The Mission to Mars prototype learning environment is designed to lead students to generate problems about the scientific challenge of planning a Mars mission. It further supports student inquiry into solving these problems. We feel that the Mars mission is an excellent problem space because it lends itself to subproblems from every academic domain, thus making it inherently cross-curricula. In addition, by arriving at a number of common themes, we believe we are developing a curriculum that is fully integrated. The truly powerful ideas used by scientists are not the intellectual property of any one field or discipline. Ideas about systems, scale, change and constancy, and models have applications in business, law, education, and politics, as well as in mathematics, technology and science. These common themes are, in essence, ways of thinking rather than theories or discoveries. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (http://www.aaas.org/) in their 1993 publication, Benchmarks:
Some important themes pervade science, mathematics, and technology and appear over and over again, whether we are looking at an ancient civilization, the human body, or a comet. They are ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries and prove fruitful in explanation, in theory, in observation, and in design.
We have attempted to keep these common themes in mind as the driving force of our unit (see Unifying Themes section). By doing so, we have begun to develop a curriculum that is intellectually honest and that bridges the gap between real-world knowledge and problem-solving ability and the students' classroom activities. As the students come to a deeper conceptual understanding of these common themes, we feel confident that we will be facilitating the acquisition of the lifelong learning skills that employers demand and workers will need in the global marketplace of the 21st century.