Find out what's new in the Education Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and learn about the latest initiatives to inspire students and educators through NASA science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
NASA's Scientist for a Day Essay Contest is back for its 15th year, inviting students in grades 5 through 12 to investigate three distant worlds and write an essay about one they would want to explore further.
The worlds chosen for this year's contest are some of the most mysterious and distant in our solar system: Uranus' moon Miranda, Neptune's moon Triton and Pluto's moon Charon. Each has been visited by spacecraft during a single, brief flyby. NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Miranda and Triton in the 1980s, and the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Charon in 2015. All three flybys provided the only up-close – and stunning – images we have of these worlds.
To enter the contest, which is hosted in the U.S. and more than a dozen countries, students must submit an essay of up to 500 words explaining why they would want to send a spacecraft to explore the world of their choosing. Essays can also be submitted by teams of up to four students.
Winning essays will be chosen for each topic and grade group (5 to 6, 7 to 8 and 9 to 12) and featured on the NASA Solar System Exploration website. Additionally, U.S. contest winners and their classes will have the chance to participate in a video conference or teleconference with NASA.
Entries for the U.S. contest are due Feb. 20, 2020, on the NASA Scientist for a Day website. (Deadlines for the international contests may vary by host country.) Visit the website for more information, including rules, international contest details and past winners.
For teachers interested in using the contest as a classroom assignment, learn more here. Plus, explore these standards-aligned lessons and activities to get students engaged in space travel and planetary science:
Art and the Cosmic Connection
Students use art to describe and recognize the geology on planetary surfaces.
Time 1-2 hrs
Solar System Bead Activity
Students create a scale model of the solar system using beads and string.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
In this cross-curricular STEM and language arts lesson, students learn about planets, stars and space missions and write STEM-inspired poetry to share their knowledge of or inspiration about these topics.
Time 1 - 2 hrs
*NEW* Planetary Travel Time
Students will compute the approximate travel time to planets in the solar system using different modes of transportation.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Sizing Up Pluto
Using measurements taken by the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by Pluto in July 2015, students practice their math skills in a real-world application and see how new data can change scientific understanding.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Solar System Scroll
Students predict the scale of our solar system and the distance between planets, then check their answers using fractions.
Time < 30 mins
*NEW* Create a Solar System Scale Model With Spreadsheets
In this activity, students use spreadsheet software and their knowledge of scale, proportion and ratios to develop a solar system model that fits on a playground.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Using Light to Study Planets
Students build a spectrometer using basic materials as a model for how NASA uses spectroscopy to determine the nature of elements found on Earth and other planets.
Time > 2 hrs
*NEW* Kinesthetic Radial Model of the Solar System
Students model the position of the planets around the Sun and then model viewing them from Earth on any given date.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
In the dance of our solar system, one planet has moves like no other: Uranus. Find out how the planet's tilt puts it in a league all its own.
Where might oceans – and living things – exist beyond Earth? Scientists have their eyes on these places in our own solar system.
Finding the best driving route for a Mars rover isn't as easy as turning on a navigation app – but John Park and Hiro Ono want to make it so. A program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is helping them turn their idea into a reality, all while promoting diversity in STEM.
A tenure-track faculty member at North Carolina A&T State University, Park has spent the past two summers at JPL through an Education Office initiative designed to connect students and researchers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to the Laboratory's missions and science. The NASA-backed pilot program has brought more than a dozen student interns and several faculty researchers to JPL for projects investigating Mars, Earth and planets beyond our solar system.
Until his stint at JPL, Park's research focused solely on Earth-bound transportation technologies, such as those used by self-driving cars. When he learned about JPL's HBCU initiative from a colleague who had participated in the program, he seized on the chance to apply his research to space exploration.
"My previous projects and publications have dealt with decision-making tools for exploring uncertain areas on Earth and maximizing the information that's available," says Park, who also helped connect several students from North Carolina A&T to internship opportunities with the HBCU initiative. "I thought I could help bring that perspective to Mars rovers and helicopters."
While researching potential applications for his research at JPL, Park learned that the challenges of getting around on Mars are similar to those faced by drivers on Earth. Rovers also need to get from place to place safely and efficiently – they're just avoiding boulders instead of traffic jams.
