Fifth Graders Compete in Mars Rover Competition at University of Houston

Six teams advanced to a city-wide competition following presentations judged by professionals from Exxon and the Society of Women in Engineering

Duchesne Academy boasts a 100% rate of seniors being accepted into college, but this month, the school is also sending a group of fifth graders to college. Nearly 20 fifth graders will participate in a competition at the University of Houston where they will present models of a Mars rover to a panel of judges and compete against other students from schools throughout the city.

While at the University of Houston, the students will be able to talk with aerospace professionals and learn more about space exploration. They will also participate a series of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) activities and view exhibits at the University of Houston STEM Center.

The UH event is the culmination of a project that the entire fifth grade has been working on since the fall. The students began by reading a book about Mars written by famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Then the girls were divided up into teams of three students and tasked with developing an idea for a mission to Mars and building a model rover. Each team also wrote a "guide" booklet describing the mission and addressing how their rover would get to Mars, how it would overcome the challenges of Mars' terrain, and how it would collect and communicate data back to Earth.

"We do it all at school, which is probably my favorite thing about the project," said Jennifer Beck, a fifth grade science teacher. "It's completely student-led. I let them make all the decisions. There are no wrong ideas as long as they can back it up scientifically with their research."

On January 12, Duchesne collaborated with The Regis School to present all of the team Mars rover projects from each school to a panel of judges in order to select which teams would go on to the UH city-wide competition. Nearly 80 fifth grade students participated, each presenting their projects in skit-form and then taking questions from the judges. The judges, who included professionals from Exxon Mobil and the Society of Women in Engineering, ranked each presentation based on specific criteria.

"This project really touches on a lot of 21st-century skills," said Tony Houle, Head of Middle School. "The girls have to be able to communicate their ideas, they have to be able to collaborate with each other, there's a lot of critical thinking and a lot of creativity. It sets the foundation for a lot of STEM projects that we have in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade."