Leslie C. Hunt, University of Houston-Clear Lake
Rita Karl, Lunar and Planetary Institute

Design and Development of an Interactive Web-Based Curriculum
in Support of the Space Science Education Initiative:
Mars Millennium

In support of the Lunar and Planetary Institute’s goal to provide educators and students access to on-line interactive activities as a part of it's educational mission for NASA's Office of Space Science and the Mars Millennium White House Initiative, the development of a web-based curriculum has been undertaken.  The education staff is working with graduate students in the University of Houston-Clear Lake's Instructional Technology program to design and develop a series of on-line multimedia activities.

Utilizing the scientific research, data, theories and expertise of the planetary scientists at NASA's Lunar and Planetary Institute, two prototype interactive web-based instructional units have been developed focusing on the planet Mars.  The units will be featured as part of the education programs available for K-12 educators and students accessing the LPI web page.  The Mars curriculum will be targeted to students in middle and high school (grades 5-12) and will be presented as part of LPI's support of the White House Mars Millennium Initiative which challenges students to imagine a human colony on Mars in the year 2030.  The web-based materials will be tested with the LPI gifted and talented 5th grade students who attend a weekly "Exploring the Planets" class and with educators at the LPI summer workshop, 'Liftoff 2000: Mars'.
A need for scientifically accurate inquiry-based materials to support education about the planet Mars has been identified by the Institute, the White House and educators who are interested in the future of human space exploration and colonization of Mars.  Students and educators entering into the study of Mars often have preconceived ideas and biases based on popular entertainment and misconstrued scientific data.  This curriculum addresses this issue by having students learn and apply the scientific method, review past and present scientific theory, research and data about Mars, and explore the requirements of Mars mission design.

The on-line activities focus on having students design a series of missions in preparation for a human colony on Mars utilizing the scientific method and current information known about the planet.  The final projects and mission designs are submitted to the web site for evaluation, comments and posting.   As part of the groundwork for this project students are able to research and explore the history, evolution and geology of Mars, and learn to identify geologic features and weather patterns on Mars by using Earth analogies and 3-D imagery on-line.  The Lunar and Planetary Institute is one of the world's largest Regional Planetary Image Facilities (RPIFs) which catalogues and stores all of the planetary mission imagery on-site, much of it in digital formats.

Students will have the opportunity to practice discriminating between theory and fact by applying the scientific method through a series of interactive on-line activities comparing and contrasting historical examples of unsubstantiated theories about alien civilizations on Mars (Percival Lowell's canals, Richard Hoagland's Face on Mars).  By exploring current cutting-edge scientific theory and research based on mission data; students are able to debate the previous existence of oceans and rivers on the planet and the theory that a subsurface aquifer may still exist on the planet.    Digital video, animation, graphics and text are used to allow students the opportunity to investigate the scientist's theory and the missions that support it.  By navigating through the web sites and out to NASA mission sites, students will be able to discover what implications that the discovery of water on the planet will have for a human colony.  Students can review in situ resource utilization, the making of fuel, air and water for human survival in an on-line chemistry lab.   They can also review the implications that the discovery of water on Mars has for the possibility for the existence of life (past or present) on the red planet.  Students then survey NASA's current plans for robotic and human missions to the red planet in preparation for their own designs to be submitted for posting at the web site.

This paper will outline the process used by the instructional design team as they began to systematically design and develop this web-based curriculum.  The curriculum designers will explain how the team members used learner and context analysis data to guide them as they identified the most appropriate instructional theory to use as a basis for their curriculum development.  The designers will illustrate how an instructional analysis of the subject matter impacted their selection of instructional strategies.  And, the design team will describe how all of the front end analysis data (learner, context, and instructional) guided their development of the web interface and page layout. It is intended that this paper will serve as an instructional design blueprint for other curriculum designers and educators to use, should they encounter a similar need for an interactive web-based curriculum, based on scientific theory and data, which incorporates a variety of emerging technologies, Internet tools, and innovative instructional strategies.