Students explore Mars with 4-H STEM project

Feb 10, 2021

The Perseverance rover will land on Mars on Feb. 18. As part of a science lesson, sixth-grade students at Avery Middle School in Calaveras County explored Mars recently. The other worldly experience was made possible with Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Challenge kits donated by the University of California's 4-H Youth Development Program in Calaveras County.

Ali Heermance, Avery Middle School sixth-grade teacher, helped her students assemble their Mars rovers for their space lesson, then drive the vehicles over rough terrain created with boxes and books to explore a map of Mars. The 4-H kit includes parts to build the yellow, plastic battery-powered rover.

Along with the rover, the kit includes four activities for students: Landing Zone Surveyor, Crop Curiosity, Red Planet Odyssey and Insight from Mars. Three of the activities don't require internet service, but Insight from Mars requires a computer, laptop or tablet and internet for the coding activity.

“A generous donation to 4-H in Calaveras County made it possible to buy 450 of the Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Challenge family kits for local school children,” said JoLynn Miller, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor. The kits retail for $17.95 at

“I was able to buy enough of the 4-H STEM kits for every sixth-grader in Calaveras County and, with the help of Calaveras County Office of Education, send them to their teachers,” said Miller, 

“I hope the 4-H activities spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in the students,” Miller said. “The activities show kids how STEM skills can be applied to the world around them and because the family kits can be used by three or four people, they can share the experience with their parents and siblings.”

Sixth-grade math hybrid and 100% distance-learning students at Toyon Middle School have also used the kits.

“The kids enjoyed the activities and were very engaged,” said Michelle Olivarria, science teacher at Toyon Middle School.

For the Red Planet Odyssey, each kit contains a vinyl map of Mars and parts for the students to build a rover to explore the planet.

Crop Curiosity is a card game that has students growing plants on Mars in an artificial environment, where they may encounter natural disasters and sabotage. Participants can win items such as soil, containers and grow lights to grow plants.

“One student told me that his family played it and it was fun,” Olivarria said. 

Using the program Scratch, students can program their own animated interactive games and stories for Insight from Mars.

“Another one of my students is still using the website to code,” Olivarria said. “He shows me a new coding clip every week. It was wonderful to get the students engaged in hands-on learning and so nice that all of the students had their own supplies.”

Miller hopes the Mars project raises parents' awareness of 4-H in their community and the variety of projects the UC ANR youth development program offers.

Will Heryford of KCRA visited Avery Middle School and interviewed the students about the hands-on exercise

By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach