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Mars, for kids: UH professor gets NASA grant to expand model rover program

Mars, for kids: UH professor gets NASA grant to expand model rover program

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The 2011 Mars Rover Model Celebration and Exhibition showcased more than 600 students, representing nearly 40 schools and 85 classrooms. Photo by Spencer Dean
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Astronaut Joan Higgenbotham and physics professor Gar Bering with some of the winners of the 2011 Mars rover competition. Photo by Spencer Dean
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Manned space flight to Mars won't take place until at least the 2020s, so the today's kids could be our next astronauts.

Now a University of Houston professor who has made learning about space accessible and relevant to Houston students will be expanding his outreach work with a grant from NASA.

Physics and engineering professor Edgar Bering founded the Mars Rover Model Celebration and Exhibition in 2002 at the World Space Congress, inspired by his son's fourth-grade science project.

 “The challenge for educators is convincing grammar school students that these subjects lead to exciting, relevant and accessible career paths.” 

The exhibition gives students an opportunity to build and design Mars rover models. Teams of kids from third grade through eighth grade research, design and construct a model rover with a specific scientific task to accomplish on Mars.

The program includes a workshop led by Bering as well as six weeks of classroom instruction and homework projects. Costs on materials for each rover are limited to $25 to create an accessible playing field for all students.

The project has grown eight-fold in the past 10 years, and with the receipt of a $414,000 grant from NASA Education and Public Outreach for Earth and Space Science, Bering plans to create better lesson plans for teachers, expand curriculum materials and develop parent workshops and formal evaluation measures, making it possible to expand the competition beyond Houston to other cities in Texas and throughout the United States.

“We have a shortage of American children entering college who intend to major in science or engineering,” Bering said in a press release. “The challenge for educators is convincing grammar school students that these subjects lead to exciting, relevant and accessible career paths. We hope this competition continues to spark interest in these fields.”

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