What is a Mars Rover?

Mars Curiosity: Facts and Information

NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity

An artist’s concept illustrates what the Mars rover Curiosity will look like on the Red Planet.
(Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars Science Laboratory and its rover centerpiece, Curiosity, is the most ambitious Mars mission yet flown by NASA. The rover landed on Mars in 2012 with a primary mission to find out if Mars is, or was, suitable for life. Another objective is to learn more about the Red Planet’s environment.

In March 2018, it celebrated 2,000 sols (Mars days) on the planet, making its way from Gale Crater to Aeolis Mons (colloquially called Mount Sharp), where it has looked at geological information embedded in the mountain’s layers. Along the way, it also has found extensive evidence of past water and geological change.

[For the latest news about the mission, follow Space.com’s Mars Science Lab Coverage.]

As big as an SUV

One thing that makes Curiosity stand out is its sheer size: Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV. It is 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1 inch wide (3 m by 2.8 m) and about 7 feet high (2.1 m). It weighs 2,000 lbs. (900 kilograms). Curiosity’s wheels have a 20-inch (50.8 cm) diameter.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed the rover to roll over obstacles up to 25 inches (65 centimeters) high and to travel about 660 feet (200 m) per day. The rover’s power comes from a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which produces electricity from the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay.

Science goals

According to NASA, Curiosity has four main science goals in support of the agency’s Mars exploration program:

  • Determine whether life ever arose on Mars.
  • Characterize the climate of Mars.
  • Characterize the geology of Mars.
  • Prepare for human exploration.

The goals are closely interlinked. For example, understanding the current climate of Mars will also help determine whether humans can safely explore its surface. Studying the geology of Mars will help scientists better understand if the region near Curiosity’s landing site was habitable. To assist with better meeting these large goals, NASA broke down the science goals into eight smaller objectives, ranging from biology to geology to planetary processes.

In support of the science, Curiosity has a suite of instruments on board to better examine the environment. This includes:

  • Cameras that can take pictures of the landscape or of minerals close-up: Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
  • Spectrometers to better characterize the composition of minerals on the Martian surface: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam), Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.
  • Radiation detectors to get a sense of how much radiation bathes the surface, which helps scientists understand if humans can explore there – and if microbes could survive there. These are Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN).
  • Environmental sensors to look at the current weather. This is the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).
  • An atmospheric sensor that was primarily used during landing, called Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI).

A complicated landing

The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 26, 2011, and arrived on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, after a daring landing sequence that NASA dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror.” Because of Curiosity’s weight, NASA determined that the past method of using a rolling method with land bags would probably not work. Instead, the rover went through an extremely complicated sequence of maneuvers to land.

From a fiery entry into the atmosphere, a supersonic parachute needed to deploy to slow the spacecraft. NASA officials said the parachute would need to withstand 65,000 lbs. (29,480 kg) to break the spacecraft’s fall to the surface.

Under the parachute, MSL let go of the bottom of its heat shield so that it could get a radar fix on the surface and figure out its altitude. The parachute could only slow MSL to 200 mph (322 kph), far too fast for landing. To solve the problem, engineers designed the assembly to cut off the parachute, and use rockets for the final part of the landing sequence.

About 60 feet (18 m) above the surface, MSL’s “skycrane” deployed. The landing assembly dangled the rover below the rockets using a 20-foot (6 m) tether. Falling at 1.5 mph (2.4 kph), MSL gently touched the ground in Gale Crater about the same moment the skycrane severed the link and flew away, crashing into the surface.

NASA personnel tensely watched the rover’s descent on live television. When they received confirmation that Curiosity was safe, engineers pumped fists and jumped up and down in jubilation.

News of the landing spread through traditional outlets, such as newspapers and television, as well as social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. One engineer became famous because of the Mohawk he sported on landing day.

Tools for finding clues to life

The rover has a few tools to search for habitability. Among them is an experiment that bombards the surface with neutrons, which would slow down if they encountered hydrogen atoms: one of the elements of water.

Curiosity’s 7-foot arm can pick up samples from the surface and cook them inside the rover, sniffing the gases that come out of there and analyzing them for clues as to how the rocks and soil formed.

The Sample Analysis of Mars instrument, if it does pick up evidence of organic material, can double-check that. On Curiosity’s front, under foil covers, are several ceramic blocks infused with artificial organic compounds. [Related: Curiosity Rover Finds Methane on Mars]

Curiosity can drill into each of these blocks and place a sample into its oven to measure its composition. Researchers will then see if organics appear that were not supposed to be in the block. If so, scientists will likely determine these are organisms hitchhiking from Earth.

High-resolution cameras surrounding the rover take pictures as it moves, providing visual information that can be compared to environments on Earth. This was used when Curiosity found evidence of a streambed, for example.

In September 2014, Curiosity arrived at its science destination, Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) shortly after a NASA science review said the rover should do less driving and more searching for habitable destinations. It is now carefully evaluating the layers on the slope as it moves uphill. The goal is to see how the climate of Mars changed from a wet past to the drier, acidic conditions of today.

“I think the principal recommendation of the panel is that we drive less and drill more,” Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger said during a news conference at the time. “The recommendations of the review and what we want to do as a science team are going to align because we have now arrived at Mount Sharp.”

Evidence for life: Organic molecules and methane

Curiosity’s prime mission is to determine if Mars is, or was, suitable for life. While it is not designed to find life itself, the rover carries a number of instruments on board that can bring back information about the surrounding environment.

Scientists hit something close to the jackpot in early 2013, when the rover beamed back information showing that Mars had habitable conditions in the past.

Powder from the first drill samples that Curiosity obtained included the elements of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, which are all considered “building blocks” or fundamental elements that could support life. While this is not evidence of life itself, the find was still exciting to the scientists involved in the mission.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” stated Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

Scientists also detected a huge spike in methane levels on Mars in late 2013 and early 2014, at a level of about 7 parts per billion (compared to the usual 0.3 ppb to 0.8 ppb). This was a notable finding because in some circumstances, methane is an indicator of microbial life. But it can also point to geological processes. In 2016, however, the team determined the methane spike was not a seasonal event. There are smaller background changes in methane, however, that could be linked to the seasons.

Curiosity also made the first definitive identification of organics on Mars, as announced in December 2014. Organics are considered life’s building blocks, but do not necessarily point to the existence of life as they can also be created through chemical reactions.

“While the team can’t conclude that there was life at Gale Crater, the discovery shows that the ancient environment offered a supply of reduced organic molecules for use as building blocks for life and an energy source for life,” NASA stated at the time.

