Exploring Mars: Spirit and Opportunity

Students explore the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, grappling with the complexity involved in space missions through reading, analyzing photographs, and participating in engineering and design labs.



Unit 4

5th Grade

Unit Summary

In this unit, students study the rover's Spirit and Opportunity and their remarkable missions to Mars. Through a combination of reading, analyzing images and photographs, and participating in engineering and design labs, students will begin to understand the complexity, preparation, and diligence involved in space missions. Students will grapple with why the engineering and design process, particularly continually planning, trying, and evaluating, is a crucial part of a successful mission. This unit also allows students to make connections between content learned in math and content learned in previous science units, solidifying the importance and value of STEM. It is our hope that this unit inspires students to explore engineering and STEM not only in space but in the world around them. 

In this unit, students build their skills in consuming scientific and technical texts. Students will practice explaining the connection between two or more scientific ideas or concepts in a text. Additionally, students will be challenged to draw on and integrate information from two or more texts in order to describe a scientific idea, concept, or process in depth. This unit also continues the study of point of view and analyzes how the point of view influences what and how information is presented to a reader. The Mighty Mars Rover is written to captivate and engage a reader, while the NASA press releases are written to inform the public of the progress and findings of the Mars rover missions. Students will be challenged to compare and contrast the point of view of each text and the strategies each author uses based on the point of view and desired audience. When discussing the text, students continue to work on engaging with the thinking of others by building on, and paraphrasing ideas in order to understand, and questioning and clarifying. Since this is the culminating unit of the course, all other informational standards will be spiraled throughout the unit. When discussing the text, students continue to work on engaging with the thinking of others by building on, paraphrasing ideas in order to understand, and questioning and clarifying.

In this unit students also have multiple opportunities to write informative paragraphs and essays, using what they learned from previous units about topic sentences, supporting details, and elaboration to write multiple paragraphs and essays in response to a question. Students also have the opportunity to refine their narrative writing, writing a narrative from the point of view of the mars rover. The unit culminates with students writing an afterword to The Mighty Mars Rover using everything that they have learned about informative writing, the mars rover, and the author's point of view. 

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials


These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.

Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.

Essential Questions

  • What is the engineering and design process? How do scientists use the engineering and design process to plan for and execute missions to Mars?
  • What challenges did the rovers face on Mars? How did scientists and the rovers respond?
  • What goals did scientists have for the rover expeditions? Were the goals met? 

Reading Focus Areas

  • To explain the relationship or interaction between two or more individuals, events, ideas or concepts, readers use cause and effect, sequence, and chronology.

  • Authors use a variety of strategies to engage a reader and communicate particular points.

  • Integrating information from multiple texts on the same topic helps readers build a deeper understand of the topic.

Writing Focus Areas

Informational Writing

  • Introduce a topic and write a strong topic sentence or statement.

  • Group related information logically.

  • Develop the topic with facts, definitions, details, and quotations.

  • Link ideas and information using words, phrases, and clauses.

  • Include formatting, illustrations and multimedia to aid comprehension.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Build on to partner’s ideas. Seek to genuinely understand what peers are saying, and then build on.

  • Paraphrase to make meaning. Paraphrase what others are saying in order to keep track of key ideas in a discussion.

  • Question and clarify. Seek to clarify a particular point a student makes by asking follow-up questions.

Writing Focus Areas

Narrative Writing

  • Use relevant text details or background knowledge from the text to develop characters, ideas, or situations.

  • Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing characters and setting.

  • Use description and dialogue to develop experiences, events and characters.

  • Use precise words and phrases to describe character actions and feelings.



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To see all the vocabulary for Unit 4, view our 5th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Content Knowledge and Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 3

Protecting the Earth: Plastic Pollution

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