1997 Education World®