By Alicia Nichols
Space and space exploration have long captivated adults. For elementary and junior high students, the siren call of our galaxy and beyond is no different. Luckily for Houston-area students, there are programs such as the Mars Rover Celebration.
The Mars Rover Celebration is an educational program for third through eighth graders at public and private Houston-area schools. For the first time in their educational careers, students are let loose and are given the power to choose what they wish to study about Mars. Research is what they make of it—anything and everything goes. Teachers anchor the students’ various research projects with specially prepared 5-E lessons that are space- or Mars-oriented that make up part of the Mars Rover Celebration curriculum. NASA approves and certifies a majority of these lessons. After students spend class time researching more on Mars, teachers instruct them to create a Mars rover of their own—one equipped to carry out any experiments or tests needed to answer the questions posed by their particular project.
Eventually, mock-ups turn into real rovers made from everyday items found in and around the house. Some districts host large competitions where every student vies for one of the top coveted spots at the University of Houston Mars Rover Celebration event. Other schools choose their best students and send a select few. Still others enter every student they possibly can. On a given Saturday in January, hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and volunteers gather at the University of Houston main campus, which hosts the official event. The day is broken up into three parts—elementary judging, middle school judging, and awards.