Mars Explorer
An Interactive Learning Environment brought to you by
Benjamin Goldstein, Alex Hill, and Chris Scharver
OptionsThis project is an interactive and collaborative learning environment that aims to teach children about collective sample spaces. It is a Tandem application based on Mars Builder designed for the CAVE or IDesk Environments. In this application the user will be assigned the task of collecting a respresentative sample of geological data from the virtual environment. The goal is to teach children about the process of scientific inquiry by providing a rich virtual environment to explore.

The user will have to determine categories of sample data in order to determine what types of data may require further exploration and recording. Much of the data to be collected is derived from information collected and published by NASA's explorations of the planet. The following images are screen captures from the application. The user is scanning different rocks and retrieving element content readings.


Even at the earliest stages, children should be actively engaged in learning to view the world from a scientific perspective. The early stages of scientific inquiry, the processes of exploration, observation, and sampling, have been identified as important learning areas for children in the kindergarten through sixth grade level. Students begin to learn the foundations of scientific inquiry, observation and measurement, almost as soon as they begin schooling. Introductory science education encourages the use of the senses to make observations about the environment. Even while in Kindergarten, children are encouraged to begin the process of object description and classification. By the third grade, students are learning the properties of matter and applying description and classification techniques to geological formations such as rocks. In addition, they have been introduced to measurement devices such as the thermometer and ruler. Students are likely to be introduced to terms such as meteorite, asteroid, and comet by the fourth grade. They are also introduced to common atomic elements and instruments used for their measurement. By the fifth grade, students are learning the descriptive properties of minerals and the basic building blocks of chemical structure. This culminates in a study of the periodic table. Because rocks are common to a young child's environment, they prove a viable means for study in a foreign setting. The practice of promoting group classification techniques for rocks is a popular learning exercise. This exercise not only fosters classification through observation and measurement but also encourages cooperative learning.

Positive interdependence is introduced by:

  • Collaborative activities that occur while navigating the terrain
  • Gathering of sample data
  • Discussions throughout the process, including the analysis and clustering of the sample space in a classroom setting.

The Mars Explorer Virtual Reality Application is designed to foster scientific inquiry by teaching simple clustering skills to students in the fifth or sixth grade. Students are motivated to explore the Martian surface while collecting data about the rocks they encounter. While the application is flexible enough to allow many variations, the lesson plan presented here focuses on collecting two data variables for each rock sample. After the first phase of data collection in the Mars virtual environment, students are asked to perform an analysis in a traditional classroom setting. This analysis prompts the students to observe clustering relationships that exist within the sample space.

Lesson Plan

A lesson plan has been assembled in which students will collect data on rocks upon the Martian surface. When final approval has been issued, then lesson plan will be posted on this web site.

The students will explore rocks placed about the landscape above. The class will need to cooperate to keep track of which areas have been explored. Due to the large size of the area being explored, it is not feasible for individual students to cover the entire area.


There are numerous resources available for more in-depth information. Educators may choose to supplement use of the Mars Explorere with more additional lessons surrounding Mars. NASA has an in-depth collection of educational materials available on the internet.

  • Mars Education Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; includes curriculum guides and class activities
  • The Mars Socity is an international non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the exploration of Mars.
  • AAAS Benchmarks for Science
  • Illinois Board of Education Goals