To Mars and Beyond!

By Chelle Wabrek, Assistant Head for Academic Affairs
Popular Novel “The Martian” Inspires Eighth-Grade Scientists

The Martian day, called a “sol,” is 39 minutes longer than an Earth day. Write an algorithm that calculates the length of the Marian year in Earth days.

When Hurricane Dorian reached the Georgia Coast, its speed was clocked at 115 mph. On page 4 of Andy Weir’s book, “The Martian,” the NASA team’s spaceship was blasted by a sandstorm with winds of 175 kph.  Which was faster?

These are just a few (and the most simple) of the calculations you would see eighth graders working out should you step into their science classrooms this week.  Physical science, a mash-up of physics, chemistry and astronomy, the central subject of eighth grade science at Lovett, is brought to life through an age-appropriate novel study of Weir’s book, made famous through Matt Damon’s portrayal in the 2015 film by the same name. The study pushes students to journal, as astronaut Mark Watney does, to emotionally (and mathematically) process means for survival alone on a planet whose atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide. 

Lannitra Peaks, the Middle School department chair for science and eighth-grade science teacher, says of the project, “I like that it shows that science is everywhere -- in books, on TV, in commercials. The medium doesn’t matter and reading a novel in science class really allows me to teach the whole child by modeling that science doesn’t exist in just one form, just like kids don’t exist in just one form.  There are some kids that don’t vibe toward science and I want them to have a hook.”

Her students are equally inspired and say things like:

  • “The book is really an interesting way to learn about how Mars works without taking notes. It's a lot better than a textbook.”
  • “The book cool because it makes the facts about Mars and the events really realistic.  The things in this book haven’t really happened but because the science is real it makes it seem like it has.”
  • “The Martian is not all serious.  The main character, Mark Watney, has a funny perspective and he has a sense of humor that I can relate to and that makes it easier for me to understand all the science.”  
  • “Doing a character study in science lets me do something that I’m good at in English class -- think about the main character and how he connects with me. If I were alone on Mars, I would definitely not be as positive as he is.  Even though he’s going through a crazy, difficult time, he looks to the future.”  
  • “It’s  a really good book that makes science really fun.  If this was an article about Mars I would be bored but this is about life and death.  We want to keep reading. You can almost imagine yourself there!”

Student engagement about Lovett is about connecting kids with their strength, their passions and the content and that is seen in action here!


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