The Best New STEM Education Resources from NASA-JPL in 2021

In 2021, we added nearly 80 STEM education resources to our online catalog of lessons, activities, articles, and videos for educators, students, and families. The resources feature NASA's latest missions exploring Earth, the Moon, Mars, asteroids, the Solar System and the universe beyond. Here are the 10 resources our audiences visited most this year. NASA's Mission to Mars Student Challenge To kick off the year, we invited students, educators, and families from around the world to create their own mission to Mars as we counted down to the Perseverance rover's epic landing on the Red Planet in February. More than one million students participated in the Mission to Mars Student Challenge, which features seven weeks of guided education plans, student projects, and expert talks and interviews highlighting each phase of a real Mars mission.It's no surprise that this was our most popular product of the year. And good news: It's still available and timely! With Perseverance actively exploring Mars and making new discoveries all the time, the challenge offers ongoing opportunities to get students engaged in real-world STEM. Need a primer on the Perseverance Mars rover mission, first? This article from our Teachable Moments series has you covered. Solar System Size and DistanceThis video offers a short and simple answer to two of students' most enduring questions: How do the sizes of planets compare and how far is it between them? Plus, it gets at why we don't often (or ever) see images that show all the planets' sizes and distances to scale. Spoiler alert: It's pretty much impossible to do.Get students exploring solar system size and distance in more detail and even making their own scale models with this student project. Code a Mars Helicopter Video GameAs you'll soon see from the rest of this list, coding projects were a big draw this year. This one took off along with Ingenuity, the first helicopter designed to fly on Mars, which made its historic first flight in April. Designed as a test of technology that could be used on future missions, Ingenuity was only slated for a few flights, but it has far exceeded even that lofty goal.In this project, students use the free visual programming language Scratch to create a game inspired by the helicopter-that-could. Make a Moon Phases Calendar and CalculatorJust updated for 2022, this project is part educational activity and part art for your walls. Students learn about moon phases to complete this interactive calendar, which shows when and where to see moon phases throughout the year, plus lists moon events such as lunar eclipses and supermoons. The art-deco inspired design might just have you wanting to make one for yourself, too. The NASA Pi Day ChallengeThis year marked the eighth installment of our annual Pi Day Challenge, a set of illustrated math problems featuring pi (of course) and NASA missions and science. Don't let the name fool you – these problems are fun to solve year round.Students can choose from 32 different problems that will develop their math skills while they take on some of the same challenges faced by NASA scientists and engineers. New this year are puzzlers featuring the OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, Mars helicopter, Deep Space Network, and aurora science. Educator guides for each problem and problem set are also available here. And don't miss the downloadable posters and virtual meeting backgrounds. Code a Mars Sample Collection Video GameAnother coding challenge using the visual programming language Scratch, this project is inspired by the Perseverance Mars rover mission, which is collecting samples that could be brought back to Earth by a potential future mission.While developing a gamified version of the process, students are introduced to some of the considerations scientists and engineers have to make when collecting samples on Mars. Code a Mars Landing As if launching a rover to Mars wasn't hard enough, you still have to land when you get there. And that means using a complex series of devices – from parachutes to jet packs to bungee cords – and maneuvers that have to be performed remotely using instructions programmed into the spacecraft's computer.Students who are ready to take their programming skills to the next level can get an idea of what it takes in this project, which has them use Python and microcontrollers to simulate the process of landing a rover on Mars. How Far Away is Space? Without giving the answer away: It's not as far as you might think.In this activity, students stack coins (or other objects) on a map of their local area as a scale model of the distance to space. The stacking continues to the International Space Station, the Moon, and finally to the future orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated to launch on Dec. 22. Build a Rover and More With ShapesYou don't have to be a big kid to start learning about space exploration. This activity, which is designed for kids in kindergarten through second grade, has learners use geometric shapes called tangrams to fill in a Mars rover design. It provides an introduction to geometry and thinking spatially.Once kids become experts at building rovers, have them try building rockets. Space Voyagers: The GameTechnically a classroom activity (it is standards-aligned, after all), this game will appeal to students and strategy card game enthusiasts alike. Download and print out a set for your classroom (or your next game night).Players work collaboratively to explore destinations including the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Jupiter's Moon Europa with actual NASA spacecraft and science instruments while working to overcome realistic challenges at their destination including dust storms and instrument failures. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kim Orr, Web Producer, NASA/JPL Edu Kim Orr is a web and content producer for the Education Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Her pastimes are laughing and going on Indiana Jones style adventures.