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K-12 teachers become Martian explorers at ASU

March 03, 2009

About 100 science teachers from Arizona and other states recently went to Mars vicariously and learned how to take their classrooms with them on future trips.

The teachers, whose classes range from kindergarten through grade 12, attended “Investigating Mars: Unlocking Mysteries of the Red Planet," a conference and workshop organized by Arizona State University’s Mars Education Program. The all-day, Saturday conference was held Feb. 28 at ASU’s Tempe campus.

The conference gave the teachers photos, lab exercises, and activities relating to Mars exploration that could be used in their classes. The Mars Education Program developed the materials, which are aligned with national science-teaching standards, to excite students' imaginations while developing their abilities in science, math, technology and engineering.

Hands-on activities included building model Mars landscapes and robots to explore them, making a spectrometer out of an ordinary film can, and classifying landscape features in images of Mars taken from orbit.

ASU faculty members from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provided the latest Mars exploration news and context for the teachers. Ariel Anbar, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the department of chemistry and biochemistry spoke on life's biological needs and how we should look for life's traces on Mars, and Philip Christensen, director of ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility and a Regents' Professor of Geological Sciences, brought attendees up to date on current Mars research and gave them an overview where NASA's Mars exploration program is going during the next 15 years.

A special highlight was a lunchtime talk by famed planetary scientist and space artist William K. Hartmann, of Tucson's Planetary Science Institute. Hartmann told about how science and visual imagination work together to unlock secrets of the natural world — and how teachers can use space exploration themes to help arts-oriented students explore scientific worlds.

The constant theme behind the Mars Education Program and its activities is investing for the future — and it's never too early to start. As Christensen told the teachers, "The kids who are in fifth and sixth grade now will be grad students when we bring back samples from Mars."

Robert Burnham,
(480) 458-8207
Mars Space Flight Facility