How do we get young students more interested in math and science? This question was posed to Pascal Lee, Planetary Scientist of the SETI Institute, when he took on his role as Chairman of the Mars Institute. His response was to publish an informational book, MISSION: MARS, a how-to guide to prepare for an impossible adventure to an unexplored planet. Dr. Lee’s book can be easily used to further instruction using both STEM Connections and Common Core State Standards. Just before Spring Break, Bishop teachers partnered with the Sunnyvale Rotary Club to have Dr. Lee speak to over a hundred third graders at Bishop Elementary School.
Students entered the auditorium and were greeted with their own autographed copy of MISSION: MARS, made possible through the generosity of the Sunnyvale Rotary Club Literacy Committee. Dr. Lee quickly introduced students to his fellow researcher, Ping-Pong, a friendly Australian Cattle Dog who accompanies him to the Arctic Tundra each winter. Dr. Lee shared his own challenges learning his multiplication facts in third grade, and inspired students not to be discouraged. He also treated students to a hands-on-demonstration about gravity, comparing its effects on Earth, the Moon, and Mars with help from Bishop third grader, Isaias Cerantes Pizarro.
Dr. Lee and Ping-Pong posing with a life size poster of a possible Mars Spacesuit.
Dr. Lee shared photographs of Mars taken by satellites and land rovers deployed on and near Mars. Dr. Lee asked the young scientists if any of them were interested in preparing other astronauts or traveling to Mars themselves. Many hands went up, so he encouraged them to grow their problem solving skills as they finish their education. He further explained the importance of solving challenging problems, like visiting Mars. While scientists work on traveling into space, Earth gains valuable discoveries that are put to work solving our own world problems. Some important technological advances have been because of this research, such as the use of solar panels, and artificial limbs.
Both the third grade teachers and Dr. Lee are hopeful that this visit inspired students to work with a purpose on their math and science assignments. Who knows? Perhaps one of these Bishop third graders will become an important contributor to MISSION: MARS somewhere in the future.
Dr. Lee, Ping-Pong, and Bishop 3rd Graders at lunch together following the presentation.
Article by Theresa Ballin, 3rd Grade Teacher at Bishop Elementary School