Exploring Mars

Students explore the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, grappling with the complexity involved in space missions through reading, analyzing photographs, and participating in engineering and design labs.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students study the rovers Spirit and Opportunity and their remarkable missions to Mars. Through a combination of reading, analyzing images and photographs, and participating in engineering and design labs, students will begin to understand the complexity, preparation, and diligence involved in space missions. Students will grapple with why the engineering and design process, particularly continually planning, trying, and evaluating, is a crucial part of a successful mission. This unit also allows students to make connections between content learned in math and content learned in previous science units, solidifying the importance and value of STEM. It is our hope that this unit inspires students to explore engineering and STEM not only in space but in the world around them. 

In this unit, students build their skills in consuming scientific and technical texts. Students will practice explaining the connection between two or more scientific ideas or concepts in a text. Additionally, students will be challenged to draw on and integrate information from two or more texts in order to describe a scientific idea, concept, or process in depth. This unit also continues the study of point of view and analyzing how the point of view influences what and how information is presented to a reader. The Mighty Mars Rover is written to captivate and engage a reader, while the NASA press releases are written to inform the public of the progress and findings of the Mars rover missions. Students will be challenged to compare and contrast the point of view of each text and the strategies each author uses based on the point of view and desired audience. Since this is the culminating unit of the course, all other informational standards will be spiraled throughout the unit.

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  • Fluency Package
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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Assessment

These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills. Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • What is the engineering and design process? How do scientists use the engineering and design process to plan for and execute missions to Mars?
  • What challenges did the rovers face on Mars? How did scientists and the rovers respond?
  • What goals did scientists have for the rover expeditions? Were the goals met? 

Vocabulary

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Below are all of the unit vocabulary words. Prior to teaching the unit, we recommend teachers decide which words to prioritize. We also recommend that teachers decide which affixes to prioritize. See our teacher tool Prepping Unit Vocabulary (below) for more guidance on which words to pick as priority words.

Text-based

tele-operate "grave doubts" altered audacious bewildering bombarded constraint conserve devoted diligently dwindle elated encircled enormity epic evaluate exposed fare fatal geologist habitable identical laboratory lament long magnitude malfunction microscopic ordeal parameter ponder protocol prototype prevail quest requirement revision replica refrain rover simulate slope stationary surrogate subsystem tense transmitter treacherous traversed unprecedented undeniable unsettling venerable vindicated

Root/Affix

-able -ious -ment -tion be- micro- micro- sub- un-

Content Knowledge and Connections

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Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

1

  • The Mighty... pp. 1 – 7

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.8

Identify and explain the goal of the Mars exploration rover mission and why it was important.

2

  • The Mighty... pp. 8 – 13

    RI.5.3

Explain how Steve’s proposals for missions were different from previous missions to Mars and what problem he was trying to solve. 

3

  • The Mighty... pp. 14 – 19

    RI.5.3

Explain why it took three years for Steve’s team to create the rovers and describe the steps the team took to ensure the rover was ready for a trip to Mars. 

4

  • The Mighty... pp. 15 – 19 — close read

  • Robots

    RI.5.3

Explain the importance of each stage of the engineering design process and how NASA engineers used the process to prepare for Mars. 

5Essential Task

  • The Mighty... pp. 20 – 23

    RI.5.3

Explain what the team did to prepare Spirit for the trip and why they were worried.

6

  • The Mighty... pp. 24 – 29 — skip page 28

    RI.5.3

Explain the steps necessary for Spirit’s landing and why each step was important. 

7

  • The Mighty... — pages 28 and 30

  • “How We Landed...”

    RI.5.3

    W.5.9

    SL.5.2

Use details from the video and sidebars to revise and add additional information about the steps necessary for Spirit’s landing and operation.

8

2 days

Project

  • NASA poster — Activity #4

    3-5-ETS1-1

    3-5-ETS1-2

    3-5-ETS1-3

Develop and design an Entry, Descent, & Landing system for a rover using the engineering and design process.

9

  • The Mighty... pp. 29 – 33 — Start at "While Spirit's"

    RI.5.3

Describe where Opportunity landed, what Opportunity found, and how the team responded to Opportunity’s findings. 

10Essential Task

  • The Mighty... — close read

    RI.5.8

    W.5.9

    SL.5.1

    SL.5.4

    SL.5.5

Analyze the strategies Elizabeth Rusch uses to make science feel like an adventure. 

11

  • The Mighty... pp. 34 – 39 — skip page 38

    RI.5.3

Describe the different accomplishments made by Spirit and Opportunity and what made the accomplishments possible. 

12

  • The Mighty... — page 38 and sidebar on page 39

  • Spacecraft Instruments

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.9

Use details from the articles and sidebars to revise and add additional information about the steps necessary for Spirit’s landing and operation. 

13

2 days

Project

  • Rover Races Activity

    3-5-ETS1-1

    3-5-ETS1-2

    3-5-ETS1-3

Develop and design an Entry, Descent, & Landing system for a rover using the engineering and design process. 

