Making a Human Community on Mars

My first 21st-century lesson plan had students reviewing 3D shapes by make monsters with TinkerCad (a 3D design tool).

But when I shared it with my 8 and 9-year-old boys, they thought it sounded boring. They wanted to build real things: cityscapes, buildings, mountains, and caves. So after some more thinking, I asked them if it would be cool to design a colony on Mars; They said yes.

We watched some videos about living on Mars, then talked about what people would need to live there. I realized that this thought exercise of building a community on Mars can teach children a lot about what are true necessities, how different people live in different parts of the world, and where the things we need to survive come from. I also realized that designing a community in TinkerCad would be a fun way to stretch their spatial reasoning and initiate them into the world of 3D design.

We start with a simple question: If we were going to start a new civilization on Mars, what would we need? After some discussion of this and related questions, we watch this video to see that living on Mars may be a reality before the students turn 30 years old.

From here students brainstorm twenty things they can’t live without.

The next day, with a partner they watch three videos like this one from Kids in Other Countries

The partners come up with a list of no more than ten things they cannot live without. These are labeled needs; anything else is labeled a want. We spend time reflecting on the needs and how they are obtained in different communities and environments. For example: how did James get food in the video? How do you get food in your house? How could we get food on Mars?

Once the students have a clear idea what they will need and how they are going to get it on Mars, they start designing their communities in TinkerCAD and write up the Key to the Community: a document that outlines the needs they have identified and how the people in the human community on Mars will obtain it.

Throughout the process, the students are taught to use TinkerCAD using the learn, explore, create, and share model, you can see how here.

The lesson draws on the three of the five core competencies discussed in Hobbs (2011).

  1. Access. Students will actually have to look up answers to questions like where does our power come from and where do we get our water?
  2. Create. Students will be writing a document that outlines the things they cannot live without and building a model of a community that provides them.
  3. Act. They will have to work individually and collaboratively to identify what our real needs are and design a community that can sustain people.

In reaching out for feedback, a 3rd-grade teacher I work with pointed out that the lesson could be woven into the discussion of the natural resources and early settlement of Michigan. This lesson could also fit well within the Montessori Culture curriculum (provided the school has progressive attitudes towards technology). I am also exploring the possibility of teaching this lesson at the Cook Humanities Library in Grand Rapids.

The full lesson plan is here. Below are some images from the human community on Mars that my son built. He identified shelter, separate bathrooms (hence the shape of the pods), building materials, food, water, transportation and a social area (the meeting henge) as necessary for a community to live. We plan on 3D printing it next week.

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Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Kids in Other Countries. (2017, June) James in the Phillippeans Preview Retieved from

UCode Videos (2013, September 20). TinkerCad- What is TinkerDad. Retrieved from

Thought Cafe. (2016, February 12). Could We Live on Mars. Retrieved from

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