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A Collaborative Activity
Teachers' Page

The goal of this challenge is to engage students in a collaborative experience that parallels some of the research and design activities conducted by engineers at NASA. This challenge will:

  • Engage students in critical thinking, research and problem solving.
  • Arouse students' interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • Facilitate cooperative learning in the classroom.
How to conduct Problem Based Learning

Since this is a collaborative challenge, students should work as a team on the activity. We suggest two team alternatives:

  1. Integrated teams consisting of four or more students—each participant assigned to a particular role listed below. Each team submits a final design.
  2. Focus teams investigating from the perpective of one of the four roles listed below. The final design combines the findings from all the teams.

Team work is very important for success in any endeavour and is used extensively on all levels of NASA projects. Here are some suggested roles that can be selected by student focus teams or individual members of an integrated team:

  • Astrophysicists study objects in the universe including galaxies, stars, planets, moons, asteroids, meteoroids and comets to understand what they are made of, their surface features, their histories and how they were formed. They spend most of their time in laboratories and offices looking at information gathered by instruments such as telescopes, sensors and probes, deciding what information means and writing papers and reports about what they find.
  • Atmospheric Scientists study the atmosphere--the blanket of air covering the Earth. Atmospheric scientists, commonly called meteorologists, study the atmosphere's physical characteristics, motions, and processes, and the way it affects the rest of our environment. The best known application of this knowledge is in forecasting the weather. However, weather information and meteorological research are also applied in air-pollution control, agriculture, air and sea transportation, defense, and the study of trends in Earth's climate such as global warming, droughts, or ozone depletion.
  • Biologists study living organisms and their relationship to their environment. They usually work in research and development. Some conduct basic research to advance knowledge of living organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents. Past research has resulted in the development of vaccines, medicines, and treatments for cancer andother diseases.
  • Geologists study the composition, structure, and other physical aspects of the Earth. By using sophisticated instruments they analyze the Earth and water. They also study the Earth's geologic past and present in order to make predictions about its future. For example, they may study the Earth's movements to try to predict when and where the next earthquake or volcano will occur and the probable impact on surrounding areas to minimize the damage. Many geologists are involved in the search for oil and gas, while others work closely with environmental scientists in preserving and cleaning up the environment.

Key Questions
Students should research the questions that are appropriate for their grade level. Check the standards that align with these concepts.

In this challenge students investigate some key questions associated with designing a planet habitable to humans and what kind of life might exist in places that are not habitable for humans.

  1. What are the characteristics that make a planet habitable for humans?
  2. Is Mars habitable for humans? Why or why not?
  3. What kind of life-form might exist on Mars?

Detailed questions for each role

Helpful Links:

Submissions will be done in two phases. Student who wish to have their preliminary designs reviewed may submit them by Week 4. Final design should be submitted in time to be received by Week 6. We may not be able to include any designs received after Week 6. Submissions should include:

  • Drawing or picture of the martian
  • Specific characteristics of the martian
  • Design explanations (how does the design answer the questions above)

We can accept only TWO submissions from each class. This is to allow the NASA experts sufficient time to review the designs that are submitted. We know that students work very hard on these projects, and we don't want anyone's project to be left out because we ran out of time.

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