Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Explore! Mars: Inside and Out

Setting the Scene


Setting the Scene, a 60-90 minute activity for children ages 8-13, engages participants in an exploration of Mars' surface features by comparing and contrasting them with surface features on Earth. As planetary investigators, teams of children examine images of volcanos, channels, and craters on Earth and Mars. The activity can be divided into two sessions, and is the lead-in to hands-on investigations of how volcanos, channels, and craters form.

What's the Point?


For each child:

For each Earth Team of 3 to 4 children:

For each Mars Team of 3 to 4 children:

For the Group:

For the Facilitator:



1. Distribute the GSI Journals and a pencil to each child, and invite them to become planetary investigators! The planets they will investigate are Mars and Earth. They will begin their investigation by making observations, asking questions, and recording and sharing information.

2. Allow the children a few minutes to examine their journals. Ask them to fill out the first two pages with their name and what they know — and want to learn — about Mars. Explain that they will record their observations, findings, and questions in their GSI Journals for each activity — just like scientists do.

3. Team up! Divide the children into two groups; half will investigate Earth and half will investigate Mars. Let them know that everyone will have the opportunity to explore both planets! Subdivide the Mars group into smaller teams of 3 or 4 children. Do the same for the Earth group. Provide each Mars team with the Mars images, and each Earth team with the Earth images.

4. Invite the teams to examine the images and organize them by the types of features they observe.

Have each child record what ideas they have at this point in time in their GSI Journal. Some of the questions — about where the features occur and how they form — will be addressed in the next part of the activity.

5. After all the teams have completed their observations, have them reconvene with their Mars - or Earth - group and share their observations. Ask each team to add any observations they missed to their journals.

6. Pair each Mars team with an Earth team. Each of the new Earth/Mars teams should have 6-8 children.

7. Invite each team to compare and contrast the features they observed.

Provide each team with a sheet of poster paper and have them make a list of the features, and of the similarities and differences they observe for the feature

8. Bring the teams together to discuss what they observed. Make a chart, similar to their posters, to record the information.


Encourage the children to complete the information for each feature in their GSI Journals.

Share with the children that in the next part of their investigation they will create models to discover how the features they have just observed formed!