It was precisely those challenges that Hiro Ono in JPL's Robotic Mobility Group also wanted to overcome. "I had an idea that I wanted to try, and we had all the ingredients," says Ono, who designs artificial intelligence systems for future rover missions. "The HBCU program allowed us to try the idea."
The HBCU initiative brought Park and Ono together along with Larkin Folsom, a student intern from North Carolina A&T. Together, the trio developed a proposal for a future system that would work similarly to the navigation apps we use to get through rush-hour traffic. The system would allow rovers to analyze routes as they drive, providing mission planners with information about the routes most likely to be hazard-free so they can make the most efficient use of the spacecraft's limited energy supply and maximize the mission's science goals.
"Previously, the way that we operated on Mars was to make the best guess about drivability solely from looking at orbital images," says Ono. "The idea that we are working on is to introduce the concept of probability. So if there are two terrains that are important to you but one of them is 90% traversable and the other is 60% traversable, which are you going to choose?"
In September, the National Science Foundation awarded Park, who submitted the proposal, with a grant to pursue the project. Park says the funding will go toward a JPL internship opportunity for a Ph.D. student from his university to continue research with Ono's team.
Meet JPL Interns
Read stories from interns pushing the boundaries of space exploration and science at the leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.
Jenny Tieu is a STEM education project manager at JPL who manages the HBCU initiative with Roslyn Soto. She helped connect Park and Ono and says it's collaborations like these that the initiative was designed to foster.
"Our goal with this initiative is to expand the number of HBCU students and faculty members participating in research at JPL and ultimately increase diversity among the Laboratory's workforce," says Tieu. "This National Science Foundation award is a positive indication that the initiative is not only building strong relationships between HBCUs and JPL, but also creating a ripple effect for additional opportunities."
Now in its fourth year, the HBCU initiative will once again bring students and faculty to JPL for research opportunities in the summer of 2020.
Meanwhile, Park and Ono are exploring ways to expand their technology into other arenas, including hurricane research and emergency response. Park has already received support from the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as the state DOT in Virginia and North Carolina for additional Earth-based applications of the technology.
Ono is serving as a consultant on the projects and has high hopes the results of the research will make its way back to JPL.
Says Ono, "In the long run, having an intern, giving them a good experience, helping their career is going to come back to us. We, as JPL, can build connections around the world and among industry partners that are going to come back to us eventually."
Explore JPL’s summer and year-round internship programs and apply at: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/intern
The laboratory’s STEM internship and fellowship programs are managed by the JPL Education Office. Extending the NASA Office of STEM Engagement’s reach, JPL Education seeks to create the next generation of scientists, engineers, technologists and space explorers by supporting educators and bringing the excitement of NASA missions and science to learners of all ages.
Students have just over one week more to enter NASA’s Name the Rover Essay Contest. While they put the finishing touches on their essays (due Nov. 1, 2019), meet the most recent naming contest winner, Clara Ma. Find out what Ma is up to more than 10 years after submitting her winning name for the Mars rover now known as Curiosity and why she says the experience changed her life.
NASA is inviting students to help name its next Mars rover! Set to launch from Florida in the summer of 2020, NASA’s fifth rover to visit the Red Planet is designed to study past environments capable of supporting life, seek signs of ancient microbial life, collect rock and soil samples for a possible future return to Earth, and test technologies that could produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for use by humans one day. But before it can do that, it needs a name.
Following in the tracks of NASA’s four previous Mars rovers, the agency is asking students to suggest a name. The first Mars rover, which landed in 1997, was called the Microrover Flight Experiment until a 12-year old student from Connecticut suggested the name Sojourner, in honor of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. In 2004, a third-grade student from Arizona named NASA’s twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity, which landed in 2012 and is the most recent rover to visit Mars, was named by a sixth-grade student in Kansas.
To enter the Name the Rover Essay Contest, individual students must submit an essay of up to 150 words by Nov. 1, 2019. In their essay, students will need to propose the name they think best suits the rover and explain their reasoning. Judges will select three finalists (one each from grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12) from every state and U.S. territory. From there, judges will narrow down the finalists further before they select a final name in the spring of 2020.
Explore standards-aligned lessons for students that get them exploring Mars science, robotics and more.
So what makes a good name? There are lots of ways to become inspired, but students should start by learning about the rover as well as the Red Planet and why we explore. But they shouldn’t stop there. There are many ways to spark ideas from students, including writing planetary poetry, making cosmic art, and having them build rovers of their own. Get students thinking and writing creatively, and encourage them to submit their essay!
