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For Teachers

MESSENGER Education Modules (MEMs)

MESSENGER Education Modules (MEMs) include inquiry-based, hands-on lessons for grades preK-12 that are aligned to the National Science Education Standards and Project 2061 Benchmarks for Science Literacy. They focus on Solar System science; the process of designing, constructing, and sending a spacecraft to another planet; and investigations using Mercury data collected by MESSENGER. Each module contains one or more education units addressing these central themes. Click on a theme or a unit name to access the lessons. Note that the lessons can be downloaded in PDF format, so you may want to get Adobe Reader to view the documents.

Theme 1: Comparative Planetology

Theme 2: Framing Pathways to Answers: The Scientific Process in Action

Theme 3: Investigations using MESSENGER Data

Introduction to the MESSENGER Education Pedagogy, Themes, and Modules


Teaching about the MESSENGER Mission

The MESSENGER Education Themes and MESSENGER Stories

Connections to Science Education Standards and Benchmarks


Tonight, if you look up into the sky, you’ll see the same bright lights that your ancestors admired, named, and used to find their way when they were lost, or to explain unusual events in their lives. With today’s technological imaging, you can better see those stars, planets, moons, comets, meteors, asteroids, and now even artificial satellites.

As humans, we have always strived to increase our knowledge about the Universe. For centuries, we explored from the comfort of our own planet, Earth, where we could breathe air, sit on firm land, take notes on stone, paper, or computers, and teach others what we know through our writing and speaking. When we first ventured out into space in the mid-20th century, we had to change the way we gather, store, and share information. Now it would be done with machines that help us "see" in increasingly sophisticated ways, as we explore more deeply away from our home planet.

One of the ways we have learned to gather new information about other planets is to send out data-gathering instruments that are sensitive to a variety of influences. These instruments have to endure the stress of leaving the Earth’s comfortable atmosphere atop a rocket, and continue to function under the most hostile conditions imaginable: the cold vacuum of space, the intense heat and radiation from the Sun, and the quick changes between the two as a spacecraft speeds along at thousands of miles per hour.

We go into space, to the Moon, and now to planets such as Mercury, even in the face of great risk, to push our problem-solving capabilities beyond current limits, and explore uncharted regions of the Universe. It is the nature of human exploration. We also do this because the potential benefits are too great to ignore. Indeed, it is only if we continue to explore beyond our reach that we will be able to better understand our own world, and address challenges that face us here on Earth.


Teaching about the MESSENGER Mission

For the purposes of teaching about the MESSENGER spacecraft and mission design, and for making that information relevant to the lives of young people today, we have created an educational program, which parallels the 10-year MESSENGER mission. We start from the notion of sending a human-made probe to the closest planet to the Sun, and we ask students to consider the processes and humanpower needed to complete such a mission.

We continue by introducing students to different branches of science that must be studied for an understanding of the data retrieved from the spacecraft. These include astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, thermodynamics, magnetism, and optics, to name just a few.

We extend beyond the sciences to make interdisciplinary connections to, e.g., mathematics, technology, social studies, and all aspects of literacy to strengthen students’ abilities across the curriculum, helping them discover cultural as well as scientific understandings of the planets, the Sun, and the skies.

We develop students’ literacy of science by using appropriate scientific vocabulary and concepts, while also helping them build their literacy through science, as we use inherently fascinating scientific phenomena as a means of promoting reading and writing.

We launch design challenges that motivate students to build systems, design experiments, discover improved ways of doing things, and observe the world around them, in an effort to provide them the required context to best learn the skills they will need throughout life, in all areas.

We approach science education by asking essential questions that drive the quest for knowledge, by giving students ample opportunities to explore situations that embody important scientific ideas, and by encouraging them to express their ideas about what they are exploring. Teachers are then able to choose appropriate ways of helping students test their ideas, to discover which ideas apply more widely and may be more scientifically-derived than what they had previously thought.

We design activities that require first-hand observations as well as in-depth study of existing data. In both cases, students are allowed to develop ideas more fully as they work through their own creative thinking and problem-solving, rather than through rote memorization. It is essential that children change their own misconceptions as a result of what they find themselves, not merely by accepting other ideas they have been told are better than their own.

We encourage creativity and thinking outside the box, while making sure that national science standards are directly addressed in every lesson. Children learn science best through a process that helps them link ideas and develop new concepts. We make full use of science process skills (observing, measuring, hypothesizing, predicting, planning and carrying out investigations, interpreting, inferring, and communicating) to help them make sense of the world around them. In addition to traditional summative evaluations at the end of a lesson, we offer forms of formative assessment throughout the teaching process, so that the teacher is aware of students’ evolving ideas and skills. Furthermore, this information is an integral part of effective teaching, since it can significantly change the direction of a given lesson to better address problems or misconceptions that persist.

In general, we provide a context for understanding the significance of scientific ventures and engineering feats such as the MESSENGER mission, and we open the door to students who will both understand and build the future.


The MESSENGER Education Themes

The MESSENGER Education Modules will concentrate on the following themes:

Comparative Planetology Understanding the planets as individual worlds and as part of a larger family by studying their similarities and differences. It is a look at what we know about our family of planets, and what we do not know. It also addresses what is currently known about Solar System formation and evolution. MESSENGER stories relevant to this theme include what Mercury tells us about the family of planets, and how MESSENGER observations are specifically framed to change our view of the Solar System.

Framing Pathways to Answers: The Scientific Process in Action An exploration of the scientific process as applied to two fundamental types of problems:

This thematic overview also places research and exploration in a human context. Relevant stories within this theme include solving MESSENGER engineering problems to make the mission possible, and framing experimental pathways to do MESSENGER science.

Investigations Using MESSENGER Data

In this thematic unit you use actual data from multiple sources to learn about features and materials on Mercury. Mercury Mappers allows you to map actual features on Mercury using the latest imagery from MESSENGER. In Mosiac Postcards from Mercury you can mimic the scientific process used by MESSENGER team members to create a mosaic and explore unique features in the Surface Interactive. The Water Ice Data Exploration allows you to investigate the data that helped answer one of the key scientific questions guiding this mission: What are the unusual materials at Mercury’s poles?

Each theme defines a MESSENGER Education Module (MEM) that is a story in one to three Units, each like a chapter of a book. Each Unit is associated with its own sub-story told through as many as three Lessons at various grade levels.


Connections to Science Education Standards and Benchmarks

MESSENGER Educational Modules (MEMs) focus on not only what science is taught but also how science is taught. Many state and local districts use National Science Education Standards and Project 2061 Benchmarks as the foundation for their science curriculum. The MESSENGER Modules are mapped to the standards, with a standards matrix found in each Unit. The MEMs emphasize activities that encourage students to ask questions and become deeply involved in work that is based on their own ideas. MEMs stress inquiry-based, process-driven approaches to science education.