Creativity in Teaching and A Passion for Science using the Mars Student Imaging Project
April 18, 2013 (Tempe, AZ) – Educators are continually striving to find lessons and activities that will engage students and develop their skills in critical thinking. Through the teaching of the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP), Integrated Science Teacher, Craig Weeks of Centennial High School in Peoria, Arizona, has found a very creative way to engage his classrooms using Mars as a springboard. He has been teaching MSIP for 10 years and understands the unique value of the project.
“For the vast majority of my students it is the first time they construct, design, implement and then interpret actual science research,” said Weeks.
MSIP emphasizes group work and collaboration as a core component of the project. Craig takes a project management approach to MSIP by breaking his classroom team up into smaller groups to monitor their progress as they work on the essential tasks of the project. Each group will plot their progress on a whiteboard in the classroom so that all the small groups are held accountable while working at the same pace.
“The whole idea of working collaboratively with other group members is also critical to their success in interpreting images.”
Craig continued by explaining, “When I do the lesson it literally looks like a cerebral three-ring circus going on, but the students really do well with it since they cannot proceed to the next step until everyone in the group is proficient with the step they are working on.”
As students are analyzing data, Craig continues to challenge them with advanced concepts like statistics.
“One thing I like to do with my student MSIP groups, which may be a little different, is the emphasis I place on quantitatively evaluating their findings. We spend time discussing the importance of correlation and slope as example,” he said.
NASA’s Mars scientists are continually making comparisons of observed features on Mars and Earth to determine processes and history of the Red Planet. Student MSIP teams approach Mars in the same way, by making Earth to Mars comparisons.
“Mars is unique in that many geological processes which occur here on Earth have analog situations on Mars as well. In using MSIP, I have the perfect vehicle to help students understand first how things work here on Earth then apply that learning to what happens, or think to have happened, on Mars,” he said.
Craig has developed his passion for both science and teaching, and enjoys using minds-on activities like the Mars Student Imaging Project to engage students in science.
In discussing his experiences as a teacher Weeks mentioned, “My favorite thing about teaching science to students is when they experience an “ah ha” moment. I enjoy the challenge of getting a student to realize just how good they really are in science.”
Craig’s own “ah ha” moment came while he was studying at the University of Northern Iowa. Where he discovered just how he could combine his passion for science and education.
“It is always interesting what fate has in store for you. I never envisioned myself as a teacher while in college. As a way to fill a required core class selection I opted for an education class. The University of Northern Iowa at the time had a K-12 Lab School next to the campus and they wasted no time in throwing you in the deep end. I discovered that my love for science and working with students was a perfect match,” said Weeks.
Craig has now been a teacher for 30 years, and has been an MSIP educator for 1/3 of that time.
“I have always been a huge proponent of MSIP. It is probably the first and only time in their [students] science lives that they will do science for real,” he said.
That real science has provided 400 students from Craig’s classes with a unique STEM opportunity. And now as a result Craig has seen the improvements in his students’ critical thinking skills and for some students it has even helped them advance on to STEM careers.
“Students who complete my class and go on to other science classes are armed with ability to think critically and provide coherent rationale for the decisions they make. I have had several students continue their science pursuits at ASU (Arizona State University). One student in particular went on to work as a grad assistant then on to a current career in engineering.”
Besides seeing success in the big picture of STEM education, Craig has also seen victory in the small battles. Students often times do not have a real-world understanding of research and therefore struggle in their understanding of science research as it applies to organizations like NASA. MSIP helps students to have a better understanding of the research model and how even failure can be success when you’re exploring.
“Probably the most important thing students realize is that science does not have all the answers and that it is totally okay to not have an MSIP hypothesis which is not supported. They always think they did something wrong until they discover that they simply found out something that did not work for that particular situation. That in itself is science as well.”
Just another example of how MSIP can change a classroom and how a teacher can inspire students in a way that only a teacher can.
Craig commented about other teachers that choose to lead MSIP teams, “Anyone who teaches MSIP to their students is a teaching hero in my book.”
We could not agree with you more.
Craig Weeks, teacher, scientist, hero of student exploration.