The contest is open to U.S. residents enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in a U.S. school (including U.S. territories and schools operated by the U.S. for the children of American personnel overseas). Home-school students can also submit a name!
- Video: Building NASA's Mars 2020 Rover – Watch on YouTube
- Send Your Name to Mars (sign up by September 30!)
- Mission to Mars Unit
- All About Mars for kids (also available En Español)
- Mars Facts and Figures from NASA Solar System Exploration
- Spacecraft Augmented Reality app – iOS | Android
Fifty years ago this week, the Apollo 11 astronauts launched on their history-making mission. Saturday, July 20, is the anniversary of that first landing of humans on the Moon; a great milestone to reflect on, as well as an opportunity to look ahead. Read on for some of the ways you can celebrate and learn with NASA!
It’s not just science centers that are celebrating the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the Moon. There are events taking place worldwide at libraries, concert halls, baseball stadiums, National Parks, art museums, and on city streets. Find anniversary events near you with this searchable map and calendar.
This collection of hands-on activities for all ages will have you throwing water balloons to learn about craters on the Moon, helping actual NASA scientists by mapping the Moon from your own computer, building a model of the Earth-Moon system and seeing what it takes to investigate strange new planets. You can even make your own lunar spacecraft.
The Forward to the Moon With Artemis activity book is a fun way to learn about the Apollo mission that first put people on the Moon and what’s in store for the future. Also, check out these hands-on activities, building challenges and online games!
Focus On the Moon
Love observing the Moon and the rest of the night sky? The Night Sky Network will help you find local astronomy clubs and events. Save the date for International Observe the Moon Night, October 5. If you’re clouded out, you can always make your own Moon to enjoy!
NASA TV has a full lineup of Apollo programming. On July 19 at 3 p.m. (EDT), you can watch STEM Forward to the Moon. The half-hour show will feature students enacting simulations of a return to the Moon with NASA’s Artemis program. The accompanying Educator’s Guide has all you need to try the activities from the show at home or in the classroom.
Join NASA and educational centers nationwide to build a virtual mission to the Moon on July 18. Follow #VirtualMoonshot on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to take part – or follow along with a host center near you.
Finally, if you’ve wondered what it would have been like to have social media 50 years ago, be sure to follow Relive Apollo 11 for tweets that tell the story of the mission in real time, starting with its July 16 launch!
Teachable Moment: Apollo 50th Anniversary
Explore the incredible history of the Apollo missions and find out what's in store for NASA's next mission to the Moon.
Make a Straw Rocket
Create a paper rocket that can be launched from a soda straw – then, modify the design to make the rocket fly farther!
Make an Astronaut Lander
Design and build a lander that will protect two "astronauts" when they touch down.
Make a Cardboard Rover
Build a rubber-band-powered rover that can scramble across a room.
Make a Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator
Like a decoder wheel for the Moon, this calendar will show you where and when to see the Moon and every moon phase throughout the year!
Observing the Moon
Students identify the Moon’s location in the sky and record their observations over the course of the moon-phase cycle in a journal.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Students learn about the phases of the moon by acting them out.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Whip Up a Moon-Like Crater
Whip up a moon-like crater with baking ingredients as a demonstration for students.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Modeling the Earth-Moon System
Students learn about scale models and distance by creating a classroom-size Earth-Moon system.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Last week, 40 community college students landed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to accept the challenge of building miniature Mars rovers over the course of four days, from July 9-12, putting their designs to the test in a series of competitions on simulated Martian terrain.
The challenge is part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholar, or NCAS, program, which hosts hundreds of students across multiple NASA centers for a twice-yearly educational workshop and engineering competition. The activity provides students with an up-close and intimate look at NASA missions, and an opportunity to present their work to a panel of judges.
One key part of their week here: The students, who are divided into four teams, are mentored by NASA scientists and engineers. And at JPL – where the competition is organized by the Education Office – nobody knows the mentorship experience better than Amiee Quon and Otto Polanco, JPL's two longest-serving NCAS mentors.
In 2012, Quon – who participated in the high school version of NCAS when she was 16 – saw an email circulated at JPL requesting mentors for the competition. She signed up and has been a mentor ever since.