Initial results released at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference in 2015 showed scientists found complex organic molecules in Martian samples stored inside the Curiosity rover, but using an unexpected method. In 2018, results based on Curiosity’s work added more evidence that life was possible on Mars. One study described the discovery of more organic molecules in 3.5-billion-year-old rocks, while the other showed that methane concentrations in the atmosphere change seasonally. (The seasonal changes could mean that the gas is produced from living organisms, but there’s no definitive proof of that yet.)

Checking out the environment

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Besides hunting for habitability, Curiosity has other instruments on board that are designed to learn more about the environment surrounding it. Among those goals is to have a continuous record of weather and radiation observations to determine how suitable the site would be for an eventual human mission.

Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector runs for 15 minutes every hour to measure a swath of radiation on the ground and in the atmosphere. Scientists in particular are interested in measuring “secondary rays” or radiation that can generate lower-energy particles after it hits the gas molecules in the atmosphere. Gamma-rays or neutrons generated by this process can cause a risk to humans. Additionally, an ultraviolet sensor stuck on Curiosity’s deck tracks radiation continuously.

In December 2013, NASA determined the radiation levels measured by Curiosity were manageable for a crewed Mars mission in the future. A mission with 180 days flying to Mars, 500 days on the surface and 180 days heading back to Earth would create a dose of 1.01 sieverts, Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector determined. The total lifetime limit for European Space Agency astronauts is 1 sievert, which is associated with a 5-percent increase in fatal cancer risk over a person’s lifetime.

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station measures the wind’s speed and chart its direction, as well as determining temperature and humidity in the surrounding air. By 2016, scientists were able to see long-term trends in atmospheric pressure and air humidity. Some of these changes occur when the winter carbon-dioxide polar caps melt in the spring, dumping huge amounts of moisture into the air.

In June 2017, NASA announced Curiosity had a new software upgrade that would allow it to pick targets by itself. The update, called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), represented the first time artificial intelligence was deployed on a faraway spacecraft.

In early 2018, Curiosity sent back pictures of crystals that could have formed from ancient lakes on Mars. There are multiple hypotheses for these features, but one possibility is they formed after salts concentrated in an evaporating water lake. (Some Internet rumors speculated the features were actually signs of burrowing life, but NASA quickly discounted that hypothesis based on their linear angles – a feature that is very similar to crystalline growth.)

Issues with the rover

Vapors from a “wet chemistry” experiment filled with a fluid called MTBSTFA (N-methyl-N-tert-butyldimethylsilyl-trifluoroacetamide) contaminated a gas-sniffing analysis instrument shortly after Curiosity landed. Since the scientists knew the collected samples were already reacting with the vapor, they eventually derived a way to seek and preserve the organics after extracting, collecting and analyzing the vapor.

Curiosity had a dangerous computer glitch just six months after landing that put the rover within only an hour of losing contact with Earth forever, NASA revealed in 2017. Another brief glitch in 2016 briefly stopped science work, but the rover quickly resumed its mission.

In the months after landing, NASA noticed damage to the rover’s wheels appearing much faster than expected. By 2014, controllers made in the rover’s routing to slow down the appearance of dings and holes. “They are taking damage. That’s the surprise we got back at the end of last year,” said Jim Erickson, Curiosity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in a July 2014 interview. “We always expected we would get some holes in the wheels as we drove. It’s just the magnitude of what we’re seeing that was the surprise.”

NASA pioneered a new drilling technique at Mount Sharp in February 2015 to begin operations at a lower setting, a requirement for working with the soft rock in some of the region. (Previously, a rock sample shattered after being probed with the drill.)

Engineers had mechanical trouble with Curiosity’s drill starting in ate 2016, when a motor linked with two stabilizing posts on the drill bit ceased working. NASA examined several alternative drilling techniques, and on May 20, 2018 the drill obtained its first samples in more than 18 months.

It should be noted that Curiosity isn’t working alone on the Red Planet. Accompanying it is a “team” of other spacecraft from several countries, often working collaboratively to achieve science goals. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provides high-resolution imagery of the surface. Another NASA orbiter called MAVEN(Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission) examines the Martian atmosphere for atmospheric loss and other interesting phenomena. Other orbiting missions include Europe’s Mars Express, the European ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, and India’s Mars Orbiting Mission.

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As of mid-2018, Curiosity is working on the surface along with another NASA rover called Opportunity, which has been roaming the surface since 2004. Opportunity was initially designed for a 90-day mission, but remains active after more than 14 years on Mars. It also found past evidence of water while exploring the plains and two large craters. NASA’s Mars Odyssey acts as a communications relay for Curiosity and Opportunity, while also performing science of its own – such as searching for water ice.

More surface missions are on the way shortly. NASA’s InSight mission – a stationary lander designed to probe the interior of Mars – launched for the Red Planet on May 5, 2018, and is expected to land on Nov. 26, 2018. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover should launch for Mars in 2020 to search for evidence of ancient life. And NASA also plans a successor rover mission called Mars 2020, which is closely based on Curiosity’s design. Mars 2020 will carry different instruments, however, to better probe for ancient life. It will also cache promising samples for a possible Mars sample return mission in the coming decades.

In the more distant future, NASA has talked about sending a human mission to Mars – perhaps in the 2030s. In late 2017, however, the Trump administration tasked the agency with sending humans back to the moon first. His administration also requested that funds for the International Space Station cease in 2025, in part to make budgetary room for a moon space station initiative called the Deep Space Gateway.

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Chemistry Conversations for K-12

The Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements

One hundred and fifty years ago the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (pronounced “Men-de-LAY-ev”) put together a chart showing the fundamental arrangement in chemistry:  the periodic table of the chemical elements.  This is a chart that lists the elements in order of ascending atomic number and groups elements with similar properties into columns.  Before this, the elements were known essentially as a random assortment of substance with various properties; after it, the elements were in a logical arrangement that cried out for an explanation.  This explanation took the form of atomic theory, atomic structure, and finally quantum mechanics.

 

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

  • Disciplinary: Matter and its Interactions
  • Crosscutting Concept: Patterns
  • Science & Engineering Practice: Analyzing and Interpreting Data

GRADES K–2

2-PS1-1.  Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties.

Chemical elements are basic substances, meaning that they cannot be broken down further into other substances.  One everyday example of a chemical element is carbon, which you can see in the “lead” of a pencil.  Other examples are gold and silver, which are found in expensive jewelry.

