Haller Middle School student Alex Cunningham works with the habitat building exercise during the school’s Mars colony day on June 18.


Students at Arlington’s Haller Middle School built solar panels, aquaponics systems to recycle water and other projects on June 18 in an attempt to built a mock Mars colony.

This is the third year that students at the school have gathered before their summer break to put together a colony.

“Sixth graders are working as astronauts on the surface of Mars where they are building full, life-size habitats, using robotics to rescue a stranded astronaut, fuel-specialists working on propellents to get their rockets off the ground,” said Rachel Harrington, a teacher at the school and main organizer for the day.

The projects allow students to directly interact with the material.

“It is hands-on and it is engineering and design at its best,” said Harrington.

Many students appreciated being able to get that kind of experience.

“It’s very hands-on. In all my other classes we just read out of a book so I really enjoy we could actually engage with everything,” said student Chloe Falk.

“I liked how it was engaging and you got to do the stuff we learned in class,” said student Ryan Morzelewski.

The older students work during the day as lieutenants, captains and commanders to help lead the project and gain leadership skills.

Cole Ford is a high school student now but returned to Haller Middle School to participate as this year’s commander.

“I’ve been doing this since seventh grade,” he said.

“I like just getting more used to being in command and being a part of something not for yourself, but as part of something bigger,” he said.

Ford also said that the day is just fun.

“Being able to hang out and get your hands-on stuff, figure out problems, it’s a super fun to be a part of,” he said.

Students learn about science related to space and their standards throughout the year in preparation for the day.

“It ties so closely to our standards, but mostly we do it because it’s so engaging and it’s real-world. They’re doing instead of watching or reading,” said Harrington.

“Every standard they learn throughout the year all revolves around space science and this is the culmination of that,” she said.

Students said they learned a lot about the practice of engineering during the process as well.

“There’s a lot of trial and error. You have to keep trying and you have to persevere,” said Falk.

“I’ve enjoyed being able to communicate with others and work together to try and succeed in challenges,” said student Ley Martin.

The problems of living in space on Mars is something that is still being worked on by scientists, said Harrington.

“What’s really interesting about this is that it is what the best and brightest are working on right now,” she said.

“This is the generation that will eventually land on Mars so that’s a draw for them as well,” she said.

Harrington wanted to thank the many local organizations and individuals who have helped support the day for the last three years.

“We have community members that have built sphere obstacles, the district supports us, we have the Arlington Education Foundation which has given us grants, and in addition we had Walmart and Lowe’s donate some supplies,” she said.

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