“It’s so rewarding to see how excited they are about engineering, and when they work hard on something and collaborate, that things work out for them,” says Quon, a mechanical integration engineer who has worked on the Mars 2020 helicopter and the Juno mission orbiting Jupiter, and is currently working on the Europa Clipper mission.
Things worked out especially well for Quon's mentees this session: The 10 students on her team were named the winners of the summer 2019 competition.
“My team was very cohesive, and I was impressed by how well they worked together to design, build and operate their successful rover,” she says. “All the teams did a great job on the toughest competition course I’ve ever seen.”
For Polanco, being a mentor is a capstone on his own experience as a community college student. He started his undergraduate studies at Santa Monica College, transferred to Cal State L.A. to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and eventually landed an internship at JPL. He's been at JPL for 15 years and has worked as an optical-mechanical engineer on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, Starshade project and more.
The NCAS competition is an opportunity for Polanco to encourage students to go after what they want to do – including helping one female college freshman, whose family expected her to marry and have children instead of chasing a STEM career. Polanco guided her during an NCAS competition and stayed in touch throughout her college years; today, she’s pursuing a Ph.D. at Caltech and studying global climate change.
“The most rewarding part is influencing people’s perspectives about what their engineering futures might be,” he says. “It’s about convincing them to pursue their dreams and passions and seeing them grow over the years.”
While Quon and Polanco play a big part in helping guide the students through various Mars rover challenges and their final presentations, they both recognize that their ultimate roles lie in reminding students that they deserve to achieve anything they set their minds to.
“A lot of our mentorship is raising the confidence levels of individuals,” Polanco says. “It’s through these side conversations that you often hear, ‘I’m not qualified or worthy enough to work here.’” And I always ask them, ‘Why do you put a ceiling on yourself?’”
Adds Quon: “We talked to somebody during the competition who felt they would be at a disadvantage going to career fairs because they transferred [into their current university]. But you’ve worked hard to get to where you are. There’s absolutely no reason to feel 'less than.'”
To that end, Polanco encourages more people at JPL to mentor when they can.
“I think it’s a really good experience for JPL employees to go through, to see how their own experience can help others,” he says. “My little path is a good example of what people can do. There are so many students in community college who struggle to see that end achievement. But the institution is good about hiring talent and [individuals with] strong work ethic, no matter where you went to school.”
The NCAS program is funded by the NASA Minority University Research and Education Program. Learn more and apply, here.
After a full day of intense competition, a team of students from University High School in Irvine, California, earned first place in a regional round of the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl on Jan. 26, 2019. This is the second consecutive year that the school has placed first in the regional round, and it's the 27th year that NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has hosted the competition.
UPDATE: Nov. 27, 2018 – The InSight spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars just before noon on Nov. 26, 2018, marking the eighth time NASA has succeeded in landing a spacecraft on the Red Planet. This story has been updated to reflect the current mission status. For more mission updates, follow along on the InSight Mission Blog, JPL News, as well as Facebook and Twitter (@NASAInSight, @NASAJPL and @NASA).
NASA's newest Mars mission, the InSight lander, touched down on the Red Planet just before noon PST on Nov. 26. But there's more work ahead before the mission can get a look into the inner workings of Mars. Get your classroom ready to partake in all the excitement of NASA’s InSight mission with this educator game plan. We’ve got everything you need to engage students in NASA's ongoing exploration of Mars!
Day Before Landing
- Read NASA/JPL Edu’s Teachable Moment, “NASA’s ‘Cyber Monday’ Mars Landing to Deliver Science Firsts,” to get a preview of the engineering and science involved in landing InSight and placing its instruments on Mars. Explore the related activities and resources in the “Teach It” and “Explore More” sections.
Landing Day (Nov. 26)
- Check out The Oatmeal’s webcomic for an explainer of how the InSight mission will land on Mars, what it will do on the planet and what it's hoping to find out.
- Watch these fun, one-minute videos for a quick overview of how landing sites are chosen, how spacecraft get to Mars, and what it takes to land there.
- Have students read about JPL’s “landing-site dude” and his rotating cast of interns, who have helped select seven of NASA’s Mars landing sites – including InSight’s!
- Have students read the JPL news release “How Will We Know When InSight Touches Down?”
- Watch live commentary as a class and follow along on the InSight Mission Blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter (@NASAInSight, @NASAJPL and @NASA) using #MarsLanding.