As chemists discovered more and more elements, they started to try to organize them into some pattern.  The first person to succeed in organizing them was the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, who created the periodic table in the 1860s and put the elements in order by their atomic weights.  There have been a few small improvements to Mendeleev’s table since then—most notably ordering the elements by the number of protons in each their atoms—but his basic structure has stayed the same.

Elements are made up of tiny things called atoms, which are made of even smaller parts—protons, electrons, and neutrons.  The number of protons in each atom of an element is called that element’s “atomic number.”  The periodic table arranges the elements from the lowest atomic number, hydrogen with 1 proton per atom, up to oganesson with 118 protons per atom.  The table is arranged in rows; each row is called a “period.”  Each element has its own square in the table which shows the element’s name, its symbol (one or two letters), its atomic number and its atomic weight.  Elements in the same column share similar characteristics; this is what makes the table periodic.

While the names of elements may differ from one language to another, the chemical symbols are the same.  That makes it easy for scientists to share information, since everyone can recognize the chemical symbols no matter what language they speak.

GRADES 3–5

5-PS1-1.  Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

ML80Img1Substances around us can be divided into two types:  elements and compounds.  An element is a substance that is made up of one type of atom; a compound is made up of different elements.  While the number of compounds is virtually unlimited, there are only about 90 elements that exist in nature.

Try to imagine yourself as a chemist two or three centuries ago.  You have all this information about different substances, their various properties, how to combine certain substances to create other substances, and so on.  You can get a fair idea of what substances are elements—elementary substances, made up of only one type of thing—and what substances are compounded from more than one element.  But even these elementary substances come in a bewildering variety:  some are gas, a couple are liquid, most are solid, the solid ones melt at a wide variety of temperatures, some combine easily with other substances, others barely react chemically at all.  How do you make sense of it all?

ML80Img2You can think of the process as being similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  There are several differences, though.  For one thing, you do not have a picture on the front of the box telling you what the finished periodic table will look like.  For another, when Mendeleev put his periodic table together, half the pieces were still missing.  Chemical elements were being discovered every few years, but still several were unknown.  The figure on the right shows the elements and the year in which each one was discovered; those colored in green, blue, dark blue, or violet were unknown in 1869.  Not having the bottom row is not a big deal, but missing the last column makes a difference.  The green-colored elements scattered around the middle of the table (which were also unknown when Mendeleev did his work) can also be quite confusing.  Conversely, the few yellow- and orange-colored boxes in the separate bar at the bottom of the chart, which Mendeleev did know about, were just isolated elements which he did not know where to put in the table.

GRADES 6–8

MS-PS1-1.  Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev assembled the periodic table of the chemical elements, bringing order to what had been a very chaotic arrangement.  He was not the first person to try to do this; in fact, he was not even the first person to succeed in doing it.  He was, however, the first person to publish a workable periodic table.

Before 1800, so few of the chemical elements had been discovered that arranging them into a table was out of the question.  As more and more elements were isolated and their properties determined, though, chemists began to notice similarities in the properties of some of them.  In the 1820s, Johann Döbereiner noticed that triads of different elements tended to have similar properties.  He did not have enough data, though, to develop more than just a few of these triads; also, because of other undiscovered elements, there were several known elements that he could not put into triads.  His idea did not catch on.  A few years later an English chemist named John Newlands suggested arranging the elements in “octaves” (really of seven elements in a row because the noble gases had not been discovered yet), but his system broke down after the first couple of “octaves” and one wag suggested that he could get better answers by arranging the elements in alphabetical order.

About the same time that Mendeleev figured out the periodic table that we used, another chemist named Lothar Meyeralso figured out how to arrange the elements into a periodic table.  Meyer published an abbreviated periodic table of the first 28 elements in 1864, five years before Mendeleev’s publication, and may have developed his full periodic table before Mendeleev, but he did not publish his work until 1870.  Mendeleev’s work was also more complete in that he used his periodic table to predict the properties of undiscovered elements, which Meyer had not done.

As an aside, Mendeleev’s name is usually rendered in English as “Dmitri Mendeleev.”  Mendeleev was Russian, however, and his name in Russian (using the Cyrillic alphabet) is “Дмитрий Менделеев.”  His last name is pronounced with four syllables, not three; it has also been rendered into English as “Mendeleyev” or even “Mendelejeff” (as seen in the second line of the picture in the Grades 9-12 section).  His first name is sometimes spelled as “Dmitrii.”  In addition, the date given for Mendeleev’s assembly of the periodic table is often listed as March 1.  Mendeleev was Russian, however, and Russia still used the Julian calendar in 1869, so the date as far as he was concerned was actually February 17.

Suggested Activity:  List the chemical elements on a (very long!) length of adding machine tape.  Then roll up the tape into a “cylinder with bulges,” attaching each element to the one below it in the table with tape, staples, paper clips, or anything else that works.  The effect should be something like what is seen in the first few pictures on this web page.  This shows the periodic table without the artificial breaks between the noble gases and the alkali metals.  The “n” in the pictures stands for an isolated neutron; while this is not, strictly speaking, a chemical element, one could think of it as a “zeroth” element with hydrogen and helium being the first and second elements.

GRADES 9–12

HS-PS1-1.   Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.

ML80Img3A sign of a major advance in science is that it sheds light on many different phenomena and makes many predictions that can be verified.  Mendeleev’s periodic table made some very specific predictions about chemical elements that had not been discovered at the time he assembled the table.  A typewritten version of his table, shown at the right (note that decimal points appear as commas), shows four missing elements with predicted atomic weights of 45, 68, 70, and 180.  These elements (scandium, gallium, germanium, and hafnium) were discovered later.  Even more striking, Mendeleev predicted several properties of these elements based on the properties of other elements on the same rows as the missing ones.  In addition to this, Mendeleev noted that several elements (erbium, yttrium, indium, thorium, tellurium, gold, and bismuth) seemed to be out of place in the table.  Because the table was arranged by atomic weight, this meant that the measured atomic weights as known at the time must be wrong.  When chemists measured the atomic weights of these elements again, the first (and lightest) five of them had indeed been measured incorrectly.

