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From the LOC (or Wherever You May Be), All the Way to Mars!

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The following is a guest post by Kaleena Black of the Library of Congress.

Ponder this: would you want to go to Mars? Would you want to live on Mars? What might you do there? Who would you want to go with you?

In the Library of Congress Young Readers Center, we posed these questions to student visitors during a program called “Life and Community on Mars.”

Sasha Dowdy and Kluge Center Astrobiology chair Lucianne Walkowicz give a presentation on Mars at the Young Readers Center, December 14, 2017. Photo by Shawn Miller.

We thought our educator community (particularly those of you focused on the earlier grades) might be interested in learning more about this program and how you might repurpose it in your Pre-K or elementary science classrooms – or even in a social studies or language arts class.

We did this program in one session, but you can break it in two parts, as we’ll present it in this blog.

“No Use! Mars Can’t Hear a Word We Say,” The Spokane Press, July 16, 1907

Our program opened with Story Time, the Library’s weekly, themed storytelling program for infants and toddlers, followed by a “See-Think-Wonder” primary source analysis activity. For this, we used two primary sources from the online collections of the Library of Congress: a newspaper article from 1907  and the colorful cover of some sheet music from 1901. We started by showing “No Use! Mars Can’t Hear…” to our group of elementary-school aged students.

We gave the students a couple of minutes to look at the image and read the headline and the first few lines of the article, reading aloud to them as needed. We then prompted them to think about and discuss these questions:

  • What do you see? (What sorts of instruments? Planets? Numbers? Tools? Setting?)
  • What do you think is happening in the image?
  • Which words stand out, and why?
  • Who do you think was the intended audience for this newspaper article? Why?
  • What was the intended message? Why do you think that?
  • What do you wonder?
“A Signal from Mars”

Then, we moved on to the sheet music cover. Again, students took a minute to analyze the image, and then we asked:

  • What do you think is happening in the image?
  • Who do you think created this image? An artist, a journalist, a scientist? What makes you think that?
  • How might an artist’s depiction of Mars differ from a scientist’s depiction?

Once the students were thinking about historical and artistic perspectives on Mars, we introduced a lesson, discussion, and imagination exercise about living on Mars, facilitated by astronomer Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, the current Astrobiology Chair in the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. She showed current images of Mars available online from NASA. We asked the students:

  • How would you describe the terrain of Mars?
  • Do you think it’s cold or hot? Why?
  • What do you think the environment there is like?

Then, we got to the main question – the premise for the whole program: Would you want to go to—or possibly live on— Mars? Students paired up to discuss that central question, in light of the new details and insights from all the primary sources.

Watch this space for part 2, coming soon. In the meantime, let us know in the comments how your students reacted to these primary sources about Mars.

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