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Explorer students participate in ASU’s Mars imaging project


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  • Becky Kelbaugh/Paradise Valley Unified School District

Explorer Middle School

Exploring space while working with top-notch scientists is a once in a lifetime opportunity for for any child who may have aspirations of being an astronaut, scientist or researcher. A group of 7th and 8th grade students in the action lab class at Explorer Middle School recently participated in the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP) at Arizona State University (ASU).

In October, students in Janice Mak’s pre-engineering class began learning background information about Mars’ geological features and making comparisons to Earth. Students selected a question they wanted to investigate about Mars and formulated a hypothesis, decided on how they would collect data, used JMARS to collect data, and analyzed their data to come up with results and conclusions.

Explorer students participate in ASU's Mars imaging project ExplorerMiddleSchoolInside-300x169

Photo courtesy of Becky Kelbaugh

“The most amazing part of the MSIP experience is that my students actually got to be scientists and do authentic research on a question that truly interested and inspired them. My students also had the opportunity to work with scientists to refine their previous work, go deeper and finally present their findings to a scientists and receive feedback,” Mrs. Mak said .

To prepare for the two-day experience in January, students completed a research paper for peer review by a planetary geologist at ASU who provided feedback on the students’ scientific research and writing.  During the  field trip to MSIP, students had the opportunity to work under the guidance of an ASU scientist to further research, investigate and test their hypothesis. The scientific question the students formulated was:  How does water-related mineral abundance compare between the deepest and shallowest sections of Valles Marineris? The students developed two hypotheses:

  1. The deeper parts of the Valles Marineris will have greater abundance of water-related minerals because water collects in low-lying areas.
  2. The abundance of volcanic-related minerals will be greater in the western part of Valles Marineris because it is closer to volcanoes.

In their research, students collected more than 1,000 data points that were used to create graphs to analyze their data to see if there was any correlation between elevation and the abundance of water-related minerals and the presence of volcanic-related minerals and the western part of the Valles Marineris, which is close to the volcanoes.

“This was a perfect opportunity to tie classroom learning with real-world experience. Since the project was directly tied to what was being taught in the classroom, students were able to use integrated reading and writing skills with authentic problem-based learning experiences full of data collection and analysis that included math, graphing and statistics,” Mrs. Mak said .

According to the Mars Student Imaging Project’s (MSIP) website, MSIP is a nationally recognized award-winning inquiry-based learning and student-centered education project. Students learn how science works by engaging in scientific research using data from a NASA spacecraft orbiting.