September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

7th-Graders Discover Mysterious Cave on Mars

Posted: Friday, October 1st, 2010

By Clara Moskowitz
Senior Writer, Space.com
posted: 21 June 2010
03:14 pm ET



A group of seventh-graders in California has discovered a mysterious cave on Mars as part of a research project to study images taken by a NASA spacecraft orbiting the red planet.

The 16 students from teacher Dennis Mitchell’s 7th-grade science class at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, Calif., found what looks to be a Martian skylight—a hole in the roof of a cave on Mars.

The intrepid students were participating in the Mars Student Imaging Program at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University.  The program allows students to frame a research question and then commission a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question.

The newfound hole on Mars resembled features seen on other parts of Mars in a 2007 study by Glen Cushing, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist.

Cushing suggested that these anomalous pit craters are like skylights—places where a small part of the roof of a cave or a lava tube had collapsed, opening the area below the surface to the sky.

The caves are thought to result from volcanic activity on the red planet. At some point lava channels likely carved out caverns in the rock, and then left behind tunnel, or “lava tubes,” when the eruptions were over. They would have been covered when a solid ceiling of cooled material settled on top, and then sections of the ceiling likely collapsed at some point to form the skylight entrances.

Scientists aren’t sure what type of materials or deposits could be stored inside.

“This pit is certainly new to us,” Cushing told the students.  “And it is only the second one known to be associated with Pavonis Mons.”

He estimated the pit to be approximately 620 by 520 feet (190 by 160 meters) wide and 380 feet (115 meters) deep at least.

The young researchers had initially set out to hunt for lava tubes, a common volcanic feature on Earth and Mars.

“The students developed a research project focused on finding the most common locations of lava tubes on Mars,” Mitchell said.  “Do they occur most often near the summit of a volcano, on its flanks, or the plains surrounding it?”

The class commissioned a main photo and a backup image of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano, targeted on a region that hadn’t been imaged up close.

The pictures were taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter using its Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) instrument.  Both images showed lava tubes, as the students had hoped.

But the backup photo provided another surprise: a small, round black spot. It was a hole on Mars leading into the buried cave, researchers said.

The students have submitted their site to be further imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which could reveal enough detail to see inside the hole in the ground.

“The Mars Student Imaging Program is certainly one of the greatest educational programs ever developed,” Mitchell said.  “It gives the students a good understanding of the way research is conducted and how that research can be important for the scientific community. This has been a wonderful experience.”

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.