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Going to School on Mars – The Sequel

In the real world, people come together from a broad range of disciplines and perspectives in order to solve problems and innovate. Often, solutions are not easy to come by, and in addition to tackling an issue from a variety of angles, those who are tasked with problem solving must be persistent and resilient.
 
As an example of real-world research and innovation, Grade 5 students have been participating in a yearlong interdisciplinary endeavor that is gaining a good bit of attention, both within the Peck community and by other schools in the area.

The goal is to utilize a broad range of projects, disciplines, and collaborative assignments to address the essential question, “What does it take to build a civilization?” During this academic year, the entire grade addressed this question, using life on Mars as a lens through which they explored the notion.
 
The project kicked off with a Skype session last fall connecting the Grade 5 class to Matt Heverly, who works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. As a former operator of the Mars Rover, Matt had stories to share and answered questions about the surface of Mars, the weather and atmosphere, and his joy in exploring the planet every day.
 
As the year progressed, students continued to explore the Mars theme in every discipline. In English and History classes, they read Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nimh. They then constructed three-dimensional prototypes of civil societies they felt would be soothing and comfortable environments for the rats. They also studied early civilizations such as India, paying particular attention to the birth of religions in the region. These studies informed their work in other disciplines as they tackled projects more directly related to colonizing Mars.
 
In science class they studied the stars and methods for using constellations to support navigation. They studied ecosystems and examined what it would take to plant and grow food on Mars. They also built small-scale robotics vehicles using sensors to navigate a simulation of the Mars surface. In art class, they studied the role of the artist in society – specifically examining the role of art in architecture. Then, using both analog and digital art, they fashioned futuristic buildings that would be useful to a Martian civilization and then prototyped their buildings using a 3D Laser Engraver and traditional painting techniques.
 
On May 3rd, the fruits of these student’s efforts were on full display at a special assembly. Parents were treated to a series of skits dramatizing what students learned about civilizations through the study of mythology, and then they exhibited many of their prototypes and products.


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