Project 1

Life on Mars



This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant Number 1640228. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Dazhi Yang at or use our Contact Form.


This project-based scientific inquiry project: Is There Life on Mars? is centered on designing robots and testing them on a simulated Mars. In this project, students work in small groups to explore and research the existence of life on Mars. Then they design and develop robots to detect life on a simulated Mars. Students learn how to program related science and engineering concepts into the designing of robots using Mindstorms EV3 Legos. To develop computational thinking and an understanding of STEM subjects, students from 4th, 5th and 6th grade will work in small groups of six, with one in-service and one pre-service teacher, twice a week for eight weeks in a community centers after-school program.


Please refer to the weekly activities (such as Week 1 Session 1 in the left sidebar and Resources) for detailed information on how to use this project either in a classroom or an informal setting such as in community centers' after-school programs. The twice weekly sessions were originally designed to be 90 minutes in length, including a 10 minute break in the middle of the session. See photos of prior implementations on the projects' photo pages.


In groups of 4-6, students will research different forms of life and the environment of Mars. Then from this research, students would design and build a robot to detect life on Mars. Students will work in groups to plan and test their robot on a simulated Mars.

Subject Content

Engineering, Science, Math, Computer Science, Technology

Learning Objectives

1. Students will explore and investigate life on Mars and how it can be detected.

2. Students will design and build a robot to detect life on Mars.

Final Products

An assembled robot; Presentation on their research on life on Mars

Driving Question

How can we detect life on Mars using a robot?

Sample Sub-questions

1. What does life consist of?

2. What is the environment on Mars?

3. What does life looks like on Mars?

4. How can we detect life on Mars?

5. What is a robot and what are the components of a robot?

6. How can we program a Lego robot?

7. How can we debug when programs run into troubles?

8. How can we program our robot for detecting water on the Mars simulation?


1. Determine what life is

2. Research information on Mars

3. Explain Mars based on research

4. Research what life on Mars would look like and how to detect it

5. Build a robot

6. Design a rover to detect the life on Mars

7. Program a robot to control motion, vision, contact, time and position

8. Test the robot on a simulated Mars


1. Formative (for revision purpose): Weekly evaluation of the students on their understanding of the activities completed during the week - both written and oral (for example if they can solve the problems in the worksheet).

2. Summative: Assessment/evaluation on students inquiries at the end of the 8 week project, for example Final Robot Competition.

Tools & Resources

Project learning guide; Laptops; LEGO Mindstorms software (EV3); LEGO robotics kits; File folders; Pencils; Crayons; Journal/Learning log; Student contract (for project management); Internet connections; Resources on Mars and on robots (resources will be collected and/or created by project team).

Standards Aligned

1. Science: National Science Education Standards (NSES, 1996)

2. Engineering: NEXT Generation Science Standards (NGSS, 2013)

3. Information and Communication Technology: Idaho Content Standards (ICS, 2017)

4. Math: Common Core State Standard (CCSS, 2010)

5. 21st Century Skills: The Four C's (P21, 2002)