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The plotters of Mars: Byrom TAG students envision life on the Red Planet

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Melissa Juskowiak, the Talented and Gifted (TAG) teacher at Byrom Elementary School, shows a slide of a PowerPoint of Mars during an after-school program for TAG students at the school.Talented and Gifted students at Edward Byrom Elementary School got a late start on their five-day weekend, staying after school on Tuesday for a futuristic exercise.

It didn't take much work on the part of TAG teacher Melissa Juskowiak to get her group of students interested in Tuesday's after-school activity: building models — using simple elements like pipe cleaners, straws, popsicle sticks and paper — of structures and modes of transportation that might be used by humans on Mars.

“My favorite part about it is the conversations that happen,” she marveled, as students animatedly debated in their table groups how human explorers would traverse the Martian surface, transport essential supplies to the planet and create a livable environment there. “They have some great ideas and great questions.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-graders Hannah Wilken, left, and Lydia Magnuson work together to build a structure to support life on Mars during an after-school program for Talented and Gifted (TAG) students at Byrom Elementary School.Fourth-grader Sutton Christianson suggested using a catapult for transportation, which could take advantage of Mars' low gravity and atmospheric pressure. Two fifth-graders, Lydia Magnuson and Hannah Wilken, decided to build a model of a jetpack and helmet for personal exploration of Mars.

“Jetpacks are awesome, and it could be really fast,” Hannah said.

After she and Lydia built a tiny version of the jetpack and helmet, Hannah exclaimed proudly to their table group, “See? See how my idea works? It so works.”

Mitchell Steele, also in fifth grade, got to work on sketching out a verdant landscape with grass and trees. Asked how he intended to transport trees all the way to Mars, he suggested saplings could be planted and then fertilized with human waste — an idea perhaps inspired by The Martian, Ridley Scott's box-office hit of the fall.

Fifth-grader Dillon Cody was full of knowledge and ideas about Mars and space exploration.

“I just like science a lot,” he explained shyly after rattling off a stream of facts about Mars and Venus earlier in the workshop.

Dillon figures that colonizing Mars will take a lot of ships to carry essentials from Earth, such as trees, soil and breathable air. He also thought human explorers should try to find a water source on the Red Planet, now that evidence of flowing water has been confirmed.

Each elementary school in the Tigard-Tualatin School District offers a monthly after-school activity for TAG students. Juskowiak is the TAG specialist for both Byrom Elementary and Alberta Rider Elementary School, where she did the same activity with students last week.

“It's just to provide enrichment for the students identified as TAG in the district,” Juskowiak said. “Not all the schools do the same activity, but … we share activity ideas.”TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifth-graders Mitchell Steele, left, and Ben Wyland work together to build a structure to support life on Mars during an after-school program with the Talented and Gifted (TAG) students at Byrom Elementary School.


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