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How Teachers Can Help Send Their Students to Mars


[caption id="attachment_8966" align="alignnone" width="720"]

A selfie taken by the Curiosity Rover // NASA

A selfie taken by the Curiosity rover // NASA[/caption]The surface of Mars is freezing, rocky, volcanic, and often beset with storms that can envelop the entire planet.And right now, there’s a brave, curious 15-year-old sitting in a high school classroom who could be the first human to step into  that environment. How do we know? As new reports of water on Mars continue to unfold, NASA also reminded us that they’re working toward conducting the first manned mission to the red planet by 2030. Assuming NASA stays on track, and going off the average age of astronauts in the organization’s history, plus the four-year travel timeit would take to reach the surface of our little galactic neighbor, that means that the future Mars explorer could very well be...a high school sophomore. Want to help that student make the trip? Here are some teacher-approved ideas for getting your students hooked on the wonders of space travel.

Lesson planning? First stop: NASA.

NASA wants brilliant young students to dream big as much as you do. The organization has plenty of instructional resources available in the NASA for Educators section of their website, or you can let students play around in the NASA for Students portal. Check out videos, articles, and activities there, all broken down by topic and grade level, like this one for 3rd-graders.

Looking for more materials like these? You might want to take a peek at Mission: Mars, a text written by NASA scientist Pascal Lee and endorsed by legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin, which walks through the logistics of a manned mission using engaging and student-friendly language. (Scholastic also has some fabulous resources for a series of lessons using the book!) Or get your kids making inferences about life on Mars using the series of images snapped by the Mars rover Curiosity, which NASA released this weekend.

Why not get an expert talking to your students, too?

You can bring in a class visitor from a local university, try a field trip to your local planetarium, or get your kids started with a video from our personal favorite cool-guy astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Sometimes, NASA scientists even respond to great letters from younger students interested in space travel.

Get your kids a page-turning space-set read.

Right now, The Martian is topping bestseller lists and its film adaptation is the biggest movie in the country. The book is beloved by NASA scientists (who praise how sound the science is) and young readers (who love the gripping story of survival). And if that’s looking a little tough for your students’  Lexiles, check out these six YA books set in outer space.


Check out some other teachers’ spacefaring ventures.

In 2013, Mr. Davidson’s middle-schoolers launched a weather balloon and a GoPro to take photos from Earth’s atmosphere. Just look at the resulting Flickr album of the whole process—from his students’ set-up, all the way through pictures from thousands of miles into the sky!Or take a look at Mrs. O’Connor’s project for a space colony, where her special-education third-graders created a model for a whole civilization for Mars and the moon. One teacher can kick either of these ideas and more off just by launching a school’s first aerospace club, like Mr. Wheelock’s did in Las Vegas. From there, maybe the students could give you ideas![caption id="attachment_8970" align="aligncenter" width="720"]

// Derek Davidson, Flickr

The DonorsChoose.org project that hit new heights in the atmosphere // Derek Davidson, Flickr[/caption]

And if you want to help some other teachers out, too…

Here are a few of our current favorite projects related to all things space:

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