The periodic table also opened the way for advances in theories about the structure of the atom.  When Mendeleev published his table, scientists were still divided over whether atoms were real things or whether they were just a handy mathematical concept for understanding how some things happened.  With his ordering of the chemical elements and his establishment of the regular repetition of various physical and chemical properties of those elements, Mendeleev laid the groundwork for other scientists to think about the structure of atoms and how that structure would affect the atoms’ chemical properties.  Decades later, with the advent of quantum mechanics, the arrangement of electrons in “shells” around a central atomic nucleus gave a more fundamental explanation of the periodicity of the properties of the elements.  If the electrons in the outermost “shell” were arranged the same in two different elements, those elements would have similar properties.

Mendeleev’s periodic table, like all pioneering efforts, was not 100 percent correct.  For one thing, he had arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weight.  Some elements were out of order, though:  after argon’s discovery in 1894, for example, chemists knew immediately that it belonged before potassium in the table even though it had a larger atomic weight.  Other examples were not so obvious.  Some scientists proposed an “atomic number” which usually increased with atomic weight but which deviated from it now and then.  A quarter-century after Mendeleev published his table, German physicist Konrad Roentgen discovered x-rays.  In 1913, a young Englishman named Henry Moseley established that the frequencies of the x-rays emitted by the elements fell onto a smooth curve when graphed against their position on the periodic table, with just a few exceptions, establishing the validity of the idea of the “atomic number.” The exceptions were elements with out-of-order weights and other missing elements—in addition to Mendeleev’s—whose existence Moseley predicted from his results.  (All of the predicted elements were found within a few decades.  One of them, hafnium, had also been predicted by Mendeleev.)  This atomic number is now recognized as the number of protons in the atom’s nucleus and the number of electrons surrounding the nucleus when there is no net charge on the atom.  (Remember that when the idea was proposed, scientists were still not sure about whether atoms were real.)  The modern periodic table puts the elements in order of increasing atomic number.

While this is not directly related to the periodic table, your students may enjoy this song listing the chemical elements by Tom Lehrer, who was a mathematics professor from Harvard University who took up songwriting in the 1960s.

Sixty Years Ago in the Space Race:

February 17, 1959:  The American Vanguard 2 was launched into orbit.  The third stage nudged the satellite, causing it to wobble.  It is still in orbit.
February 28, 1959:  The Americans launched Discoverer 1, the first American spy satellite.  It was a prototype that did not carry a camera or film and was the first object launched into polar orbit.

 

Mars Rover Died Today

Mars rover declared dead after 15 years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, rolling across the rocky red soil, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the planet.

The six-wheeled vehicle that helped gather critical evidence that ancient Mars might have been hospitable to life was remarkably spry up until eight months ago, when it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm.

Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact, and sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night, along with one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” in a somber exercise that brought tears to team members’ eyes. There was no response from space, only silence.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science missions, broke the news at what amounted to a funeral at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, announcing the demise of “our beloved Opportunity.”

“This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas said at an auditorium packed with hundreds of current and former members of the team that oversaw Opportunity and its long-deceased identical twin, Spirit. “Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.”

The two slow-moving, golf cart-size rovers landed on opposite sides of the planet in 2004 for a mission meant to last 90 sols, or Mars days, which are 39 minutes longer than Earth days.

Slideshow by photo services

In the end, Opportunity outlived its twin by eight years and set endurance and distance records that could stand for decades. Trundling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles (45 kilometers) and worked longer than any other lander in the history of space exploration.

Opportunity was a robotic geologist, equipped with cameras and instruments at the end of a mechanical arm for analyzing rocks and soil. Its greatest achievement was discovering, along with Spirit, evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.

Project scientist Matthew Golombek said these rover missions are meant to help answer an “almost theological” question: Does life form wherever conditions are just right, or “are we really, really lucky?”

The twin vehicles also pioneered a way of exploring the surface of other planets, said Lori Glaze, acting director of planetary science for NASA.

She said the rovers gave us “the ability to actually roll right up to the rocks that we want to see. Roll up to them, be able to look at them up close with a microscopic imager, bang on them a little bit, shake them up, scratch them a little bit, take the measurements, understand what the chemistry is of those rocks and then say, ‘Oh, that was interesting. Now I want to go over there.'”

Opportunity was exploring Mars’ Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit and contact was lost. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover’s solar panels.

When the sky finally cleared, Opportunity remained silent, its internal clock possibly so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep or wake up to receive commands. Flight controllers sent more than 1,000 recovery commands, all in vain.

With project costs reaching about $500,000 a month, NASA decided there was no point in continuing.

Callas said the last-ditch attempt to make contact the night before was a sad moment, with tears and a smattering of applause when the operations team signed off. He said the team members didn’t even bother waiting around to see if word came back from space — they knew it was hopeless.

FILE - This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018. There was so much dust in the Martian atmosphere that sunlight could not reach Opportunity's solar panels for power generation. (NASA via AP)© The Associated Press FILE – This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018. There was so much dust in the Martian atmosphere that sunlight could not reach Opportunity’s solar panels for power generation. (NASA via AP)Scientists consider this the end of an era, now that Opportunity and Spirit are both gone.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, all belonging to NASA. Only two are still working: the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, prowling around since 2012, and the recently arrived InSight, which just this week placed a heat-sensing, self-hammering probe on the dusty red surface to burrow into the planet like a mole.

Three more landers — from the U.S., China and Europe — are due to launch next year.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the overriding goal is to search for evidence of past or even present microbial life at Mars and find suitable locations to send astronauts, perhaps in the 2030s.

“While it is sad that we move from one mission to the next, it’s really all part of one big objective,” he said.

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The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

Who is Jonathan Nalder?

Jonathan Nalder Goes BOLD

CUE BOLD

CUE’s 2nd annual BOLD (Blended and Online Lesson Design) Symposium is set for May 4th-5th at Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, CA.

Of the many talented educators who will be presenting and showcasing at BOLD, Jonathan Nalder is set to take the stage as one of two featured speakers.

But who is Jonathan Nalder?

Jonathan Nalder is an out-there creative who chose Education in a ‘get a real job’ moment and ended up still loving it 20 years later. In this time, he discovered the power of personal learning tech to empower students to teach themselves, and has now spent 10 years teaching teachers across Australia and the globe how to transition to digital pedagogy. After a 6-month research sabbatical in 2016, Jonathan was shocked at how fast AI and new tech were changing the workforce. Inspired by this, he founded the FutureWe.org community to help teachers show students how to invent their own jobs and solutions, no matter what their futures bring.