14

  • The Mighty... pp. 40 – 44

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.8

Explain what evidence the author includes to support the idea that math is a critical component of space exploration and engineering.

15

  • The Mighty... pp. 44 – 45

    RI.5.3

Explain what initial discovery Opportunity makes inside Endurance Crater and the tools and techniques scientists used. 

16

Discussion

    RI.5.9

    SL.5.1

    SL.5.3

Debate and analyze unit essential questions.

17

Writing

    W.5.2.b

    W.5.2.c

    W.5.2.d

    W.5.2.e

    W.5.9

Write a multiple-paragraph essay to answer a unit essential question.

18

  • The Mighty... pp. 46 – 51

    RI.5.3

Analyze the importance of the sun for Spirit’s survival and the steps scientists take to ensure Spirit has access to the sun.

19Essential Task

  • “NASA Press Release 1”

    RI.5.2

    RI.5.3

Summarize “Mars Rovers Advance Understanding of the Red Planet”.

20

  • The Mighty... pp. 52 – 55

    RI.5.2

    RI.5.3

Summarize what happened with Opportunity on its way to Victoria Crater and the steps the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took to remedy the situation, by explaining the relationship between two or more scientific and technical ideas.

21Essential Task

  • “NASA Press Release 2”

  • “NASA Press Release 3”

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.9

Use details from the articles to revise and add additional information about the challenges Opportunity faced when approaching Victoria Crater.

22

  • The Mighty... pp. 52 – 55

  • “NASA Press Release 2”

  • “NASA Press Release 3”

    RI.5.6

Compare and contrast the points of view from which the Mighty Mars Rovers and the press releases are written, by analyzing multiple accounts of the same topic. 

23

  • The Mighty... pp. 56 – 59

    RI.5.5

    RI.5.8

Analyze the strategies Elizabeth Rusch uses to make science feel like an adventure, by explaining how authors use word choice, language, and point of view to support particular points in a text. 

24

  • The Mighty... pp. 60 – 61

  • “NASA Press Release 4”

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.9

Summarize what Spirit found and how the team responded, by integrating information from several texts on the same topic.

25

  • The Mighty... pp. 62 – 67

  • “NASA Press Release 5”

    RI.5.3

    RI.5.9

Summarize what happened to Opportunity and how the team responded, by integrating information from several texts on the same topic. 

26

  • The Mighty... pp. 68 – 71

  • “NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Starts a New Chapter”

    RI.5.5

    RI.5.9

Compare and contrast how text structure and point of view influence the mood of a text.

27

  • The Mighty... pp. 72 – 76

    RI.5.8

Analyze and explain the reasons and evidence the author includes to show that the rover’s mission was “more than accomplished.”

28

Discussion

    W.5.9

    SL.5.1

    SL.5.3

Debate and analyze unit essential questions.

29

Writing

    W.5.2

    W.5.2.b

    W.5.2.c

    W.5.2.d

    W.5.2.e

    W.5.9

Write a multiple-paragraph essay to answer a unit essential question.

30

Assessment

31

5 days

Informative Writing

  • Press Release

    RI.5.9

    W.5.2

    W.5.2.b

    W.5.2.c

    W.5.2.d

    W.5.2.e

    W.5.7

    W.5.8

Write an afterword for The Mighty Mars Rovers by writing an informative text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

32

5 days

Project

  • Rover Races Activity — Activity #11 and #12

    3-5-ETS1-1

    3-5-ETS1-2

    3-5-ETS1-3

Using the engineering and design process, develop and design a rover that can travel on Mars and can pick up samples.

Common Core Standards

Engineering Design
  • 3-5-ETS1-1 — Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

  • 3-5-ETS1-2 — Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

  • 3-5-ETS1-3 — Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Language Standards
  • L.5.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.5.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.5.2 — Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.

  • RI.5.3 — Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

  • RI.5.5 — Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

  • RI.5.8 — Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).

  • RI.5.9 — Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.5.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.5.2 — Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

  • SL.5.3 — Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.

  • SL.5.4 — Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

  • SL.5.5 — Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Writing Standards
  • W.5.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

  • W.5.2.b — Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.

  • W.5.2.c — Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).

  • W.5.2.d — Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

  • W.5.2.e — Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented

  • W.5.2.e — Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented

  • W.5.7 — Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

  • W.5.8 — Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.

  • W.5.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Spiral Standards

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L.5.1

L.5.1.b

L.5.1.d

L.5.2

L.5.2.d

L.5.2.e

L.5.3.a

L.5.4

L.5.4.b

L.5.5

L.5.6

RF.5.3

RF.5.4

RI.5.1

RI.5.10

RI.5.4

RI.5.5

RI.5.6

SL.5.1

SL.5.4

SL.5.5

W.5.10

W.5.4

W.5.5

W.5.6

W.5.7

W.5.8