My Year9 class has just completed Project Mars, a project based learning unit in conjunction with the Powerhouse Museum where they get to take on the role as NASA space scientists and find out whether Mars can support life. This is done by remotely controlling a Mars rover on a recreated Mars surface, just like NASA scientists remotely control their Mars rover, Curiosity, on Mars.
The project involved Year 9s coming up with their own research questions and hypotheses for the driving question “Can Mars support life?” Some examples of the Year 9s’ research questions were: “Is there carbon on Mars?”, “Is there nitrogen on Mars?”, “Are there copper and cobalt on Mars?” And “Are there signs of water on Mars?”. All questions were based on what students already know about what is needed to support life. Eg. Life we know are all carbon based; nitrogen is needed to build DNA and amino acids; and copper and cobalt are needed to generate electricity, which is vital if Mars is to support human life.
Students worked in teams over a term on this project. They had to learn how to control the Mars Rover so that it will safely navigate the Mars surface (crashing it will waste the millions of dollars spent on getting the rover to Mars). They had to learn how the Mars Rover took samples of the Mars surface (through photos and lasers which generate data for spectrographs). They also had to learn the science content on how the Mars Rover gathered data and how to interpret the data, which involved learning about atomic structure, atoms, the wave theory and spectrographs.
Students and a mission day where they used laptops to remotely control the Mars Rover to gather the necessary data from places which they had previously determined from maps. The unit concluded with students presenting to, and received feedback, from the Powerhouse Museum, an astrobiologist from the University of NSW and their parents. We also had a Project Mars cake to celebrate the students’ achievements.
Overall this was a very challenging project, and year 9s rose up to the challenge and did a fantastic job. Also, this project would not be this successful if it wasn’t for Smriti Mediratta, who took over the last part of the project as I went on maternity leave. This project allowed students to experience what it’s like to work as a space scientist and enables them to participate in authentic science that engages them more than any textbook or whiz-bang experiments on atoms and waves could.
For more information on Project Mars, visit The Mars Lab.