It has average temperatures of 82 degrees below zero, craters the size of an entire American state, and a volcano that rises 15 miles high. And billions of years ago, it may have housed life, scientists believe, when its climate was warmer, wetter, and a bit more like ours.
Few planets have entranced astronomers and amateur stargazers like Mars, Earth’s fiery red cousin, whose similarities and differences to Earth have inspired years of scientific inquiry, not to mention science fiction. Now, a new venture is under way to help elementary and middle school students probe such comparisons in-depth—and learn basic scientific concepts along the way.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Jason Foundation for Education are collaborating to produce Mysteries of Earth and Mars, a curriculum for grades 5-8 that will enable students to compare and conduct research on environmental conditions, geological features, and biological attributes of the two planets. The partners are designing teacher-resource and student-activity books, videos, and online resources as part of that effort.
Students will be expected to learn about such core scientific concepts as the laws of force and motion and geology through the program, which is expected to be available this summer, said Jennifer Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Jason Foundation, a Needham Heights, Mass., nonprofit group focused on mathematics, science, and technology education. The project’s creators hope to build off the excitement generated by the dramatic photos shipped back from Mars by NASA’s rover satellites last year.
A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2005 edition of Education Week