Last semester my high school biology class wrapped up a Mars Biosphere Project. For the project, my students had to build their understanding of basic biology concepts and then create a sustainable biosphere on Mars showcasing and applying their new-found knowledge. The lesson plans for this project were created by a few amazing district high school science teachers who wanted to provide students an opportunity to extend and apply their biology learning. My students’ task for this project was the following:
Mars Biosphere Project
Your task is to work with your team to design a suitable habitat for four young adult astronauts to survive on the surface of Mars for 3 months.
You will be provided with:
- Oxygen for 30 days (1 month)
- Water for 30 days
- A menu of protein-rich space meals to supplement food production
- Nutritional requirements for colonists
- A menu of seeds to choose from
- Building materials to create an enclosed habitat
- Space-gear for short exposure
- Materials for circulation pump (with motor)
- Heating unit for habitat
If you have a request for additional materials, check with your mission commander (teacher). Space aboard ship is limited!
Over the course of a semester, we covered the basics of earth -v- mars atmosphere and geology as it applies to what plants require to live. Next, we conducted labs to better understand what happens to CO2 and O2 levels in living organisms, ultimately leading to conceptual understanding of photosynthesis. Since my students would be creating a biosphere, they also had to build their understanding of matter and energy, particularly as it applied to cellular respiration. Through various labs and molecular modeling, my students built a solid biology background from which to build a 3D Biosphere model.
The requirements for the biosphere project tasked students with explaining in detail how they would create a sustainable environment–covering both physical and physiological requirements–for the astronauts in a Martian environment.
Mars Biosphere Project Requirements:
- Schematic or diagram of your Martian Biosphere
- A sample diet for one person for one day, balanced with appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and other nutrients
- Number & type of plants, source of water & nutrients for plants
- Explanation of how your Biosphere will be able to support 4 people for at least 90 days
A majority of my students’ groups chose to work in Minecraft, finding their own familiarity with Minecraft made it easy to create and collaborate with their group to build a model biosphere. One group decided to work in Paint 3D for the biosphere model and were pleasantly surprised by the ease of the app for creating their 3D world. Occasionally students had class time to work on their 3D biosphere designs and overhearing their working conversations was awesome. Students would discuss the validity of the spaces they were creating, whether there was sufficient gas exchange for CO2 and O2, and if their biosphere could support the necessary farming to provide the nutrients per their scheduled astronaut diet. They also discussed, or more aptly “vigorously debated,” the aesthetics of their biosphere design. Building in 3D provided the authentic venue to discuss the science underneath the project learning and that made this biology teacher smile.
Providing opportunities to learn framed within an authentic learning project is critical to asking students to go behind the route memorization. The Mars Biosphere Project had a variety of variables to solve and students had to provide evidence that they understood the biology to sustain the astronauts for 3 months on Mars. Utilizing Minecraft (or Paint3D) for creating a 3D model of the biosphere gave an opportunity for essential conversations to better understand the biology concepts.
The best part, from a teaching perspective, is teachers don’t necessarily need to be Minecraft experts to provide an opportunity for students to use their expertise in Minecraft to showcase their learning.
Over the course of the Mars Biosphere Project, my students used the following tools and applications;
- OneNote – all Biology course content is in our class OneNote Notebook
- Minecraft Education Edition – created 3D biosphere
- Paint 3D – created 3D biosphere
- Flipgrid – web-based platform to share Mars Biosphere Project introductions, reflections, and video links to student projects
- *Resources – Mars Explorers Wanted Posters