The University of Texas at Austin
Mission to Mars

Curriculum Theory

The Mission to Mars curriculum does not suggest content knowledge specifically, but rather suggests a way that the content could be organized and emphasized. The curriculum includes structure, organization, and presentation of the content of the classroom.

John Dewey's belief in the coordination of the development of the individual and the benefit of that individual to society was best facilitated by the creation of a miniature community. In essence, this is where the child lived, participated and contributed. Dewey was first to recognize the importance of school being directed toward what is valued by the child in the present and not some abstract future life. The Mission to Mars curriculum has modified Dewey's "occupations" to fit within a structure that it still consistent with his initial philosophy of allowing for the child to become acquainted with the structure, materials and modes of operation of a community. The addition has been the incorporation of a context to anchor their activity.

Thus, in the Mission to Mars unit to date we have established such roles as a Medical Officer (Human Factors), Supply Officers (Equipment/Food), Engineers (Navigation/Propulsion), Environmental Preservation (Spacecraft Environment), Designers (Spacecraft) and Geographers (Surface of Mars Exploration).

Some researchers suggest that the basic design of the modernist curriculum is as the subject matter design- the use of the disciplines or categories of subject matter or content as the basis for deciding and organizing what students will learn. Mission to Mars represents an alternative to that design. Referred to as a problem-solving design, the Mission to Mars curriculum has six distinguishing characteristics:

1) content is selected by joint student-teacher planning (problem generation phase) or by the student individually and reflects their own interests.

2) it assumes a more flexible approach to teaching and learning with much less predictability of outcomes but more freedom to use acquired expertise and intelligent novice learning characteristics.

3) there is an emphasis on the evaluation of student products created in the processes of learning not on standardized measurement of learning.

4) interdisciplinary content is a common characteristic of this environment.

5) outcomes of learning cannot be known in advance; only broad expectations for expected student outcomes

6) large blocks of time are necessary for student exploration of the selected focus of study. Such a curriculum is more in keeping with current postmodern philosophy as we attempt to design environments which support the solving of ill-structured authentic problems in a sustained project-based learning environment.

Introduction to the Mission to Mars Unit: This general overview gives a description of the Mission to mars unit from an historical perspective tracing its development and research foundation to its ultimate use in middle school classrooms (Time: 4 minutes and 10 seconds).

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Segment 7 Grade Appropriation: Often the topic of grade or age appropriation is asked when discussing the Mission to Mars unit. In this short segment, we try to address some on those concerns as well as offer possibilities for making those types of decisions (Time: 2 minutes and 20 seconds).

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Curriculum Theory Model
Starter Unit Problem Generation Cooperative Terms Jigsaw Consequential Task
Solar System Search Video Presentation Onboard Resources Distributed Expertise Rocket Launch Feasability Study
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