The aim of the Verizon Innovative Learning explorer lab is not only to give students a unique STEM experience but also to give them an experience that echoes in the classroom. By working through the engineering challenges, students gain knowledge about the space sciences and experience applying scientific practices. The Mars Discovery Program takes students to the Red Planet. Students will work through the engineering design process through game-based learning. Companion engagement and extension activities may be used to enhance the experience and assist teachers in bringing engineering design into their classroom.
The explorer lab was created by Verizon Innovative Learning, the education initiative of the Verizon Foundation. We need more kids to see the world of possibilities available to them. Learn more at weneedmore.com.
The engineering experience
During the explorer lab experience, students work through the engineering design process by creating and modifying rovers for a specific mission on Mars. The process of identifying problems, developing solutions, testing, and optimizing their designs makes up the core of the engineering process. These skills will enhance their knowledge of engineering and their problem-solving skills. Students will better understand how they can apply the science they learn in the classroom to real world problems. Engineering design also invites students to be creative and inventive, which can ignite interest in students who have not previously shown interest in science or engineering.
Astronomy and space sciences
In the Mars Discovery program, students go on an interactive tour of the solar system, learning about the habitability of other planets and the search for life on Mars. They will be introduced to the geology of Mars, the building blocks of life, and the different technologies scientists use in space exploration. While the main learning objective of the explorer lab experience is not necessarily for students to walk away with new content knowledge about space, we expect that they very likely will.
Experiencing scientific practices
In smaller moments throughout the experience, students will encounter the basic practices of scientific inquiry and STEM research. The aim is that students “try on” the practices of real scientists, engineers, and explorers. Students will do things like:
- Ask questions
- Do multi-step investigations
- Select the right tool
- Solve problems
- Plan investigations
- Compare outcomes
- Observe and note
Engineering and design: Students practice the engineering and design process that factors in tradeoffs and consideration for environmental constraints.
STEM careers: Students experience relevant and in- context STEM missions that ignite curiosity and interest in STEM careers.
Space and scientific practices: Students engage in scientific practices (such as analyzing evidence, planning investigations, and collaborating) through the context of space-related content
Engineering and design in the classroom
With the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards comes the opportunity for teachers to integrate engineering into their science curriculum. The explorer lab will take students on a Mars mission where they will work through engineering design challenges similar to the ones experienced by the engineers at NASA. The engineering challenges on the explorer lab are designed to have students understand science through the application of engineering practices and are aligned with the middle school NGSS standards for engineering design; MS-ETS-1, MS-ETS-2, and MS-ETS-3.
Students will build and modify rovers, test them on navigation missions, and then re-design them, improving them as they progress through the game. Students need to identify the criteria to complete each level and the constraints of their limited tools and equipment to accomplish this. Students are encouraged to design multiple possible solutions to overcome the problems they will face. They will test, iterate, fail, work with others, and ultimately see their final design in action. These open-ended challenges celebrate creativity, perseverance, and curiosity and give students the opportunity to feel like real scientists and engineers.
Engineering design process
Identify the problem
During the Mars Destination mission, students must remotely drive rovers over the Martian surface and complete different challenges presented to them. To progress through the game, students will have to identify what challenges their rover faces and overcome them in order to move forward to the next levels. They will face a multitude of different challenges throughout the game, including how to design a rover to maneuver over different terrains and how to best collect evidence of water and life on Mars.
To overcome the different obstacles they face, students will have to conceive different solutions for them. They may have to come up with alternative wheel designs or take different routes in order to cross the Martian surface. They will have to identify the constraints of their solutions such as limited battery power or the type of obstacles on the Martian surface. There might be multiple solutions to a problem and students will have to deliberate the pros and cons of each before they select a design.
Test, evaluate, and optimize
After students choose a design, they will have to test it on the Martian surface. As they drive their rovers, will their rovers be able to get over large boulders? Will the battery last the whole trek? Was their rover able to complete the required task and collect different samples? These are the types of questions that they will have to evaluate and answer as they test their rovers. Students will learn quickly that not all designs are equal. Many of their rover designs will fail at first. To overcome this, students are able to re-design and optimize their rovers based on the limitations and difficulties they encounter. They will be able to work through the engineering loop until they find the optimal solution to their problem.