With the help from over 350+ members in 17 countries, he has created the Be Future Ready Mapping Tool around the five “big picture skills” of Creativity, Community, Thinking and Planning, Project Delivery and Storytelling – and the practical programs to support students being ready for anything, such as ‘MakeXR.net’ lessons (AR, VR, 3D storytelling), and FirstonMars.netexperience (creativity and team work). Now in 2019, Jonathan is supporting the awesome and free Spark Empathy Project from Empatico, a site that links classrooms from all parts of the globe in order to build community via social and emotional intelligence.

Jonathan is convinced that education, digital learning, and futures thinking has the potential to transform lives. As a current ICT Trainer at St. Peters Lutheran College, Apple Distinguished Educator, COSN Advisor, CoSpaces Edu Ambassador, ASU Shaping Edu Ambassador, and Gen[in] Student Innovation Challenge board member, he actively works to make this real and helps learners shift their thinking to embrace the coming fully-digital and automated era.

Jonathan realizes that lesson design is the exact place where best practice, big picture ideas meet classroom realities. He states, “It’s the intersection between being ready for anything, and ready for your specific students!” For BOLD in 2019, Jonathan will help attendees map out the big picture and guide them in how to practically apply best practice in their own classrooms.

What does this mean for BOLD attendees?

With predictions for how many jobs new waves of tech like AI and robotics will impact covering the 30-70% range, understanding what learners (and all of us) will need to succeed is becoming more and more important. Jonathan will help BOLD’ers tackle questions like ‘What do we need to be ready for?’, and ‘How do we even know if students are ready?

Given that helping students be future-proof also makes them a better learner today, what can future-ready lessons look like? Jonathan’s workshop will bring the real by introducing you to the Spark Empathy Project – the free way to boost community and empathy skills in your classroom, as well as:

First Kids on Mars, 2050 – How can you leverage play as well as low-tech and easy-to-access hi-tech ideas to boost creativity and team-work in your classroom? This program uses the creative scenario of solving problems for a failing Mars colony to take students into deep learning of how to work together and solve problems – and you can learn how to apply our activities to your own students needs in this session and via the ‘First School on Mars Teachers Playbook’ (free for BOLD attendees).

MakeXR – Next-gen storytelling. Getting your head wrapped around new tech as diverse as VR, 360-degree images, AR, 3D objects and holograms as well as managing a busy classroom is a lot to ask – but Make XR gives you an ‘extended reality’ framework that explains them all, as well as the lesson workflows and tips to get you started so your students can set themselves apart with next-generation storytelling skills.

Are you ready to go BOLD and get inspired by Jonathan’s work and mission? Register nowand be prepared to get Future-Ready with Jonathan Nalder!

About authorView all postsAuthor website

Kristin Oropeza

Kristin Oropeza is currently a TK-5th Grade Technology TOSA in Southern California. She holds a masters in special education and has worked in public education for over 10 years. Kristin also serves as a director on the CUE Los Angeles board and acts as their Communications Editor. Find her on Twitter @KristinOropeza.

 

Who wants to go on a simulated Mars mission?

Mission Summary – Crew 203

MDRS Crew 203

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Mission summary

Crewmembers

Oscar I. Ojeda – Commander
David Mateus – Executive Officer
Yael Méndez – Crew Scientist
Liza Forero – Crew Geologist
Hermes Bolivar – Greenhab Officer
Santiago Vargas – Crew Astronomer
Freddy Castañeda – Crew Engineer

 

Description

Crew 203 is the first time a 100% Colombian crew participates on the MDRS. It was 2 weeks rotation on which outreach, technology, and science projects were developed. The crew was comprised of 7 members, 1 of which operated remotely, the Crew Astronomer. The background of the crewmembers is on science and engineering majors, mostly focused on space applications, and planetary sciences and astrobiology. The initiative to develop the project arises from different interest on space exploration from research groups of Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the Aerospace Research and Development Group, GIDA-UN, the Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences Group, GCPA, and the National Astronomical Observatory. It is important to notice that Universidad Nacional de Colombia is the largest public university in the country, and has several majors, all together in the same campus, which leads to a highly interdisciplinary environment.

The crew had 2 broad lines of work towards the work on the station, the first one is related to outreach, and the second one is related to science and technology. The interest in developing outreach projects is related to the fact that Colombia does not have a well-developed space field, and this kind of opportunities provide a platform to develop several types of outreach activities, from general to specialized public. In fact, as of the beginning of the rotation, the crew had received exposure to national media. The second line of work is related more specifically to the areas of expertise of the crewmembers, developing projects following years of studies and preparation, and, as it usually happens in space exploration, collaboration with teams left back on Earth.

We are representing our country and university, and for that we picked two elements, the first one is our mascot, a red macaw, or Guacamaya, called Marsta Leticia, native from the forests of South America, and very representative because its feathers carry the colors of the flag of Colombia. The composed name, as traditionally Colombians have, is a transliteration of the name Marta, to include the word Mars, combined with Leticia, which is the capital city of the Amazonas department. Second, our patch is dominated by the colors blue and gold, the owl represents our university, which is shaped like an owl, as designed by Architect Leopoldo Rother, the blue in the background represents Earth, and the red eyes of the owl represent that we have our sight set on Mars. Finally, the golden color represents the El Dorado legend, the ancient riches and traditions of our indigenous people. 

 

Goals

General

To successfully execute a crew rotation on a Martian analog comprised in its entirety by Colombian crewmembers, executing science, technology, and outreach projects.

Specific

Learn about the dynamics of an analog mission, oriented towards future training of crews.

Develop a series of scientific and technological projects oriented towards the future of space exploration.

Generate contents which will serve as a basis for developing outreach projects and activities.

 

Acknowledgements

MDRS Crew 203 wants to acknowledge and thank all the people and institutions that made this possible. It’s been a year-long process that required a significant amount of effort from several people. We would like to start by thanking The Mars society, in head of its president, Dr. Robert Zubrin, as well as Director Shannon Rupert, and Atila Meszaros, who made us feel safe and welcomed in this vastness. We would also like to thank all the Capcom officers who were ready to take our reports, comments, and bad jokes during these 2 weeks. And also, all the people behind the scenes working actively to make this possible, Dr. Peter Detterline, David Murray, Scott Davis, and all of those whose name I forget to mention, but surely helped us make our mission smoother and wonderful.

We also want to thank Universidad Nacional de Colombia, our academic home, which allowed us to cross paths and dream about space together. The groups and institutions we belong to, The Aerospace Research and Development Group, GIDA-UN, The Planetary Sciences and Astrobiology Group, GCPA, The National Astronomical Observatory, OAN, and every one of the members which helped us even in the tiniest bit to make this possible.

