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Mission to Mars provides students with experiences in exploring the fundamental concept of models as defined by National Science Education Standards. "Models are tentative schemes or structures that correspond to real objects, events, or classes of events, and that have explanatory power." In developing accurate models, it is important to use evidence based on clear observation and on data. Students gather observations and data and use this to generate a model that illustrates a real object, in this case, the surface topography of a landing site on Mars. This module allows for students to have increasingly sophisticated experiences with this concept as well as an opportunity to utilize science process skills of observation, data collection, measurement, interpretation, and inferences. Finally students are asked to demonstrate their ability to communicate scientifically by giving a presentation on their culminating project. Students will show logical reasoning, a rather sophisticated age-appropriate level of analysis, and demonstrate the relationship between logic, evidence, and the accuracy of their model.
(A list of the AAAS Benchmarks addressed in this module will soon be available.)
Students will progress through four activities that give experiences with the concept of models and data collection and analysis. In the first activity, students explore what kinds of observations and testing can be done to determine the identity of an unknown object. This is analogous to determining the topography of a planet when it is obscured by clouds, such as when the Magellan spacecraft mapped Venus using radar. The second activity explores the idea of using a specific tool, in this case a probe that measures depth, and using that data to try to reconstruct what the sample planetary surface might look like. Students are still unable to directly visualize it, but now they have a more sophisticated way of gathering data. This activity illustrates the principle of radar mapping that was done by Magellan to look at the surface of Venus through its cloud cover. Students will also be encouraged to begin considering how increasingly more sophisticated technology can change perceptions about how we view a planet. Third, the students will download data from Viking 1, (and when it becomes available, data from Pathfinder), and use it to develop a coordinate grid and then re-create the landing site surface using the measurements given for width, height, and length of the rock field. Students will be asked to present their model at a simulated Jet Propulsion Lab symposium looking at future sites for manned missions and will be asked to defend their model both in terms of accuracy and how well it meets their criteria for a landing site. The final activity will have students scan the different regions of Mars and apply their cumulative knowledge of what a landing site should have, our current imagery data on different locations, and how the surface might appear, and then propose a landing site based on their criteria and their chosen mission parameters.
Students will be asked to first brainstorm what specific criteria a landing site should have and then work in cooperative groups to prioritize their criteria. Finally, the class as a whole will come up with a list that will be posted on the module of their agreed-upon specific criteria for a landing site.
Some questions that you may wish to use to guide their discussions:
For this activity, you will want to consider what items you choose to put in your container and what kind of container would work for you in your class setting. I recommend using 35 mm film containers as they are cheap, easy to obtain, and come with lids. It is very difficult to have more than one object in a container, but feel free to increase the difficulty of the exercise! Objects can include those that might respond to magnets, like paper clips or nails, those that don't, like a marble, those that make a sound, like a rattle, or those that emit a musical sound. Be creative, but give students enough clues so that they can use tools you might have in the classroom to be more successful in trying out different things. Some examples of tools to set aside and let students come up and get as they explore:
(Depending on the level of your students, you may also want to set out a tray that has an assortment of objects that might be in the container; students can then compare their properties with what they observe in their own container.)
You might also want to review the scientific method with your students depending on their prior experience with it before they start the activity or simply have them click on it in the module for a self-review. The emphasis should be on the method, rather than on being right or wrong in their guess.
Encourage students to take responsible risks in their explorations and in their interpretation of their results, but stress that they must be able to defend their hypothesis with data collected from their explorations.
In preparation for this activity, the teacher will need to prepare a "simulated" planet surface. You will need:
Prepare your container by crumpling up small strips of newspaper and
placing them in the container in such a way that you have variations in
height. You will want to have at least one tall "mountain," lower
levels that might simulate a plain, and something challenging, like a canyon.
Be sure that the terrain is different for each group so they are more motivated!
Then cover your newspaper terrain with foil. The plaster of paris will
be poured directly on top of this foil. Prepare the plaster as directed.
It is easiest to work with when it has slightly thickened and you are able
to do a little more molding. You may have to experiment with this a bit!
