Christine Hartland’s gifted/self-contained classroom of fifth-graders has been working on a hypothesis about global warming on Mars since the school year began.

As the only class at Kyrene Monte Vista Elementary, and likely the district, in the Mars Student Imaging Program, the students have been doing work that is usually reserved for high school students.

The class came up with their own questions, narrowed them down to one, and began working on collecting real data about pit-like surface holes on Mars’ ground.

“That’s the beautiful thing about it; it’s real and problem-solving,” Hartland said.

After finding the project online through NASA and Arizona State University, Hartland knew she wanted to try it out with her class of 30 students.

While it took some time to get the project going, as they needed to present a nearly seven-page proposal for their research ideas and gathered hypothesis, Hartland said she is eager to do it again next year.

“It’s a learning curve for me, too,” Hartland added.

For a portion of their day, weaved into their science curriculum, the class looks at older images of Mars’ surface, looking for an area of ground that they want photographed in real time.

The hypothesis is that more sublimated holes will be there now than before, in favor of global warming on the red planet. The class will then send their coverage area to the Mars Odyssey, which will then take the real-time photos of the area. Near the end of the school year, the students will present their final research to the program and their ASU sponsor.

“It’s a cool project to do,” Evan Travis, 10, said of the program.

During their project time one morning, the students entered in data at their computers and looked over about five images each.

With their training on how to use certain software for the imaging project, Hartland said the students also learn about careers in the field.

But actually doing real work is where she and her students are most excited.

“Our results could actually contribute to other research,” Hartland said. “It’s real science.”

For more information about the program, visit

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