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  • Subject: Space Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
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  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. It is likely that some day it will be possible for humans to colonize and sustain life on other planets, especially our neighbor Mars.
2. As responsible citizens, we need to address important ethical and environmental questions before deciding whether such colonization should take place, and if so, what limitations need to be set to protect the solar system from the exploitation and pollution our own planet has suffered.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on the most recent three decades of space exploration, especially that of the planet Mars
Computer with Internet access


1. Tell your students that they will be participating in a debate based on the following question: With the exploration and the exploitation of the solar system within reach, the question must now be answered—do we have the right to colonize other parts of the solar system when we haven’t even been able to maintain the resources of our own planet?
2. In preparation for the debate, hold a preliminary discussion about planetary colonization and its implications. You might raise the following questions:
  1. If we decide to colonize Mars, who will decide which people will be chosen as colonists?
  2. If we were to exploit other areas of the solar system for minerals, for example, who has the right to the profits?
  3. What rules should be made to prevent humans from overexploiting and polluting other planets? Who should make those rules? How can they be enforced?
3. Organize the debate by stating the resolution students will be debating and dividing the class into three working groups:
Resolved: That humans should be permitted to colonize Mars.
Group 1: This is the “pro” group that thinks we have the right to colonize Mars.
Group 2: The “con” group will take the stand that we do not have the right to colonize Mars or any other planets because we have not been able to take care of our own.
Group 3: This group of two or three students will run the debate by setting up rules, keeping track of time, and recording remarks and important points.
4. Allow time for groups to meet. Groups 1 and 2 should spend their meeting time doing research about recent exploration of Mars, gathering visuals to use as part of their presentations, and discussing points they wish to make in favor of their position. They should also try to anticipate points the other group might make, in order to be prepared to defend their own positions. The students in Group 3 will come up with rules for the debate, including a way of deciding whether Group 1 or Group 2 will speak first and a point system for evaluating the groups and deciding on a winner.
5. Here is a suggested format for the debate:
Each group has seven uninterrupted minutes to present its case. Speakers should have visual aids and a clear, organized presentation. Three people from each group will do the presenting.
After each group has spoken, groups have five minutes to get together and prepare a response to the first presentations (this is their chance to defend themselves).
Two students from each group (different from the original presenters) now have five minutes to give the response for the group.
After these responses, each group has three minutes to get together and prepare questions for the other side.
Finally, 10 minutes will be allotted for open questions, during which time anyone from any side may ask or respond to questions. During this time the students in Group 3 must do a good job of maintaining order. They will stop the questions after 10 minutes, and end the debate.
6. After the debate, the students in Group 3 should meet to evaluate the presentations, defenses, and answers given by Groups 1 and 2 and, using the point system they devised, decide which group is the winner.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have each student write a newspaper article describing the debate and commenting on any of the points made.

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Discussion Questions

1. If we decide to colonize the moon or Mars, what are some of the criteria that will have to be established to decide which people are chosen to be colonists?
2. If we were to exploit other areas of the solar system - asteroids for example - who has the right to the profits? Should they be given to the first person or group to do the exploiting or should they be shared worldwide?
3. Technology has certainly advanced from the 1930s, when Pluto was discovered. How has this change in technology changed the science of astronomy? Has astronomy in any way accounted for changes in technology?
4. A lot of money is being spent annually in this country and worldwide to advance the exploration of space. Is this money being appropriately spent or should this money be use to help make the planet which humans already inhabit more habitable?

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You can evaluate your students on their parts in the debate using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points:all points well taken and logically argued; all opinions solidly backed up with facts; defenses convincing and well reasoned

  • Two points:most points well taken and logically argued; most opinions backed up with facts; most defenses sufficiently convincing

  • One point:few points logically argued; few opinions backed up with facts; defenses unconvincing
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for a logical argument and a convincing defense.

