Student engineers showcase rovers
Would-be space explorers will be flooding the campus today for the 11th annual Mars Rover Model Celebration and Exhibition.
In this competition, students from kindergarten to 12th grade will be presenting their Mars mission models made of found objects to entice students to become interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Edgar Bering, professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering.
“The kids pick a mission. They start by asking themselves a question, ‘What is it about Mars that I really, really, really want to know?’ This is incredibly liberating, because this is the very first time for most of them that they’re being allowed to pick what they’re going to study,” Bering said.
“Then they have to develop a plan. ‘What are the questions that I have to ask? And what are the measurements I have to take to answer my question?’ So they’re doing a lot of Mars-surface science and planetary science.”
The program started during the second World Space Congress hosted by UH in 2002, Bering said. Bering represented UH on the local council for the World Space Congress, and the committee wanted to incorporate grade school outreach into its program in 2002.
“The committee was sort of trucking along trying to think of things to do, and they were focusing on high-end stuff,” Bering said.
“I said, ‘What a minute. We need something for elementary and middle schools, and we need things that are inexpensive.’ Everybody just sort of stared at me, and they said, ‘Well, OK. You got us — that’s absolutely right.’”
When his children were in fourth grade, they were introduced to a make-your-own Mars Rover curriculum from the Spark School Park program, Bering said. It was an innovative and inexpensive way to reach a younger audience.
“So I suggested, ‘Why don’t we have a city-wide competition where the kids who have done this Mars Rover thing can compete school against school.’ Everybody in the room stared at me in stark disbelief.”
The first Mars Rover competition was held in October 2002 at the World Space Congress. In the first year, there were 60 participants, Bering said. This year, there will be more than 600 children competing, a number slightly less than registered because of the recent spread of the flu.
“All totaled, 2000 people are going to be here,” Bering said.
New this year is a grant to help Bering and his colleagues develop a lesson plan to teach the students and teachers how to teach future scientists.
“We have developed this new, very, very exciting curriculum this year. We are halfway done. We have 16 lessons out of the 30 done,” Bering said.
“There are some amazing issues you have to address. If you ask the average third grader, ‘Which is closer: the sun or Los Angeles?’ What do you think they say? They say, ‘The sun,’ because they can see the sun. There are some real hurdles you have to work on.”
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Houston Room. For more information, visit marsrover.phys.uh.edu/about.php.