Rosa Barkley uses a tub lid to simulate Mars winds as sixth graders Cailyn Olin and Journey Kramer take shelter under a solar panel at Haller Middle School on Tuesday in Arlington. The students spent the day building various items needed to sustain life on a mock Mars colony, such as habitats, solar panels and food sources. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Rosa Barkley uses a tub lid to simulate Mars winds as sixth graders Cailyn Olin and Journey Kramer take shelter under a solar panel at Haller Middle School on Tuesday in Arlington. The students spent the day building various items needed to sustain life on a mock Mars colony, such as habitats, solar panels and food sources. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Arlington science students embark on dramatic Martian rescue

Sixth graders at Haller Middle School built a life-size mock Mars Colony, complete with solar panels.

ARLINGTON — Reece Boekenoogen needed to rescue his stranded classmate.

He deployed a rover, but the sandpits and boulders covering Mar’s dusty surface stood in its way. That, and the sixth grader had only his classmates’ voice to help guide the rover’s direction.

Armed with PVC and two-by-fours, sixth graders at Haller Middle School took to the parking lot Tuesday with a mission: build a life-sized mock Mars colony.

The students spent all year learning science through the lens of space, and were ready to put their knowledge to practice.

“Space science is such an engaging topic to learn about for these students,” sixth-grade science teacher Rachel Harrington said. “Looking at the apathy that comes with education over my 12 years teaching is a little disheartening. So my team and I have been working really hard to look at ways we can engage our students, and space science is the way to do it.”

Harrington got the idea for building the mock colony from the Space Exploration Educators Conference at NASA Johnson Space Center, which she has attended for the past three years. The school has since grouped all sixth-grade science under the space umbrella, culminating with building the colony.

“All year long, each (learning) standard connects to space and they’re building towards the idea of one day colonizing Mars,” Harrington said. “Which is super engaging because this is the generation that will set foot on Mars for the first time.”

When learning about human body systems, the class discusses what impact microgravity has. In physics, they’re learning how to launch rockets.

On Tuesday, students split into teams to build different aspects of their colony. Kailey Bisson manned navigation, using an iPad to program a rover to traverse the other-worldly parking lot surface.

The materials were donated two years ago by Arlington Lowe’s and Walmart. The rest of the materials were purchased using Arlington Education Foundation grant money.

James Eastman made the rounds between a few stations. In nutrition, he helped build an aquaponics system to provide the colony with potable water. As part of the landing crew, he built a device to get an astronaut (in this case, an unfortunate egg) safely to the ground.

Other students concocted rocket fuel, built shelters and rigged solar panels.

So, are they ready to colonize Mars?

“There’s no way,” Bisson said.

That would take learning about space during all school periods, not just science, Boekenoogen said. Maybe some NASA training as well.

For Eastman, the year might even prompt him to dig a little deeper into space science.

“I just thought of it as cool,” he said.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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