Classroom snapshot: Grade 5 shoots for Mars

Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School fifth-graders have what it takes to go to Mars.

Throughout the year, students learn science concepts by building contraptions to help them reach and survive on the red planet. They build solar houses to live on Mars. They grow potatoes, maintain a compost bin, and build solar ovens so they can feed themselves. They build water filters so they can drink freshwater. And finally, they build rockets to get to Mars, and egg-drop parachutes to land safely.

Each project is tied to a science lesson, such as light, chemistry, convection, conduction, diffusion, and Newton’s laws of motion. Students also practice the scientific method as they observe their work, measure their results, make adjustments, and try again.  

Science teacher Kelly Miller was inspired to create the thematic projects after watching the movie The Martian. Drawing on various resources and her own knowledge, she has created a scientific through-line for students’ learning that is uniquely Catalina.

By tying each project to Mars, “there’s more continuity for the students,” she says. “We’re adding layers to what they already know.”

Two Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School students tape the inside of a pastry box with a clear window on top.

Students build a solar house out of a pastry box.

Two Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School students look at s'mores cooking in a box with a clear top.

Students test out their solar ovens by making s'mores!

Four Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School girls mash potatoes in the same bowl.

Students enjoy the spoils of potatoes grown in the garden.

A Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School boy holds a 2-tier cardboard cone with cotton on top. Another boy and girl look on.

Students construct a water filter.

A Santa Catalina Lower and Middle School girl holds a paper parachute over a balcony. Another girl holds a stopwatch.

Getting ready to drop an egg. Will it survive?

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