Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)
In the name of science, fifth-graders at King Elementary watched eggs being dropped off the roof of their school building. The experiment mimicked the 2004 landing of the Spirit Rover on the planet Mars.
Students were on the edge of their seats as they watched a video of Spirit’s landing. The question posed to them by their teacher was “Will it land, or will it crash?” As the rover landed successfully, students said, “It’s like balloons!” Which led to the next question, “How did they do that?”
Fifth-grade teacher Anam Ali explained, “They were amazed to see the layers of design and engineering that went into the rover landing. But when the final layer of bubbles inflated around the rover as it touched down and bounced off the surface of Mars, that amazed them the most.”
Students became more intrigued when their teacher told them that the engineers who designed the Spirit Rover were once fifth-graders too. This sparked their ambition as they were challenged to design a rover landing of their own. In their experiment, students used eggs. They had to choose among four items to use as protection materials: balloons, straws, Styrofoam or Bubble Wrap.
“Many of the groups used balloons while others designed parachutes. One group created a 3D star shape out of Styrofoam, and another created a two-sided pyramid out of straws,” Ali said.
Watching from the ground as their teacher dropped the eggs from the school roof, the students continued using the scientific method by collecting and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, identifying the variables, then they drew conclusions. They pondered why or why not some landings were successful.
“The concepts the students learned through inquiry and experimentation will be committed to their memories because the students discovered the concepts themselves, rather than being told about them,” Ali said.
The activity ended with students writing about the lessons they learned from this experiment could be used in designing actual rovers in a career as a NASA scientist.
One group of students wrote, “Always have a backup plan, because you never know what’s going to happen. Also, never give up, it might just work out!” Another group said, “If we planned a rover landing, we would use a substance that can be filled up with air and can hold the rover.”