Thanks to the Mars Express orbiter and Beagle 2 lander, interest in Mars is currently very high. It is a great opportunity for schools to cash in on the curiosity of pupils and cover curriculum requirements in space, while also allowing the opportunity for some deeper research.
Plenty of online material has been made available. The British National Space Centre has a wonderful learning zone aimed at key stages 2, 3 and above at www.bnsc.gov.uklearningzone This includes a good set of lesson plans, worksheets and interactive activities for pupils.
More resources can be ordered from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council at www.pparc.ac.uk, again aimed at KS2 and above. The Express to Mars pack includes teachers' notes, activities, worksheets and a poster. It was produced by teachers, in collaboration with scientists and engineers.
For those who wish to take their interest in the search for life on Mars to greater depth at adult level, the Open University has introduced a 100-hour course on the subject, aimed at those with little or no scientific experience. In addition to providing information about what is already known about Mars, the course aims to follow developments of both the Beagle 2 and NASA missions. Further details are at www3.open.ac.ukcoursesbinp12.dll?C01S198 Courses start in February and again in May 2004.
The theatre team at the National Space Centre in Leicester has produced a show called Mars. It covers the history of astronomy up to the present day.
Aimed at KS2 and 3, more information can be found in the Space Theatre Programme pages at www.spacecentre.co.uk The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is running an exhibition entitled The Beagle Voyages - from Earth to Mars, linking the voyages of Charles Darwin to the Beagle 2 mission. Attractions include scientific instruments used by the crew of HMS Beagle. Admission is free.
See the schools and groups pages at www.nmm.ac.uk for opening times, booking information and details of the resources available at the museum.
The book Beagle, by Colin Pillinger (Faber pound;14.99), tells the story of Beagle 2 with reference to the first Beagle and lavish illustrations to stir pupils' interest.