LEGO my Mars lander

Adrian Arvizu, left, and Adam Burgess, right, who built a model of a Mars Rover from LEGOS,  field test it on a simulated Mars surface with the assistance of computer specialist Dylan Fate, in back. - Gayle Saran
Adrian Arvizu, left, and Adam Burgess, right, who built a model of a Mars Rover from LEGOS, field test it on a simulated Mars surface with the assistance of computer specialist Dylan Fate, in back.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Move over NASA, make room for a dozen budding Langley Middle School scientists.

Ten sixth-grade students and two eighth-grade teaching assistants spent the last quarter creating a test site for a Mission to Mars in an advanced science class. From Jan. 29 to April 5, the students created all the components necessary: space suit designs, robotics, computer programs and networking and a simulated Mars surface to mirror the work NASA is doing to ready two Mars Rover Missions in 2003.

OK, the rover parts were made of LEGOS, so atmospheric re-entry is out of the question, and the Mars surface the students worked with was actually catbox sand tinted red with steel wool. But it was all about learning, said LMS science teacher Rachel Kizer, who developed the Mars curriculum last summer.

"I thought it might be too difficult for sixth graders," she said. "But these kids did it. They are amazing."

Kizer said the main purpose for the advanced science class was to teach teamwork, problem solving and creative and critical thinking through the use of technology.

"They learned all of that and successfully completed the mission," she said.

Students worked in four teams, with two rover design teams, three students working as computer communication specialists, and four others as "geologists."

The class was able to check conditions on Mars daily at the NASA Web site.

Then also did a study of robotics in which two teams built computer-guided, motorized LEGO rovers for a final "mission." For lack of a decent, commercially available Mars rover schematic, the students designed their own.

We didn't follow the rover plans in our book," said Kyle Asay, who was part of the Rover 1 team with Trevor Martin. "We had to build special gearing so the rover could climb over rocks,"

Rover 2 team member Adam Burgess said building the little planet-exploring machines was an exercise in space reality.

"We faced the same problems with our rovers that NASA does, a deadline to finish building them with materials available and finally completing a successful mission," He said.

Once the rovers were built, the computer specialists went to work installing computer software and hooking up hardware connections to communicate and move the rover via an infrared signal.

The class geologists created the Mars surface in a child's wading pool, using different kinds of sand and dough to create obstacles.

"We depended on each other for the entire project from start to finish," Burgess said.

The students also learned about gravity in an egg drop competition, then applied that lesson to designing and launching pop bottle rockets. Students in the class also drew lifesize spacesuit designs with all the features necessary to sustain life on Mars.

To do all this, the students researched Mars on the internet and through videos and books.

For the final project, the four teams of students successfully moved the rovers over the Mars surface. Their efforts culminated with a successful test of all systems last Thursday.

Factors for selecting the students for the advanced class were on based teacher recommendations, prior performance in science and math classes and overall grade point average. Students agree the hands-on class was more interesting than some others

Eva Denka, whose team was responsible for simulating a Mars surface said she enjoyed working with students with similar interests and abilities.

"It has been a great experience working with students who are where I am in science," she said.

Class members were Maryjane Daumen, Eva Denka, Nicole Steward, Orson Ossman, Dylan Fate, Brett Warwick, Jared Moore, Adrian Arvizu, Adam Burgess, Matt Statz, Kyle Asay and Trevor Martin.

This class was made possible with grants from The Ward Foundation, the LMSPTA, the Washington State NASA Space Grant Consortium, South Whidbey Schools Foundation, LMS Youth in Philanthropy and LMS Iimprovemenct Fund.

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