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Life on Mars?
Have students do research to investigate the possibility of life existing on Mars and elsewhere in our solar system. What conditions would allow life to thrive on another planet? Encourage students to use the Internet to become familiar with the amazing discoveries scientists have made about Mars in the past three decades of space exploration. They should look into theViking 2tests sent by radio waves to Earth and the Martian meteorites collected on Earth. Students should present their findings in written or oral reports.

Martian Chronicles
Mars, because it is our neighbor in the solar system and because it has long been thought of as the planet most likely to support life, has long been the subject of science-fiction stories. Invite your students to write their own science-fiction stories about what astronauts might find on a manned mission to Mars. Remind students that science fiction is, as the term implies, made up, but that it is also based in part on scientific fact. Students should incorporate facts they have learned about Mars in their stories.

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Suggested Readings

"Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space"
Carl Sagan, Random House, 1994

"Destination Pluto"
Mark Wheeler, Popular Mechanics, July 1995

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Searching for Evidence of Water on Mars [PDF]
Find information and additional activities on this topic at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab website.

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS)
Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) This is a great site but can be very confusing because the home page has many, many hyperlinks. One section is highly recommended for teachers. To get there from the home page, click on "Visions of the Future," then "Space Colonies and Starships," then "Space Settlement," then "Orbital Space Settlements", and finally on "Space Playground." There you will find a unit for K-6 with a "Space Playground Lesson Plan" where young students develop games and pictures of children in a real class displaying their space toys. There are color renditions of what a space colony would look like on the site. Another very useful and interesting section is the "Space Settlement Basics." It gives a good description of how a space settlement would be set up, how the people would live, and other very interesting logistics to use with students prior to the activities. This site is definitely worth visiting.

Bell High School
This site begins with a video of a real launch that only activates when you push the "Launch" button. Click on "Search for Data," and you get easy-to-read material on every planet in the solar system. Click on "A Glossary of Terms," and you get a glossary of astronomical terms. This is a great site for kids to explore on their own.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    catastrophic
Definition:Cataclysmic, disastrous.
Context:It would cause an impact that is perhaps 10,000 times more catastrophic...

speaker    exploitation
Definition:The act of utilizing for productive purposes.
Context:We believe there are really three keys to opening up the solar system for human exploration and exploitation.

speaker    inorganically
Definition:Relating to substances that are not living organisms e.g. minerals.
Context:Those shapes are normally associated with magnetite that is produced from different types of bacteria, rather than magnetite that is produced inorganically.

speaker    investment
Definition:The sum invested or a purchase acquired for future benefit.
Context:It is unfortunate that we did not go forward to fully utilize the investment that we made with Apollo, but that's water under the bridge.

speaker    plasma
Definition:In physics, an electrically neutral gas, containing neutral and ionized particles.
Context:In this chamber, we have a very high-powered lithium plasma engine.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of scientific knowledge.
Knows that scientific explanations must meet certain criteria; they must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature; and they must include a logical structure, rules of evidence, openness to criticism, reporting methods and procedures, and a commitment to making knowledge public.


Knows that because all scientific ideas depend on experimental and observational confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle subject to change as new evidence becomes available; in areas where data, information, or understanding is incomplete, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons, such as exploration of new areas, discovery of new aspects of the natural world, confirmation of prior investigations, prediction of current theories, and comparison of models and theories.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the scientific enterprise.
Knows that progress in science and technology can relate to social issues and challenges (e.g., funding priorities, health problems).


Knows that individuals and teams have contributed and will continue to contribute to the scientific enterprise; doing science or engineering can be as simple as an individual conducting field studies or as complex as hundreds of people working on a major scientific question or technological problem.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:technology
Understands the interactions of science, technology, and society.
Knows that science often advances with the introduction of new technologies and solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge; new technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new arenas of research.


Knows that individuals and society must decide on proposals involving new research and technologies; decisions involve assessment of alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits, and consideration of who benefits, who suffers, who pays, who gains, what are the risks, and who bears them.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:historical understanding
Understands the historical perspective.
Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specified how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.

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Summer Productions, Inc.

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