News Detail

Going to School on Mars

Matt Heverly works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. As a former operator of the Mars Rover, he had a great deal to share with an enthralled fifth-grade Peck class in a recent Skype conversation in the Tomlinson Multi-media Room.
“When I was working as a Mars Rover operator, it was really fun, because instead of just going to work here, I felt like I was going to work on Mars everyday.  I had to understand the landscape of where we were on Mars, the science of what we were trying to do, and all the rock hazards that were all around us. It felt like everyday I was commuting to Mars,” Mr. Heverly explained. 
His comments may soon resonate with the entire fifth-grade class at The Peck School, who will be feeling a lot like they are going to school on Mars over the next school year. The students will be undertaking a yearlong interdisciplinary project to ask the essential question, “What does it take to build a civilization?” The class will explore what it takes to build and sustain a civilization on Mars.
Throughout the course of the school year, they will be studying the development of mechanized, technological, literate, and advanced societies. They will be reading books in their English class that touch on real and imagined worlds. They will be asking critical questions. What kind of team would you want to send, and how would you make those decisions? What technology would you need to get to Mars, and what obstacles might you encounter?
They will be looking at stars and constellations to use as navigation on the journey. They will be looking at the composition of the earth’s atmosphere and asking what might be involved in making the atmosphere on Mars hospitable to humans.
Eventually, they will be using laser cutters, 3D printers, sewing machines, soldering irons, glue guns, and circuit boards to prototype items, such as wearable technology containing conductive threads, or living spaces and tools needed to survive.
They will design, build, and program robotic Mars Explorers to conduct experiments and navigate a replica of the Mars surface, which will be made by students using 3D modeling software and 3D printing. They may work in their art class to add realistic shading and colors to their Mars topographies.
And why you might ask, will they be doing all this?
“I think it’s very much of the moment,” says Chris Weaver, Peck’s Director of Curriculum and Faculty Development. “Mars is the exciting thing going on right now and on the horizon. There’s just something nice about it capturing 5th grade imaginations, and a lot of people’s imaginations in the same way the early space race did. Also, I think, learning does not happen outside of experiences. The more you abstract learning from a context the less meaningful it is. And so this is a context that, hopefully, 5th graders can get really excited about and that can, then, anchor their learning throughout the year.”
Or, as Upper School English Teacher, Elizabeth Muller adds, “We will be looking at trying to make the impossible, possible!”

Note: Stay tuned for more news and media, throughout the school year, as we follow our fifth-grade class on their journey to Mars!
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