the mars lab
We all have that one experience that left a mark and changed us profoundly. For me, working on the development of The Mars Lab project was that life-changing experience.
The Mars Lab is an exemplary, world-class, award-winning education and research project that allows young people in schools to conduct authentic scientific investigations and really experience what it’s like to be and think like a scientist.
It’s basically a working Mars Laboratory: a 140 square meter scientifically correct recreation of a Martian landscape (Mars Yard) and robotics laboratory with three ‘Mars’ rovers that young people can use to conduct their research on Mars.
Revolving around the search for evidence of life on Mars, The Mars Lab gets young people to consider the possibility of life on other planets. The young scientists identify their own research questions to explore, do a literature review to inform their hypothesis, then carefully plan and conduct a scientific investigation by remotely driving the rovers and using their on-board instruments to investigate geological and astrobiological features of interest on the Martian surface and collect data. They then analyse that data, interpret the results and consider what evidence they provide about the possibility of life on Mars. Their project finished with them formally presenting their findings to scientists in the field of astrobiology. They get to experience every aspect of the scientific process, from beginning to end.
Before working on this project, I had quite traditional views and methods of teaching. That was how I was trained and that was how I had practiced as a teacher. But here, I was introduced to some progressive teaching approaches, including project-based learning (PBL). What I experienced myself in the classroom trials and what those young people achieve completely blew me away.
Being involved in the development of this project has been instrumental in changing and influencing how I think about teaching and learning. I truly believe that getting young people to do real science with scientists and experience what it’s like to work and think like a scientist is the best way to create future scientifically literate citizens.
This project also changed my own scientific literacy — my understanding of how science is done — and has led me to pursue a PhD at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (at UNSW) on this very topic.