Be sure that the plaster is deep enough that it will not be punctured when
students probe with their sticks. You may want to experiment with different
covers. Styrofoam works well, but foil can also although it can tear. It
is important that students have to determine the surface by probing, not
by peeking! Make your models at least a day in advance so the plaster has
time to set and be sure each simulated surface is numbered so that students
can keep track of which one they probed and so that when they present their
idea of what the surface looks like, you can compare it with the real thing.
When you make the cover, have a few extras so that students can trace out their grid (1 cm grid paper works best) without having to do that directly on their container.
Once the planetary surfaces are prepared, students will need to calibrate their probes. Refer to the description in the module. You want to supply students with probe sticks that are about the diameter of a Q-tip, and preferably made out of wood, Skewer sticks would well from your local grocery story! Caution the students to be as accurate as possible in calibrating their stick and be sure they label their probe so you can go back to it later in a discussion about error and measurement.
Students will need to take the 1 cm grid paper and cut it to fit the top of the container and then anchor it down. It is best if you have extra tops that they can do this from rather than doing it right on their container.
It is a good idea to go over how to label a grid and this is a perfect opportunity for introducing a coordinate graph label. For example:
The location of the sample point would be 4,A. Students may need practice in this prior to starting the activity. It is critical that they are able to correctly identify not only the depth of their probe, but where they found this depth! Other examples could involve students standing on the squares of floor tiling. Students may stand on a certain square and call out their coordinates. A partner could direct them where to move next in a simulated game of chess or checkers!
Let students decide how many depth readings to take. In discussion, later, you will want to explore this more.
Discuss with your students, before the activity begins, how to evaluate their completed presentation. I recommend using a rubric approach that the students help develop. Again, the finished product is important, but so is the process.
In this activity, students will have both visual images available to them on the Internet and will also access a data table that gives specific information about rock location and size. In order to use the data table, students must be comfortable with coordinate graphing. Graphs were introduced in Activity #2, but now students will need to have a sense of how positive and negative integers can be used to indicate left or right with the Viking lander located at the origin (0).
Show by example where an object might be located if it was 2 units to the left and 3 units in front of the lander.
Students will need to be provided with sample materials for building their models. Such materials might include:
Realism can be added by including appropriate coloring. Encourage creativity from the students, rather than just setting out red tempera paint.
Before the students begin, it might be helpful to have a discussion on whether or not students want to make a model using the actual measurements or whether or not to do it to scale. It might help the students to get an idea of the size that was scanned by Viking by marking out a rectangle that is 9 meters by 15 meters to give them an idea of how big this area is. As with Activity #2, involve the students in discussing how their final model will be evaluated as well as their JPL presentation. (Teacher note: Feel free to submit a photo to LEM of your students with their model of the Viking Landing Site. Hopefully, we will be able to build a gallery of Mission Specialists with their models!)
Send Gallery Photos and signed photo releases for all minors to:
Richard T. Edgerton, Ph.D.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences
408 ATG, Box 351640
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Prior to doing this activity, discuss with students how that specific tools, their depth probe and the specific data from Viking or Pathfinder, have allowed them to increase the sophistication of their knowledge about a particular site. This is also an appropriate time to review the class' criteria about what a landing site should have. Following this, students should be directed to begin their own search for a landing site on Mars. Remind them to keep their criteria in mind for a landing site. Also remind them how images taken from an orbiter and images obtained on the surface can be similar or different and review the idea of how pixels combine to make a picture. Students should be directed to following the guidelines for the Landing Site Fair.
Now that the students have completed the activities and presentations, it is time to focus them on extensions. The guiding questions provided are designed to stimulate discussion; there are not necessarily right or wrong answers. Encourage open discussion and invite participation from all students.
An interesting cross-curricular activity that could be used would be to have students explore the historical perceptions of what Mars was like and how those perceptions have changed as our knowledge about the Planet has grown with increasingly more sophisticated probes. Students might also want to speculate on how it might change as such knowledge will grow with the Discovery missions. (See reference below on "Visions of Mars")
There are several new CD-ROMs that may be of interest to your young astronauts: "Mars Rover" uses actual Martian terrain plus Quick Time VR. "Visions of Mars" from RomTech is a copy of the 200 megabyte time capsule sent aboard the Discovery missions that will launch this year. It contains greetings from Mars experts including Dr. Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke, an audio version of H. G. Wells War of the Worlds, and "Tales of Mars," 8 megabytes of stories, articles, and books written about the Red Planet.
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