Marsopolis – Real, Messy Learning


My class got started this week on a 7 week project we will participate in with almost 500 other students from 9 schools in my district from 4th to 8th grade. We call the project Marsopolis. The students will work together to design the systems needed to survive on Mars (air, water, food, waste, communication, recreation, transportation and temperature control). Each 4 student group in my class is actually part of a 16 member team, but their other team members are at 3 other schools. The have to communicate via email and FAX (I’d like to use blogs starting next year too).

Yesterday each group started designing spaceships incorporating every system to get them started thinking and dealing with the problems they will face. Next week I will have each student design a creature to live on Mars taking into account the environmental conditions and resources available. Then they have to explain each part of their creature and how they survive 200 mile an hour winds, cold temperatures and every other condition on the planet.


As I observed my students today I saw that messy learning I covet so much. Students that don’t always get along, sharing ideas, asking questions, asking if it was OK to look something up (what a concept!) focusing on their work and with smiles on their faces yet. We ended the activity by taking a “tour” of each group’s spaceship design and commenting on cool, interesting or “I wish we’d thought of that” design ideas. This is really an evaluation piece because you really see what the students don’t know much about or haven’t thought much about. I always get pumped when we do this kind of work and I can’t wait to see the excitement, frustrations, realizations, mistakes, and the students learning to deal with all of it constructively.

I’ll keep you posted!


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2 Responses to Marsopolis – Real, Messy Learning

  1. Gordon Brune says:

    I came across you site via Tim Wilson ( Could you direct me to resources in order to learn more about Marsopolis and possibly doing it with our 5th grades across our district.

    Thanks in advance.

    Gordon Brune
    5th Grade Teacher
    Mamaroneck, NY

  2. Brian Crosby says:

    Gordon – Thanks for your interest. We are in the throes of putting together the resources so others could do it in their schools. But alas we have not had the time to combine our notes and put it all together. If we can manage to carve out some time this summer when those of us that have been putting Marsopolis together over the years can put it all together I will let you know.

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