The best new STEM educational resources from NASA-JPL in 2021


In 2021, we added nearly 80 STEM educational resources to our online catalog of lessons, activities, articles and videos for educators, students and families. Resources feature the latest NASA missions exploring the Earth, Moon, Mars, asteroids, the Solar System, and the universe beyond. Here are the 10 resources our audience visited the most this year.


NASA Mission to Mars Student Challenge

To kick off the year, we’ve invited students, educators, and families around the world to create their own mission to Mars as we count down to the epic Perseverance rover landing on the Red Planet in February. Over a million students have participated in the Mission to Mars Student Challenge, which includes seven weeks of guided educational plans, student projects, lectures and expert interviews highlighting each phase of a true mission. on Mars.

It’s no surprise that this is our most popular product of the year. And good news: it’s still available and on time! With Perseverance actively exploring Mars and making new discoveries all the time, the challenge provides ongoing opportunities to engage students in real-world STEM.

Need a primer on the Mission of the Perseverance Mars rover, first? This article in our Teachable Moments series has you covered.


Animated image showing the planets at their relative distances.

Solar system size and distance

This video offers a short and simple answer to two of students’ most persistent questions: How do the sizes of planets compare and what are their distances? Additionally, this explains why we don’t often (or never) see images that show the scale sizes and distances of all the planets. Spoiler alert: it’s almost impossible to do.

Get students to explore the size and distance of the solar system in more detail and even create their own scale models with this student project.


Animated screenshot of an example Mars Helicopter video game on Scratch

Code a Mars Helicopter video game

As you’ll soon see in the rest of this list, coding projects have been a big draw this year. This took off 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 in future missions, Ingenuity was only intended for a few flights, but it has far exceeded this noble goal.

In this project, students use the free visual programming language Scratch to create a helicopter-inspired game that could.


A person holds the calendar of the phases of the Moon in front of him.

Make a calendar and a calculator of the phases of the moon

Just updated for 2022, this project is both an educational activity and an artistic part for your walls. Students learn about the phases of the moon to complete this interactive calendar, which shows when and where to see the phases of the moon throughout the year, as well as a list of lunar events such as lunar eclipses and super moons. The art deco inspired design might also make you want to create one for yourself.


NASA Pi Day Challenge Illustration

NASA’s Pi Day Challenge

This year marked the eighth installment of our annual Pi Day Challenge, a set of illustrated math problems featuring pi (of course) and NASA’s missions and science. Don’t be fooled by the name – these problems are fun to solve all year round.

Students can choose from 32 different problems that will develop their math skills while tackling some of the same challenges that NASA scientists and engineers face. New for this year are the puzzles featuring the OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission, the Mars helicopter, the Deep Space network and the science of the aurora.

Instructional guides for each issue and set of issues are also available here. And don’t miss the downloadable posters and virtual meeting backgrounds.


Animated image showing an image of Mars with a cartoon rover moving on the surface and collecting sample tube icons

Code a Video Game from the Mars Sample Collection

Another coding challenge using the visual Scratch programming language, this project is inspired by the mission of the Perseverance Mars rover, which is sample collection which could be brought back to Earth by a potential future mission.

While developing a fun version of the process, students are introduced to some of the considerations scientists and engineers should take into account when collecting samples on Mars.


Animation showing the aeroshell of the Perseverance Mars rover descending to Mars and the deployment of the parachute

Code a landing on Mars

As if launching a rover on Mars wasn’t difficult enough, you still have to land once there. And that means using a complex series of devices – from parachutes to jet packs via bungee cords – and maneuvers that must be carried out remotely using instructions programmed into the spacecraft’s computer.

Students ready to improve their programming skills can get a feel for what it takes in this project, which allows them to use Python and microcontrollers to simulate the process of landing a rover on Mars.


Coins stacked on a printed map of the Los Angeles area.

How far away is the space?

Without giving the answer: it’s not as far as you might think.

In this activity, students stack coins (or other objects) on a map of their area as a scale model of distance to space. Stacking continues towards the International Space Station, the Moon and finally towards the future orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch on December 22.


A person puts a shape on the outline of the tangram rover.

Build a Rover and more with shapes

You don’t have to be a big kid to start learning space exploration. This activity, which is designed for children in Kindergarten to Grade 2, asks learners to use geometric shapes called tangrams to complete a Mars rover design. It provides an introduction to geometry and spatial thinking.

After the kids have become experts at building rovers, have them try building rockets.


One person holds seven cards on the Space Voyagers playmat.

Space travelers: the game

Technically a classroom activity (it’s up to standards, after all), this game will appeal to students and fans of strategic card games alike. Download and print a set for your class (or your next game night).

Players work collaboratively to explore destinations such as Jupiter’s Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Moon Europa with actual NASA spacecraft and science instruments, while striving to overcome realistic challenges at their destination, including dust storms and instrument failures.

TAGS: K-12, Lessons, Activities, Educational Resources, Teachers, Students, Families, Children, Learning, STEM, Science, Engineering, Technology, Math, Coding, Programming, Mars, Solar System, Moon

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Sam D. Gomez