Mars is our neighbor in space, and it has thrilled Earthlings for centuries. We offer three great lesson plans for getting to know this neighbor.
- Look at Mars. This is a project of Google Sky, and you should look at it if nothing else.
- NASA’s Mars page
- NASA’s Mars Rover page
- Interactive Mars habitat
- Basic facts on Mars (there are some ads and no printable version, but it’s good background).
- Earth Sky explains why Mars looks brighter at some times than at others. Right now is a great time to look for Mars! Have students look for Mars as homework and write a description of what they see.
- Astronomy for Kids Mars page
- Look at a Martian dust devil.
- A PDF activity about Mars focuses on the search for water on Mars.
- Scholastic offers an article on how to dress for a trip to Mars.
- DK Eyewitness Books: Mars
- Cars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet
- You Are the First Kid on Mars
- The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Scientists in the Field Series) (forthcoming) The inspiring story of the Mars Rover.
- The Adventures of Sojourner : The Mission to Mars That Thrilled the World
- The Hubble Space Telescope
- A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, for some great retro Mars fantasy
- Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars and Freddy and the Men from Mars are more great stories from the days when people expected to meet Martians fairly soon — the whole Freddy the Pig series is a read-aloud hit with younger students.
As this 1924 U.S. Navy telegram offering to listen for expected radio communication from Mars shows, there was a time in the 20th century when people generally believed that there were sentient beings living on Mars. A 19th century astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, wrote about the “canali” he saw on the surface of Mars. He thought he was seeing channels of water, but some people misinterpreted his Italian word to mean “canals.” This set off a storm of discussion of whether Mars might be inhabited. Schiaparelli wrote of the channels,
Their singular aspect, and their being drawn with absolute geometrical precision, as if they were the work of rule or compass, has led some to see in them the work of intelligent beings… I am very careful not to combat this supposition, which includes nothing impossible.
An American amateur astronomer, Percival Lowell, drew detailed maps of Mars with canals and apparent cities. Artists began to draw Martian cities with spiky towers rising from the red land. While most scientists agreed that Mars showed no particular signs of being inhabited, the idea appealed to enough people that there was widespread belief in Martians. Books and movies about Martians became very popular.
On Sunday, October 30, 1938, there was a radio broadcast of Orson Welles’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells. Many listeners missed the introduction, and thought that the program was an actual news broadcast of an invasion by Martians.
In 1965, the Mariner expedition dashed the hopes of all those who wanted to get to know Martians by capturing photos of the surface of Mars which, far from having cool cities linked by canals, looked a lot like our moon.
Since then, photos from the Viking expedition and the Hubble telescope have made it clear that any life on Mars must be very small and not up to building cities. And yet, there are still plenty of people writing about and drawing Martians. Check out the Sesame Street Martians, play math games with the Ratio Martians, and then have students imagine their own Martians.
This activity can involve lots of research and a requirement that the Martians be designed to suit the Martian landscape as shown by NASA (see resources above), or it can be an imaginative art project. Either way, have students draw their Martians, labeling the important features of their drawings, and prepare a bulletin board display of the drawings.
Predictions of Martian colonies have been made for many years. 2030 is one of the years given for the first Martian colony. Have your students calculate their ages in 2030 and imagine themselves among the first Martian colonists.
Students should conduct some research for this project. Some of the things they might consider learning about:
- the terrain of Mars
- the atmosphere and resources of Mars
- the temperature on the surface of Mars
- any signs of weather or seasons on Mars
- colonies and their relationships with their mother countries (if colonial politics seems too old-fashioned to be relevant, students might consider the relationships of the United States and territories such as Puerto Rico as an example)
- life on the space shuttle
Use our Science Fiction Genre Study in preparation, prepare a board of facts on Mars to use in the writing, and have students write a week’s worth of journal entries about their experiences as Martian colonists.
Visit Google Mars. Share this video with students first:
Give students time to explore Mars freely. Then have students create a tour of Mars in Google Earth. This activity can readily be combined with either of the others: have students add pictures of their friendly Martians to their tour, or create a tour showing the places they’ve visited in their early days as colonists.