Map discussion

Students at Walnut Elementary sit around a map of Mars and share their observations from walking on the surface.

ASHVILLE — Some local students are getting the chance to “walk” on Mars.

Students at Walnut Elementary earlier this year had the chance to participate in Space Week, in which they learned about the solar system, individual planets, the moon and all things outer space.

As part of the curriculum, students were able to participate with a resource, a 25-by-25 map of the surface of Mars, during their activities. The Buzz Aldrin Foundation provided the map through a grant in 2017. Aldrin was an astronaut and was the second person to walk on the moon as a part of the Apollo 11 crew.

Ginny Fee, fifth-grade science teacher at Walnut Elementary in the Teays Valley School District, said the students take to the map as part of their education.

“The Giant Mars Map enhances the current curriculum by providing a realistic experience as students research lander sites, study the terrain and prepare for future missions,” she said.

“The students were surprised that Mars has the largest volcano in the solar system. Olympus Mons is three times taller than Mount Everest. They are always curious about the different rovers and which ones are still working. It is especially exciting to share the newest rover, Perseverance, and its helicopter, Ingenuity, that have been exploring Mars since February of this year.”

Students participate by removing their shoes and exploring the map in socks to help keep it from ripping.

“They have several minutes to make observations, which usually include comparing and contrasting the size of Mars to Earth, the location of the lander and rover sites and a color-coded elevation map,” Fee said.

“The class gathers in a circle to discuss their observations and learn more about each location.” Fee said additional lessons are implemented using the 5E-learning model: engage, explore, explain, expand and evaluate as nonfiction common core anchor standards and science standards are integrated.

“I also use a lot of nonfiction picture books in my science classroom,” Fee said. “Opportunities are provided to connect content to real-world situations. For the final phase, students recommend a location to colonize. Their writing creativity and science knowledge are integrated as interdisciplinary learning is accomplished.”

Fee said students are always curious about the color of “the red planet.”

“They’re always curious why Mars is called the red planet, how long it takes to travel there and what data the rovers are sending back to Earth,” Fee said.

It’s not only Ashville students who get the chance to participate in the program and walk on the map; it’s made its rounds throughout the community.

“In the [grant] essay, I promised to share this resource with colleagues in my district, county and state,” Fee said. “To date, the map has been to Scioto Elementary, Circleville Elementary, Saltcreek Intermediate School, Crossroads Christian Academy, Columbus School for Girls, Huntington Local and Southern Local in Meigs County. Teachers always comment how engaging the map is for their students because it brings an abstract concept to life as everyone gets an opportunity to ‘walk’ on Mars.”

As part of the learning opportunity, Fee said she wants to get a map of the moon next. The maps cost about $5,000 and so far, they’ve raised $450 with a commitment from the Walnut PTO for $1,500. She’s already written two grants to cover the remaining amount.

“I will hopefully know in November whether or not we will be awarded,” she said.

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