 

Outcome

After having spent 14 days in the station, the crew considers the mission a success. While some of the experiments and research happened slower than expected, the general and specific goals were carried out successfully and we leave the station with a sense of accomplishment, and knowing that the experience acquired will serve to prepare future crews, and to develop better science and technology that will not only serve for the future of space exploration, but also for improving the quality of human life on Earth. The mission gained a lot of media reach on several nationwide newspapers and TV news, which served the purpose of letting people know this kind of research is doable by Colombians. Much of the contents generated during the mission will also be used to generate outreach activities, as well as academic production, contributing to the consolidation of a space sector within Colombia.

It is important to note how the crew bonded on a personal level, and there was a very good environment for work and for personal life. Knowing how to balance those two aspects will be key for the future of space exploration and long term missions.

 

EVA Summary

The crew executed a total of 8 EVAs during the 2 weeks period at the MDRS. While EVAs are a fundamental element for exploration, on future space missions they won’t be frequent, due to the risks they present for the safety of the crew. The main goal of the EVAs for our crew was to perform sampling for Geological and Biological prospection of sites. A total of 8 EVAs were performed, with a total duration of 24 hours.

 

Research results

A brief summary of the research results is presented. For more information, please contact the researchers. The projects description can be found in the “Mission Plan” document.

  1. Title: Evaluation of germination of greens under different light wavelengths.

Research team: Hermes Bolivar, Freddy Castañeda, David Mateus

Results

We don’t have results yet, Because, the materials for build the necessary structures arrive to the station late, the experiment stay in process and David will collect the results in the next days.

  1. Topic: Star tracker Positioning systems

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez

During the simulation it was not possible to work in this project due to time, however David is going to continue working in this project during his internship at MDRS

  1. Title: Ethnography of MDRS

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez, Pablo Cristancho

During the simulation David sent 3 Logbooks to Pablo Cristancho and they are going to be analyzed in Colombia

  1. Topic: Recycling & Space sustainability

Researcher: Hernan David Mateus Jimenez,

During the simulation David gathered a set of data of de solid garbage produced by crew 203, this is going to be analyzed after simulation

  1. Title: Photogrammetry parameters of some samples of the MDRS region.

Researchers: Liza Forero, Fabián Saavedra.

Results: Some outcrops and rock samples were taken in situ. All the images that where obtain are being processed with other satellite images to create DEM´s (Digital Elevation Models). Each model is a 3D recreation of the photographed landscape.

  1. Title: Physic and chemical parameters of some samples of the MDRS region and sample processing with geobiologic potential.

Researchers: Liza Forero, Yael Méndez.

Results: Some grids were made in different areas of the MDRS zone, for each grid three parameters were analysed, conductivity, pH and absorbance, the results of each parameter lecture are being analysed and processed statistically and are going to be compare with an analogue in Colombia.

Samples were collected in North Pinto Hills and Beige Moon region. These samples were characterized according to their physicochemical parameters, finding that, in these places alkalophilic microorganisms can be found, with a high availability of nutrients.

  1. Title: Evaluation of microbiome from surfaces samples at the MDRS

Research team: Yael Mendez, Hermes Bolivar, Oscar Ojeda

Results:

This project could not be completed. The temperature of the incubator was not stable due to generator failures and thermal shock occurred, which affected the bacterial cultures. It is expected that next crews can resume the experiment.

  1. Title: Design and construction of an equipment for measuring, register and monitor the variables necessary for the characterization of evapotranspiration in soilless crops with simulation of regolith of Mars.

Researcher: Freddy Castañeda

Results:

An unexpected failure in the controller made the equipment unusable for taking measurements, a spare controller was requested but it didn’t reach the simulation time.  The experiment will be developed on the campus of the National University of Colombia recreating the now known conditions of the Mars desert.

  1. Title: Evaluation of the germination of greens on analog Martian soil.

Researcher: Hermes Bolivar, Fredy Castañeda, David Mateus.

Results:

The project has been finished, we saw that the number of seeds   on the Martian soil with the potting mix is less than the control, this result, show us the difficult for culture with the Martian soil and require of more research.

Final Notes and Remarks

In general, the performance of the station was nominal. Apart from some issues with the diesel generator and a couple suit batteries, there were no anomalies. We consumed all the proteins provided, as well as most of the snacks. Water consumption was measured to be 530gal, plus the greenhab usage, which was enough for food, drink, and basic hygiene. Mission Support was profoundly helpful and was very responsive to reports and requests. We’d like to suggest the Mission Support mailing list to be updated from the beginning of the field season, so that crews will be aware of the situation.

 

For future crews:

Don’t over estimate the time for science you have on the station, keeping it up will be demanding.

Prepare your projects with time, find out what’s available at the station before arriving and plan accordingly.

Food is fundamental, don’t starve, you have enough food, and get some cooking skills. A fine plate of food can lift the crew’s spirit.

Read the handbook, it’s there for a reason…!

 

CA NGSS TIME: California’s Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation

Posted: Thursday, February 7th, 2019

by Laura Henriques, Jo Topps, Maria Simani, and Marian Murphy-Shaw

Background

California adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013. The State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the California Curriculum Framework for Science in November 2016. Part of the CA Science Framework included guidelines for publishers (Chapter 13). In 2017-2018 publishers submitted K-8 instructional materials for consideration. (California is a K-8 adoption state, that means that the state reviews materials at the K-8 level to ensure they meet the criteria adopted by the SBE. High school materials must also be reviewed, but that is done locally.) The Instructional Quality Commission recommended and the SBE approved Instructional Materials Reviewers and Content Review Experts to review 34 submitted science programs. [FAQs related to submission of materials for review]

State Review

The Instructional Materials Reviewers and Content Review Experts reviewed programs to determine alignment to the SBE adopted criteria outlined in chapter 13 of the CA Science Framework. A list of the 29 approved and 5 non-approved programs is posted on the CDE’s website. This review is an initial review and does not make claims about the quality of the programs, rather it indicates that the programs have met the minimum stated guidelines indicated in the CA Science Framework and adopted by the SBE. Local education agencies can view the Report of Findings for each program on the California Department of Education website. The next step is for school districts to review materials.

District Review

The district level review is tasked with looking at the quality of the programs as opposed to the presence or absence of CA NGSS elements. Additionally, the district level review is looking for instructional materials that are a good fit for the learning needs of the students in their district. Something that works well for one district may not be as good a fit for another district – each district has unique needs and strengths.

