Curriculum Based on New TV Series Aims to Educate Students About Mars

By Marva Hinton — November 10, 2016 2 min read
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National Geographic Channel and its parent company 21st Century Fox want to send teachers and students to Mars.

Well, not literally.

They hope a six-part series on colonizing Mars, along with a corresponding curriculum, will spark students’ interest in the planet and the technology it will take to get there.

The series, entitled “MARS,” includes a mix of scripted drama about a settlement on the planet in 2033 and more than 30 documentary-style interviews with many people doing the work today to support space travel to Mars in the future such as Elon Musk and Neil Degrasse Tyson.

“It’s like the largest TED Talk ever assembled coupled with the scripted drama,” said Chris Albert, National Geographic Channel’s executive vice president for communications.

Teachers will be able to show the series in class and utilize a curriculum for high school students that was produced by a company called Journeys in Film. It includes eight different lessons on topics ranging from how the laws of physics affect the design of spacecraft to the place of science fiction in literature.

“It’s not just the science and engineering piece that you might think obviously is inspired by Mars,” said Vijay Sudan, the executive director of social impact at 21st Century Fox. “There’s really a holistic curriculum guide that is touching on history and language arts and all kinds of other problem solving as well.”

Sudan said it’s important that all students are able to connect with the curriculum in some way whether it’s through the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—or creative writing and the unique format of the series should also appeal to students with diverse interests.

“It is about the storytellers and the people who will inspire us to get to Mars and the scientists and engineers that are doing the calculations that are going to get us there,” said Sudan. “There’s an important role for all students to see themselves and the part that they may play in a future expedition to Mars.”

The channel has held screenings for some students already, including a group of 125 in Washington. Those students also got a chance to talk to the commander of the International Space Station through a satellite uplink.

Before the screening or the Q&A with the commander, Albert said he asked the group if they had any desire to travel to Mars and only five or six students raised their hands. But afterward, about 75 percent of them had decided they would like to explore the Red Planet.

“That is why we’re doing it—to get students excited about science, adventure, and exploration,” said Albert.

MARS premiers on Monday, November 14.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.