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Teacher Field Trip to "Mars on Earth"

Sheri (left) relaxes with teachers and a Mars mini-rover.

When a school bus pulled up to the edge of the giant Ubehebe crater in California's Death Valley, a group of teachers climbed out and peered inside the blown-out hole. Long ago, a volcano had spewed ash and lava onto the surrounding terrain. Despite the 114 degree temperature and gusty winds, the elementary and high- school teachers were thrilled. They had come to this forsaken place as members of an educational outreach program comparing geologically harsh places on Earth with the environment on Mars.

Ubehebe Crater bears an eerie likeness to features on Mars.

Coordinating everything on the trip from the supply of bottled water to lessons on Martian minerology was Sheri Klug, a tireless "teacher of teachers" with a passion for Mars. As the Mars K-12 Outreach Program Coordinator at Arizona State University, Sheri works with teachers and students nationwide to expand their understanding of Mars and loves leading teachers on "Martian" field trips. "When teachers get field experiences, it encourages them to get on the cutting edge of activities that unfold with the missions," she says. Once teachers are awed by the wonders of science, Sheri believes, "the way they promote science literacy is incredible."

While Sheri's mission is to educate and inspire teachers, she gets her own inspiration from the Mars team at JPL. "They're my heroes," she says, admiring their focus and passion for their jobs and helpfulness for her outreach program. She feels they do a fantastic job educating and exciting teachers about the possibilities Mars offers for exploration.

Minus the vegetation, Death Valley's stark features are similar to the Martian surface.

Sheri's appreciation of outreach began early in her teaching career when she joined a Mars Pathfinder field study program to learn about that mission and its goals. She later helped run the Mars Pathfinder workshop for JPL and won a NASA Fellowship. As a teacher, Sheri became more involved in Mars outreach programs and finally took on the job full-time, heading up ASU's program of lectures, workshops and field studies.

The success of Sheri's outreach is measured by what teachers take back to their classrooms. "It was awesome," said Jean Hopkins, a Death Valley participant and an instructional specialist from San Antonio, Texas. "The neatest thing was it became real to my kids because I was there in the desert. It made Mars more relevant to them."

For eighth-grade science teacher Charles Lindgren from Scituate, Massachusetts, the Death Valley field trip helped provide a new set of lessons. He plans on showing students photographs of Mars and Death Valley--not revealing which terrain is which--to give them a better idea of the similarities between the two planets.

All this is good news to Sheri, who wants to continue touring craters and dunes as a way of bringing our distant planetary neighbor closer to our students. If you're a teacher and would like to participate in Sheri's educational events, sign up now on her Arizona State University site!

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