Alternate Unit 4: 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.
Alternate Unit 4
In this unit, students study the rovers 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, questioning, clarifying, and paraphrasing ideas in order to understand. Additionally, students have multiple opportunities to write informational 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 will also refine their narrative writing by 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.
Please Note: In August 2023, we released updated enhanced lesson plans for this unit, which now include answers to key questions and related student supports. You may notice discrepancies in previously downloaded/printed unit or lesson plans.
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Book: The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch (HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition, 2017)
Video: “How We Landed on Mars with NASA Spirit” by The Azza
Article: “Now a Stationary Research Platform, NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Starts a New Chapter in Red Planet Scientific Studies” by NASA Press Release 7
Resource: Mars Robotics Education Poster (NASA)
Article: “Mars Rovers Advance Understanding of the Red Planet”
Article: “Rover Team Tests Mars Moves on Earth”
Article: “NASA's Opportunity Rover Rolls Free on Mars”
Article: “Mars Rover Spirit Unearths Surprise Evidence of Wetter Past”
Article: “NASA Mars Rovers Braving Severe Dust Storms”
Article: “Shoulder Motor Balks on Opportunity's Robotic Arm”
Resource: Robots: Machines on the Move (NASA)
Website: Spacecraft: Surface Operations: Instruments by Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Resource: Rover Races Activity (NASA)
Website: Mars Exploration Rovers: Press Releases
Assessment Text: “Impact!: Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World” by Elizabeth Rusch (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017) (Note: this text is only used for the assessment.)
Rubric: Grade 5 Informational Writing Rubric
Template: Narrative Brainstorming Template
These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.
Download Cold Read Assessment
Download Cold Read Assessment Answer Key
Download Content Assessment
Download Content Assessment Answer Key
Additional progress monitoring suggestions are included throughout the unit. Essential Tasks can be found in the following lessons:
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
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.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
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.
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.
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.
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.
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 7, view our 5th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
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.
Fishtank ELA units related to the content in this unit.
Identify and explain the goal of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission and why it was important.
Explain how Steve’s proposals for missions were different from previous missions to Mars and what problem he was trying to solve.
Explain why it took three years for Steve’s team to create the rovers and describe the steps the team took to ensure the rover was ready for a trip to Mars.
Explain the importance of each stage of the engineering design process and how NASA engineers used the process to prepare for Mars.
Explain what the team did to prepare Spirit for the trip and why they were worried.
Explain the steps necessary for Spirit’s landing and why each step was important.
Use details from the video and sidebars to revise and add additional information about the steps necessary for Spirit’s landing and operation.
Project – 2 days
Develop and design an Entry, Descent, & Landing system for a rover using the engineering and design process.
Describe where Opportunity landed, what Opportunity found, and how the team responded to Opportunity’s findings.
Analyze the strategies Elizabeth Rusch uses to make science feel like an adventure.
Describe the different accomplishments made by Spirit and Opportunity and what made the accomplishments possible.
Use details from the articles and sidebars to revise and add additional information about the different accomplishments made by Spirit and Opportunity and what made the accomplishments possible.
Develop and design a communication protocol for rovers using the engineering and design process.
Explain what evidence the author includes to support the idea that math is a critical component of space exploration and engineering.
Explain what initial discovery Opportunity makes inside Endurance Crater and the tools and techniques scientists used.
Debate and analyze unit essential questions.
Writing – 2 days
Write a multiple-paragraph essay to answer a unit Essential Question.
Narrative Writing – 4 days
Write a narrative from the perspective of one of the Mars rovers about what it was like to land on Mars using descriptive details from the unit.
Analyze the importance of the sun for Spirit’s survival and the steps scientists take to ensure Spirit has access to the sun.
Summarize “Mars Rovers Advance Understanding of the Red Planet”.
Summarize what happened with Opportunity on his way to Victoria Crater and the steps the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took to remedy the situation, by explaining the relationship between two or more scientific and technical ideas.
Use details from the articles to revise and add additional information about the challenges Opportunity faced when approaching Victoria Crater.
Compare and contrast the points of view from which the Mighty Mars Rovers and the press releases are written, by analyzing multiple accounts of the same topic.
Analyze the strategies Elizabeth Rusch uses to make science feel like an adventure, by explaining how authors use word choice, language, and point of view to support particular points in a text.
Summarize what Spirit found and how the team responded, by integrating information from several texts on the same topic.
Summarize what happened to Opportunity and how the team responded by integrating information from several texts on the same topic.
Compare and contrast how text structure and point of view influence the mood of a text.
Analyze and explain the reasons and evidence the author includes to show that the rovers' missions were “more than accomplished.”
Debate and analyze unit Essential Questions.
Informative Writing – 4 days
Write an afterword for The Mighty Mars Rovers by writing an informative text to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Using the engineering and design process, develop and design a rover that can travel on Mars and can pick up samples.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
— Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
— Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Use verb tense to convey various times, sequences, states, and conditions.
— Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
— Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.
— Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
— Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
— Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
— Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
— Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
— Summarize the points a speaker makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence.
— Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
— Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, sound) and visual displays in presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
— Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
— Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).
— Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
— Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
— Orient the reader by establishing a situation and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally.
— Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.
— Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely.
— With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
— Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
— Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Form and use the perfect (e.g., I had walked; I have walked; I will have walked) verb tenses.
— Use underlining, quotation marks, or italics to indicate titles of works.
— Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.
— Expand, combine, and reduce sentences for meaning, reader/listener interest, and style.
— Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 5 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
— Use common, grade-appropriate Greek and Latin affixes and roots as clues to the meaning of a word (e.g., photograph, photosynthesis).
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal contrast, addition, and other logical relationships (e.g., however, although, nevertheless, similarly, moreover, in addition).
— Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
— Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
— Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
— Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area.
— Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.
— By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 4—5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
(Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1—3 above.)
— With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of two pages in a single sitting.
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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