Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.
Students Explore the Surface of Mars and Contribute to Citizen Science From Their Classroom
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is asking for help in processing data collected on Mars, in the form of pictures taken by the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Curiosity. On the “Be a Martian” home page there is a dashboard where teachers or students may create an account with a Martian profile, complete with choosing your alien. Each action, associated with a profile, is given points or virtual badges for participating. Creating a profile is not necessary, you may also participate as a “Martian tourist.” After registering (or not) you will be taken to their Citizenship Hall, which has links for pages with polling, a “theater” with video clips about the rovers, the ability to create a post card to send to the rover Spirit, and an Atlas with geographic information about Mars. Accessed from the Citizenship Hall is the, the second major page of their website, the “Map Room.” In the map room there is an introductory video about the program and students have the opportunity to try their hands at three types of Martian mapping. These include aligning photos to match topographic images, counting craters, and tagging physical features of the landscape.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer or computers with internet access.
- Projector or smart board may be useful for working as a class.
- Color printer
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- This project can be done in any setting, rural or urban.
- No special tools are required outside of a computer with internet access.
- Students gain a “sense of place” through learning about space and other planets.
- NASA provides a great deal of supporting curriculum, hand-outs, posters, and multi-media resources.
Teaching materials that are supplied on Citizenship website, for the “Be a Martian” project, include a Mars atlas with descriptions of different parts of the planet’s surface and the “Two Moons” theater. There are eight different videos in the theater, ranging from testing the Curiosity’s parachute to students designing human settlements on Mars.
There is also an Educators Page, accessed from the Mars Exploration home page. However it has an extensive curriculum for K-12 as well as supporting resources. Here are just some of the lessons included:
- Reflect on Your Community– Design a plan for an Earth community and discuss how it would be made on Mars.
- Solar System Scale and Size– Create a model of the solar system that compares size and distance.
- Soda Straw Rockets-creating rockets from soda straws.
- Marsbound-Using a card game to design a mission and get everyone home safely.
- Lava Layering-Modeling lava flow and layering using play dough.
- Rover Races-Drawing and designing a rover to meet challenges on the surface of Mars.
- Mars Image Analysis-using images to analyze Mar’s surface environment.
NASA also provides resources for the classroom including the “Mars Activity Book.” This is a 131 page document which is full of even more activities and lesson plans K-12. You can also find coloring pages and posters. For 5th-12th grade there is even the option of joining the Mars Student Imaging Project and which would allow your class to actually take pictures from the Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Online Safety for Children
The Mars Mapping project allows students and teachers to create their own accounts or to use an “Anonymous Tourist Visa.” The account website sorts students into 0-13 years or 14+ years. For the 0-13 yr. old students, they must provide a parent or guardian’s e-mail. In the sign up process they are also required to take an “oath” that they won’t give out information about themselves, treat others nicely, and not use bad words or say means things. For older participants they can use their own e-mail but they also agree to respect everyone and follow their code of conduct. The use of accounts appears designed to encourage student challenges for obtaining points and badges which may encourage participation. Learn more about children’s online privacy and citizen science.
Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:
Next. Gen. Science: 1-ESS1-1 Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.
The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars, and why the sun and moon appear to rise and set. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets.
Literacy: W.1.7 Participate in a shared research and writing projects. W.1.8 with guidance and support from adults, recall information from experience or gather information from provided sources to answer a question (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).
Next. Gen. Science: K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to design a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should be a group collaboration using research about the planet. Students should write a report about their design solution.
Literacy: W.2.6 with guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing in collaboration with peers (See Next. Gen. activities listed above).
Next. Gen. Science: 4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.
Students may make observations about bodies of water, craters, lakes, volcanoes, and other topographical features of Earth, and then compare these features using the Mars Mapping activities to make inferences about the similarities and differences between the two planets. The NASA images database of Mars may be useful, as well as the 3 D images, as well as the information provided for characterizing the climate and geology of Mars.
Literacy: W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic. W.4.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above)
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively (See explanation of activities for Next Gen. above).
Next. Gen. Science: 5-ESS1-1 Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distance from the Earth. 5-ESS1-2 Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.
The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale & Size may give students a frame of reference for comparison of the brightness of the sun compared to other planets and stars. Students may make predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to other stars and planets. Graphs may be constructed of constellations and where they may be seen at different times for both Mars and Earth.
Literacy: RI.5.7-Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly to solve a problem efficiently. W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. SL.5.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes. (See explanation of activities above for Next Gen).
Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively, MP.4 Model with mathematics. (See explanation of activities above for Next Gen).
MS-PS2-4 Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects. MS-ESS1-2 Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system.
Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde. The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.
MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the solar system. The curriculum activities provided by NASA about Solar System Scale & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.
MT-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that might limit possible solutions. MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Using the “Imagine Mars” lessons and support materials provided on the NASA website students should create design solutions for humans to live on Mars. These designs should then be compared and the solutions assessed using a rubric which the students develop.
HS-ESS1-4 Use mathematical or computational representations to predict the motion of orbiting objects in the solar system. Common Core (WHST.9-12.2) (SL 11-12.4) (MP.2) (MP.4) (HSN-Q.A.1-3).
Teachers may have students use the resources from NASA’s website with quick facts to research the properties of the planet Mars, from density to orbit, conjunction, and retrograde.The curriculum activities provided about Solar System Scale & Size may give students frames of reference for comparison. Students may make mathematical predictions regarding the movement of Mars and Earth relative to the data collected.
When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen McDonald is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel.