Annual UH Mars Rover Event Gets $400K Boost from NASA
Expansion Beyond Texas, Stronger Curriculum Planned with Funds
Working tirelessly at the helm of the annual Mars Rover Model Celebration and Exhibition for a decade, UH physics professor Edgar Bering has plans to take it to the next level with a $414,000 grant from NASA.
Bering says his idea for this science contest stemmed from his son’s fourth-grade school project. Growing eightfold since its launch at the 2002 World Space Congress hosted by UH, Bering’s brainchild has given Houston-area elementary and middle school students a hands-on opportunity to explore science by building and exhibiting Mars rover models. With this NASA Education and Public Outreach for Earth and Space Science (EPOESS) grant, Bering plans to develop a stronger event and expand it beyond Houston and Texas’ borders.
“Events like this offer hands-on projects that provide true-to-life results, encouraging children to take learning beyond the textbook,” said Bering, who also is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH. “Our objective is to demonstrate to kids that working scientists and engineers get to encounter the joy and wonder of learning new things about the universe every day of their lives. This program puts a fresh face on space exploration to excite a new generation of scientists and engineers.”
Each year, student teams from grades three through eight are given the task to research, design and construct a model rover to carry out a specific science mission on Mars’ surface. After attending a workshop conducted by Bering each fall, teachers guide students through building models during six-weeks of classroom learning and homework projects that culminate with finalists competing at a winter event. Over the years, rovers have been crafted from simple art supplies, found objects, solar power kits and radio-controlled car chassis. A $25 limit on supplies helps students learn about budgets and project management, while keeping the costs accessible for all schools.
The EPOESS grant aims to incorporate educational resources and mission data relating to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, which is a top-level administrative division of NASA dedicated to inspiring the next generation of explorers. Bering says the additional funds for the Mars rover event will result in better lesson plans for the teachers, more detailed and accurate references to recent NASA materials and quantitative evaluations of the strengths and weaknesses of the program.
In addition to enriching and expanding the curriculum materials, website, teacher workshops and event, the EPOESS grant will help Bering and his collaborators develop parent education workshops and formal evaluation measures, the latter of which will be necessary to grow the program to other cities in Texas and across the United States. Additionally, the improved training and curriculum materials developed will be peer reviewed and approved by an advisory committee and NASA officials to be compiled into a how-to kit for dissemination nationwide.
“We have a shortage of American children entering college who intend to major in science or engineering,” Bering said. “The challenge for educators is convincing grammar school students that these subjects lead to exciting, relevant and accessible career paths. We hope this competition continues to spark interest in these fields.”
Assisting in the efforts, Coleen Carlson of UH’s Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics will both develop the reading strategy materials for the improved lesson plans and perform the quantitative assessments going forward, while the Texas Learning and Computation Center at UH will continue to help manage the event. Bering’s other core collaborators include John Ramsey, Wallace Dominey and Andrew Kapral from UH, Mark Lemmon from Texas A&M University, Laura Peticolas from the University of California - Berkeley, Efthyia Zesta from the Air Force Research Laboratory and Joan Labay-Marquez from Boerne Independent School District.
Co-sponsored by UH and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts, the Houston-area citywide finals for the 10th annual Mars Rover Model Celebration and Exhibition will be held Jan. 28, 2012, in the Houston Room of the University Center at UH. For more information about the event, visit http://www.marsrover.org/.
- Lisa Merkl, UH Communication