- Review the Teachable Moment to find out what needs to happen before InSight’s science operations can begin. Then create an instructional plan with these lessons, activities and resources that get students engaged in the science and engineering behind the mission.
- Check out InSight’s first images from Mars, here. (This is also where you can find raw images from InSight throughout the life of the mission.)
Over the Next Month
- Watch these “Mars in a Minute” videos to find out what InSight is hoping to learn on the Red Planet: “What’s Inside Mars?” “Are There Quakes on Mars?” And “How Did Mars Get Such Enormous Mountains?”
- Have students explore NASA’s Experience InSight interactive to learn about InSight’s science instruments and how each will be deployed to the surface of Mars.
- Follow along on the InSight Mission Blog and @NASAInSight social media over the next few weeks as NASA gets to work surveying the landing site and determining where to place each of the instruments.
- Try the lessons and activities below with students to get them doing some of the same science and engineering as InSight:
Robotic Arm Challenge
In this challenge, students will use a model robotic arm to move items from one location to another. They will engage in the engineering design process to design, build and operate the arm.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
*NEW* Exploring the Colors of Mars
Students use satellite and rover images to learn about the various features and materials that cause color variation on the surface of Mars, then create their own “Marscape.”
Grades 2 and 5
Time 1-2 hrs
*NEW* Planetary (Egg) Wobble and Newton's First Law
Students try to determine the interior makeup of an egg (hard-boiled or raw) based on their understanding of center of mass and Newton’s first law of motion.
Grades 3, 6-8
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Students design and build a shock-absorbing system that will protect two "astronauts" when they land.
Time 30 mins - 1 hr
Mission to Mars Unit
In this 19-lesson, standards-aligned unit, students learn about Mars, design a mission to explore the planet, build and test model spacecraft and components, and engage in scientific exploration.
*NEW* Heat Flow Programming Challenge
Students use microcontrollers and temperature sensors to measure the flow of heat through a soil sample.
Time 1-2 hrs
In this illustrated math problem, students use the mathematical constant pi to identify the timing and location of a seismic event on Mars, called a "marsquake."
Time Less than 30 mins
Resources and Activities
- Teachable Moment: NASA InSight Lander to Get First Look at ‘Heart’ of Mars
- InSight Lessons
- Mars Lessons
- Mars Activities for Students
Feature Stories and Podcasts
- InSight Podcast: "On a Mission"
- "The 'Claw Game' on Mars Plays to Win" – Oct 16, 2018
- "NASA's InSight Will Study Mars While Standing Still" – Oct. 24, 2018
- "The Mars InSight Landing Site is Just Plain Perfect" – Nov. 5, 2018
Websites and Interactives
Update – Sept. 13, 2018: Due to the number of requests we have received, this bulletin board registration is now closed. In the event more materials become available, an update will be posted here. All materials are also available to download at the links below.
Launch back into STEM with these back-to-school resources from NASA all about hurricanes, clouds, weather, Earth science – and the satellites that study them. For a limited time, the Educator Resource Center at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is offering free bulletin-board materials to educators for display in classrooms or other educational settings.
Register today to receive free materials mailed directly to you or download them at the links below.
Out of stock
- Bulletin board mailers are limited to teachers at U.S.-based institutions.
- Available while supplies last.
- Requests will be fulfilled in the order they are received.
Download bulletin board materials:
Poster: Hurricane Katrina
This poster shows satellite images of Hurricane Katrina and explains how hurricanes form, as well as how satellites are used to track them and help meteorologists predict their behavior.
Poster: Fog and Low Clouds
This poster shows a satellite view of Earth and inset images of fog and low clouds. The back explains how fog and low clouds form, includes an activity on how to make fog in a bottle, and features discussion questions.
Poster: Wild World of Clouds
This poster illustrates and describes types of clouds and explains the role clouds play in Earth's water cycle. A crossword puzzle and quiz on the back reinforce the concepts.
Game: Wild World of Weather Adventure
This board game is all about different kinds of weather and the places it occurs. It also includes two articles and activities on the different parameters
Booklet: How Do You Make a Weather Satellite?
How does a satellite stay up in space? How is a weather satellite able to take pictures or measure surface temperatures from space? How does it communicate with Earth? Find out in this booklet!
Visit our educator resources page for more downloads and online resources.