New project takes disadvantaged Science pupils to Mars

University of Glasgow

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An education project which aims to bring the science of Martian exploration into the classroom is preparing for launch during National Astronomy Week (14-22 November).

The project, called Roving with Rosalind, is aimed at children aged between 7 and 14 in disadvantaged and rural areas across the UK, who often have limited opportunities to participate in science outreach activities. The project is also setting out to help teachers train to deliver more effective science education. 

Schools can sign up to borrow one of five kits packed with practical science experiments and take part in a suite of online activities, each linked to national science curricula. The activities are accompanied by video introductions from real space scientists, showcasing the diversity of talent working in the field. Each activity provides insight into a different aspect of the science experiments that will be undertaken by the robotic Rosalind Franklin rover when it touches down on Mars in 2023. The rover is a key part of the joint European/Russian ExoMars mission, set to launch in 2022, which will search for traces of life on the red planet. 

At an online event on Thursday 19 November, organised as part of the Mars-focused National Astronomy Week, teachers and pupils can find out more about how Roving with Rosalind aims to recreate the experience of being a rover mission scientist. Each kit contains a large map of the Oxia Planum area of Mars, where the Rosalind Franklin rover will land. Pupils will be able to explore the map using LEGO rovers they design and build for themselves, planning routes to points of interest where they will complete tasks to unlock ‘downloads’ of data from Mars to analyse. Those experiments will include elements of spectroscopy, physics, maths, engineering, programming and a range of other skills connected to the ExoMars mission. 

Roving with Rosalind is organised by Áine O’Brien and Sara Motaghian, two Scottish planetary science PhD students. They designed the project to inspire young people from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in space-related science. The project is supported by £30,000 in funding from the UK Space Agency’s Aurora Science Education and Outreach scheme. 

Áine O’Brien is working towards a PhD at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Science. She said:

“I was a physics teacher for several years before I decided to go back to academia, and I’m passionate about finding new ways to spark young people’s interest in science. 

“We’ve designed the project specifically to reach pupils who don’t live within easy reach of a science centre or university. Research has shown that children who don’t have access to science outreach can feel that science isn’t a realistic career option for them.

“The message of Roving with Rosalind is that science is an accessible career for anyone. The rover itself is named after Rosalind Franklin, who made huge contributions to the discovery of DNA but only recently started getting the credit she deserves.

“We’ve recorded videos with real space scientists from all walks of life to accompany the activities in our kits. We hope that their stories of how they ended up in their careers will be just as inspiring as the science experiments, and encourage kids to explore a future in science.”

Roving with Rosalind was originally set to roll out across the country in the spring, before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and spurred a rethink of plans. Many of their resources and activities can be carried out without the physical kits themselves on the project’s learning page at https://www.stem.org.uk/resources/collection/484445/roving-rosalind.

University of Glasgow graduate Sara Motaghian is studying for a PhD with the Natural History Museum. She added:

“Although we’ll now need to quarantine each physical kit between sessions in schools, we’ve made up for any potentially lost opportunities by developing online versions of the activities in each kit. We’ve added new activities, too, like the opportunity for kids to control a virtual rover using the scratch programming language. 

“It’s really important to us that teachers benefit from getting involved with Roving with Rosalind, too, and get the chance to brush up on new skills. We’ve been able to reach some of them directly over the summer and we’ve developed online training alongside the new resources for them to use in the classroom.

“We really hope that pupils and teachers alike choose to get involved with Roving with Rosalind, and we’re excited to start sending out the kits to schools across the UK.”

To register for the Roving with Rosalind event during National Astronomy Week, visit https://astronomyweek.org.uk/mars-events/daytime-event-robots-on-mars The event will take place on Thursday 19 November between 11am and 12pm.

Teachers, technicians and STEM ambassadors can register interest in hosting a kit here. Parents and guardians can also register an interest on behalf of their child’s school using the same link.

 Looking for more resources to support your teaching and learning? Check out the best education technology resources on our sister platform EdTech Impact.

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