Toolkit Development

As informed by Education Code, CCSESA (California County Superintendents Educational Services Association) is tasked with developing an instructional materials toolkit to assist districts with analyzing, piloting, and selecting curriculum. County Offices of Education get trained with the toolkit and then offer training to district teams in their service area. CCSESA tasked the California NGSS Collaborative to develop the science toolkit. (The CA NGSS Collaborative is a joint effort of science education interest groups in California to develop and deliver consistent support and messaging across the state. The Collaborative includes the California Department of Education, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, CCSESA, and the K-12 Alliance @WestEd. Together the Collaborative has developed and delivered the state-wide NGSS Rollouts which so many of you have attended.)
Call for Proposals for the 2019 California Science Education Conference October 18-20, 2019 in San Jose, CA. Deadlines: Short Courses: Feb. 25; Workshops: Mar. 25

Starting with other NGSS evaluation tools, the collaborative developed a California toolkit called CA NGSS TIME (California NGSS Toolkit for Instructional Material Evaluation). CA NGSS TIME is intentionally different from previous toolkits. It embeds specific professional learning components so that team members become more knowledgeable about NGSS before they begin reviewing materials for potential adoption. CA NGSS TIME helps districts to 1) select materials that meet district needs, 2) allow for in-depth analysis of instructional materials to meet a range of NGSS-aligned criteria; 3) provide a plan for piloting and implementation, and 4) provide professional learning. All of this is done by reviewing programs to find evidence for making informed decisions. Part of the process includes documenting the data about the strengths and limitations of different programs. This enables the district teams to use evidence to argue for program adoption decisions. It also provides the district with information about future professional learning needs and possible supplements or augmentations needed for a selected program(s) (recognizing that no program is going to be a perfect fit, teachers, and districts will need to make tweaks to meet their needs).

CCSESA approved the CA NGSS TIME in November 2018. In December 2018 two three-day training workshops took place (one in Sacramento, one in Claremont) so that all County Partnership Science Teams could learn the CA NGSS TIME and begin planning their dissemination programs for their districts. (These two statewide trainings were supported by a grant from the S.D. Bechtel Foundation awarded to the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd.)

The importance of this work did not escape the CA NGSS Collaborative or the many partners up and down California. To ensure that County Offices of Education (COE) were not expected to do this without assistance, the funded proposal included support for every county to send a team of up to 5 people. In addition to county office science leads who will support their local teams, County Partnership Science Teams could include district-level coaches, TOSAs, teachers and principals, higher education faculty, CA Science Project Directors, and informal science center leaders. Many of the experienced session leaders from CA NGSS Rollouts 1-4 were also on these teams. The idea is to make sure there are enough people in every county, and across counties when needed, to provide the CA NGSS TIME learning opportunity which is so vital to California’s successful implementation of the CA NGSS TIME. After the training for COE Teams, the California Department of Education finalized the formatting of the CA NGSS TIME for widespread distribution.

What Does CA NGSS TIME Entail?

As you may have heard or can surmise from what is written above, CA NGSS TIME is not business as usual. The training for teams to become versed on CA NGSS TIME is three days long. (Different COEs are meeting this three-day requirement in different ways.) While this is different from past adoptions, it is the new norm for future adoptions in California. Moving forward, content area adoption processes will have toolkits which embed professional learning to help adoption teams make the most out of the process. Adoption of instructional materials doesn’t happen often. The adoption process and resulting purchases represent a major expenditure of funds and the decisions have instructional implications for years. It is worth the time and effort to do the process in an informed, thoughtful manner.

“We adopted what looked familiar to teachers in math and have been backtracking to clarify what Common Core math means since the adoption. The selection was a failure and costly. We don’t want the same for science.” An administrator commenting on the value of having the adoption team be trained in how to look for something different and how CA NGSS TIME can help the district make better choices.

There are six sections in the CA NGSS TIME process. Throughout the process, teams are looking for evidence within the instructional material about the quality of NGSS aligned features, a fit for the district, and eventually, usability and fit for the classroom (via the piloting). The chart below, taken from the Introduction to the CA NGSS TIME, describes the different sections.

Section 1: Develop District Lens. Preparing the team to evaluate instructional materials based on the district’s unique needs is an important part of the adoption process because it can assist adoption committees in selecting the best possible programs for their particular student population. Establishing a profile of the district’s needs and resources creates this lens. The District Lens can serve as a guide that will lead to an informed perspective regarding the needs of students and teachers in this adoption cycle.

Section 2: Prescreen. The Prescreen process narrows the field of programs to the most promising options. The Prescreen process does not provide a thorough vetting of resources and is not sufficient to support claims of being designed for the NGSS. Section 2 begins broadly in scope and moves toward a more targeted examination of CA NGSS alignment. The tasks in section 2 include a broad look at each program using guiding statements followed by a standards and evidence gathering activity to help districts determine which programs move forward in the adoption process. Prior to the activities in section 2, the district needs to obtain copies of instructional materials.

Section 3: Paper Screen. The Paper Screen process gives the adoption committee an opportunity to examine instructional materials prior to piloting programs. The whole committee conducts a deeper, more thorough investigation of each of the programs selected in section 2: Prescreen. An essential component of section 3: Paper Screen is for the adoption committee to engage in a shared professional learning experience and calibrate themselves using resources not under review. This essential component of section 3: Paper Screen should not be skipped. Using evidence and rubrics, this deeper dive leads districts through a process for determining which programs to pilot.

Section 4: Pilot Materials. The Pilot Materials process allows for analyzing instructional materials while using them in classrooms. The instructional materials used in this process are chosen based on section 3: Paper Screen. This gives a more thorough analysis of each program under review and allows for additional evidence to be used in section 5: Select and Recommend.

Section 5: Select and Recommend. The Select and Recommend process provides a decision-making framework to support the adoption committee in coming to a consensus about the instructional materials to be adopted. This uses evidence and data from sections 1–4 as support for selections.

Section 6: Implement. Provides tools to support planning and monitoring the implementation of adopted instructional materials.

The process of reviewing materials is to help districts find evidence within instructional materials that demonstrate alignment with the CA NGSS, California’s Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&Cs), the instructional shifts of NGSS, and a fit with their own district’s needs. It is an in-depth look at materials so that teams make informed choices and can know how best to use the selected materials.

