Lesson 5 

How do we get to Mars?

Adapted from a lesson by BarbaraJean Kahawai'i from Laie Elementary

  • To discover and investigate why Polynesian explorers voyaged to new lands
  • To discover and investigate why modern people on Earth might want to voyage to a new planet
  • To investigate how to use two variables (Force and Angle) to launch an item and hit a target
  • To bring the science of trajectory (calculating force and angle) and the science of exploration together to the students
  • To make the connection between the culture of exploration that the Polynesians embodied and the exploration that we are doing in modern times.


  • 6-10 Catapults  ordered from Educational Innovations Click Here to Order
  • Plastic cups or bowls, one per group of students, used as target/ landing area

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 (Use dry erase board to list discussion items)
How did the Polynesians come to Hawai’i?
•    Sailing canoes with the Polynesians use of their knowledge of navigation, astronomy, climatology, ethology (review from Lesson 2).
Why did they come to Hawai’i?
•    Overcrowded on their island homes, to explore and search for a new land, to see if they could voyage to an unknown place.
What did they bring to Hawai’i on their sailing canoes?
•    Have the students name the things required for life in a new land (sustainability)
•    Write the items on the chalkboard
•    Items may include:
    Water, clothing, edible plants and animals, tools for building, things to make a new life on a new island home (review from Lesson 3).
Why are scientists today interested in exploring Mars?

Mars most like Earth than any planet in our Solar system, Earth becoming overcrowded, life on Earth may not be sustainable in the near future so Mars would be an alternative planet to inhabit (review Lesson 1)

Discuss the differences between the planets Mars and Earth (review handout Lesson 1)
What things might we need to bring to Mars to be sustainable on that planet?
    Refer to list of items Polynesians may have brought to Hawai’i that are listed on the dry erase board (circle the items that both voyages would require).
 List the additional special needs that living on Mars would require.  Special clothing for warmth, breathing apparatus, building materials for a biosphere (introduce idea of living in a biosphere for plant and animal growth as well as living area for people on Mars).

How would we get to Mars? 
    Mars is a moving planet and we are on a moving planet, use of modern day knowledge that was used by the Polynesian explorers but today we have
•    Heat energy into mechanical energy: Instead of sailing canoes and wind energy
rockets are used today for exploration to new lands (planets)
•    Computers: To calculate how a rocket will be able to be launched from one moving planet (Earth) to another moving planet (Mars)
•    Forces: (Gravity, Kinetic, Potential): Knowledge of gravity and the energy required to blast-off into outer space, kinetic and potential energy

Scientist use computers to calculate the force and angle which is required to land on a moving planet that is a far journey away (approximately 1 year travel time).  
Today we will be using “Cat-a-pults” to demonstrate how to “hit” a target. 

Two dials on the catapults:
Green dial= Force
Orange dial= Angle

Students work in groups of 3-4
Using the dials (Force and Angle) the students will work together and attempt to catapult a “cat” into a cup.

Next the students will attempt to catapult a “cat” onto another catapult, setting off a chain-reaction between two or more catapults.  

The entire class can participate in this part of the exercise to work as a team to get the chain reaction to include every catapult.

Review key points about how Polynesians used knowledge in the past and how modern explorers use knowledge of today to someday voyage to a far away planets.

Assessment/Performance Indicators:
•    Informal assessment:  Class discussions with question and answers, class participation



Strand 6:  Physical, Earth, and Space Science:
Nature of Matter and Energy
"Understand the nature of matter and evergy, forms of energy and energy transformation, and their significance in understanding the structure of the universe"
Benchmark SC.PS.6.2:  

"The student describes a variety of energy transformations (i.e.: heat energy into mechanical energy)"

Standard 6: Cultural Anthropology: SYSTEMS, DYNAMICS, AND INQUIRY: "Understand culture as a system of beliefs, knowledge, and practices shared by a group and understand how cultural
 systems change over time"

General Learner Outcomes:
Community Contributor: “The understanding that it is essential for human beings to work together”
Complex Thinker: “The ability to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving”
Quality Producer: “The ability to recognize and produce quality performance and quality products”
Effective Communicator: “The ability to communicate effectively”