The process is one in which teams come to a consensus about the quality of the programs. The teams utilize the various rubrics in the Toolkit and the evidence they collect from the instructional materials to document and come to decisions. Teams need to participate in some practice using the rubrics and arguing from evidence to reach consensus before they start to review programs. The Toolkit provides that experience and calibration. As you’ll read below, your County Office of Education will have opportunities for your district team to learn how to implement the CA NGSS TIME to help you make good adoption decisions.

The district team should be tasked with selecting and recommending instructional materials, but also with developing a plan for implementing the program. You will note Section 6 of the CA NGSS TIME is about implementation.

The Paper Screen, section 3 of the Toolkit, has district teams looking at instructional programs with an eye towards what students learn (phenomena/problems, all three dimensions of CA NGSS, the EP&Cs, and logical sequence of learning), how students learn (the quality of providing powerful learning experiences that engage and change student thinking about phenomena/problems), how student progress is monitored (how are students assessed) and finally, how teachers are supported (how the program materials support teachers to facilitate student learning). Each pass through the instructional materials has the team looking for the presence of these features and evaluating the quality of what is found. This is all done through a lens of ‘what would high-quality materials look like that are designed for implementation of CA NGSS?’ This iterative process of review and reflection about the materials using different lenses allows district teams to become fine-tuned regarding high-quality instruction. This in-depth approach helps teachers avoid the pitfall of selecting materials that fall short of the high standards demanded for all science for all students.

On the surface, this seems like a big time commitment and lots of work. We would argue, however, that the investment of time and effort is well worth it. Not only will your district team learn more about your district, district needs, and the CA NGSS, your team will be better equipped to pilot, adopt, and implement materials that make the most sense for the district. The comment above by an administrator who lamented the poor decision made during a math adoption couples nicely with the comment below from a teacher who is on her county’s County Partnership NGSS TIME Training Team about feeling empowered to make good decisions.

Training & Timeline

Districts will need to identify the team to serve on the adoption committee. The team should include stakeholders across the grade bands and representative of the key constituents (students with special needs, English learners, GATE, etc.). At least one administrator should serve on the team. The importance of a team doing the work, as opposed to a curriculum leader or TOSA working in isolation, is the thoughtful discussions that can take place when reviewing and evaluating programs.

As noted above, the training for CA NGSS TIME is three days. Once district teams have been identified, they should determine when their County Office of Education is offering trainings. COEs, CDE, CCSESA, and the NGSS Collaborative all strongly encourage teams to participate in the COE three-day training, the CA NGSS TIME toolkit is designed to be used with training or facilitation. District teams must get trained by their COE team. There is learning that takes place during the training, and it is important for teams to participate in the full training of TIME, even if they are using it “off the shelf” without COE facilitation. The training will help you learn more about NGSS and quality instructional materials. Additionally, you will be faster and more efficient reviewing science programs under consideration because you will be familiar with the process and the rubrics.

For the first time as a teacher, I feel empowered to make the right decision about instructional materials that will be the best for students. A middle school science teacher who attended Sacramento CA NGSS TIME training.

To find out when County Offices of Education are offering their CA NGSS TIME training opportunities you can visit the CSTA Calendar of Events. Refine the search to only look for CA NGSS TIME events.

Frequently Asked Questions About CA NGSS TIME

Does my team need to have completed the CA NGSS TIME: California’s Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation training prior to attending publishers’ fairs?

No, your team does not need to complete the CA NGSS TIME: California’s Toolkit for Instructional Materials Evaluation prior to attending the publisher fairs. However, completing the CA NGSS TIME training prior to attending the publisher fairs will give the team a lens through which to get a better overall sense of what is being offered by the publishers in terms of the design characteristics of instructional materials aligned with the CA NGSS. CA NGSS TIME provides rubrics that will help your team judge the presence and quality of phenomena, three dimensions, instructional coherence, EP&Cs, student work, assessment, support for teachers, and overall program features necessary to meet the shifts in the instructional materials required to implement the CA NGSS.

Is attending a publisher fair still important for the district team?

Yes, attending a publisher fair will allow the team to begin the pre-screen process, initiate contacts with the publishers, and get an overall sense of what is being offered by the publishers. A single look at the instructional materials, at a publisher fair, does not, of course, provide a thorough vetting of resources and is not sufficient to support claims of the being designed for the NGSS. It is a first step in a thorough process of adopting instructional materials.

What should the team be looking for?

Prior to attending a publisher fair, the team should have completed the “Develop a District Lens” section of the CA NGSS TIME. This process prepares the team to evaluate instructional materials based on the district’s unique needs. Establishing a profile of the district’s needs and resources creates this lens. The District Lens can serve as a guide that will lead to an informed perspective regarding the needs of students and teachers in this adoption cycle. Only then will the team be equipped to evaluate the presence and quality of phenomena, three dimensions, instructional coherence, EP&Cs, student work, assessment, support for teachers, and overall program features necessary to meet the shifts in instructional materials required to implement the CA NGSS.

Why is the CA NGSS TIME training three days long?

The CA NGSS, adopted by the SBE in 2013, are very different science standards than have ever been adopted in California. Phenomena-driven, three-dimensional instruction requires a new way to support instruction. In order to conduct a thorough examination and vetting of the instructional materials, your team needs to be calibrated on the features and components of the CA NGSS TIME rubrics. To be completely ready to examine, evaluate, and pilot instructional materials designed for the CA NGSS the preparation of the team is critical to an informed process.

It has been more than a decade between the adoption of CA NGSS and the previous standards. Significant shifts in all aspects of teaching have occurred at that time. Therefore it makes sense to include a professional learning component into the toolkit so that teams are aware and informed about those shifts as they begin the review process.

Who should be on the instructional review team for our school/district?

The instructional review team should consist of the stakeholder groups identified in your District Lens. Teachers who have completed the paper screen and pilot processes of the CA NGSS TIME are critical members of the review team. These members will have the deepest insight into the instructional materials. Teachers who have not participated in the paper screen and pilot processes of the CA NGSS TIME are also important to review team members, as the materials will need to stand alone once they are adopted and made available to all teachers in the district. Select review team members to correspond to the grade levels under consideration. If the district is adopting K-8 instructional materials, then the review team should consist of teachers from these grade levels, likewise, for high school adoption review teams.

Related Resources

CCS Article, August 2019: Science Instructional Materials: What to Do Between Now and January 2019

California NGSS

California Science Curriculum Framework

Instructional Materials K-8 Adoption List

CA NGSS TIME Toolkit

COE CA NGSS TIME Training Calendar (more to be added as announced by COEs)