Ecosystem On Mars

Biological Sciences


This WebQuest is intended to have learners use collaboration, creativity, and internet resources to explore the principles and characteristics of ecosystems and apply their knowledge designing self-sustaining ones to be used during space journey and after landing the planet Mars. For this purpose, they should have an understanding of energy flow through ecosystems (energy pyramid, food chains, and the basic niches (producers, consumers, decomposers).

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
- Aldo Leopold, 1948



Hello, folks!

You are part of a secret NASA project that has to design a future mission to Mars Your specific task is to design two sustainable ecosystems – one adapted for the spaceship and the other developed regarding the specific Martian conditions. Be careful! It will be a long journey that is expected to take at least 6 months and you will have to consider every detail. However, you should keep in mind that you will not have much space and your ecosystems should be sustainable and well-functioning. To do this you must take care of your ecsystems’ internal balance and anticipate their development.

But before that, here are some things you will need to know:

  1. The goal of this WebQuest is to help you understand ecosystems in terms of their functioning as self-sustaining communities. You have to explore the main principles of ecosystems and use them to create projects for sustainable ones.
  2. The learners should work in two groups of 5 to 10 people. Each one of them should explore the principles of ecosystems and develop an understanding so that he/she can use them to design a new one. There should be formed two teams of scientists – one to choose species and design a space ecosystem to serve different purposes during the long journey (for example, providing oxygen, fresh food, supporting astronauts’ psychic health, etc.) and another team responsible for designing an experimental ecosystem to be created on Mars. The two research teams should prepare PP presentations to share their ideas and discuss how the two projects could be combined in the best possible way. Although the two teams have separate tasks they should work together to support a successful mission to Mars.
  3. The information should be well organized, factual, and well-formed. It is important to demonstrate a good level of internet and technology use.


At this step, each learner needs to use the online resources for this Webquest and research what are ecosystems’ characteristics and fundamental principles. When you go through the resources listed below you should pay special attention to the energy flow you have to design in the ecosystems you are going to create, and have in mind the water and carbon cycles.

When you think about how your ecosystem will start you definitely will need to know what an autotroph is. Have a look at this encyclopedic entry:

When you consider the autotroph you are going to begin with, you will be able to think accordingly about the next levels of consumers.


What is an ecosystem?


Ecosystem in space: 


Planet Mars and developing an ecosystem on it: 


"I think in understanding how to build an artificial biosphere and make it work we will provide more information about how to keep this one going. Even at best, any biosphere that we could construct for centuries to come is going to be a mere shadow of what we have every day on the Earth",
- John Rummel (

Humans are a resilient species and we do learn and teach others quickly. This capability to communicate and cooperate may be our greatest tool. As it is stated in the following video ( maybe humans will use their creativity to design species to survive the hard conditions of a long space journey and foreign planets. But even if these specially designed species can survive the hard conditions of extraterrestrial worlds, they would be able to do this only by keeping an internal balance of their ecosystem, which is the next and maybe more difficult step.

It is almost sure that someday humans will go to other planets and this may happen even sooner than most of us suppose according to this TED lecturer:

However, until that happens considering the difficulties of creating an ecosystem on another planet could help us realize the beauty of our own and try to save its unique diversity.

Meanwhile, you can make a final Mars photo of your team using the NASA webpage: and keep it as a souvenir from your work in this WebQuest.

Evaluation of learning achievements

In this section we will not dive very deep into the underlying educational theories about evaluation and testing: there’s too much out there than we could possibly cover in this small project report.

Instead, we want to concentrate on procedures that enable both students/pupils and their teachers to establish if the learning goals of the Webquest were achieved and, if so, to what extent. We recommend teachers make use of a combined evaluation procedure, that consists of:

  1. Statements by learners (after being asked to do so)
    • telling what they learned about the subject (knowledge-oriented self-evaluation): now (after going through the Webquest) I know that …
    • telling what he/she learned about herself/himself (formative evaluation, in this case, diagnostic self-evaluation): now (after going through the Webquest) I know about myself that I …
      This pair of basic statements add up to a so-called learner report, in which the pupil/student reflects on what the Webquest brought him/her in terms of acquired knowledge and new personal views and attitudes concerning the subject.

    For instance:

    • ‘I learned that in medieval times the hygiene of people was hardly a concern which helped to let epidemic diseases like the Plague cause so many casualties’ Or:
    • ‘I learned the facts and I know the earth is warming, but I cannot understand why people were so stupid to pollute the world and let it warm up so much.
    • ‘I learned from the information about diseases that this subject is more appealing to me than I would expect in advance: maybe I should consider a medical career’. Or:
      ‘The Webquests confirms what I thought already: I could not care less about the climate and global warming. In fact, I thought it was all a hoax and I still do!’

    This kind of assessment seems more subjective than it actually is: in his standard work on testing and evaluation (and much more), simply called Methodology (1974), Prof. A.D. de Groot described how consistent the student’s self-evaluations appeared to be: when asked again after 5 or 10 years, their evaluation would almost be the same. De Groot advised teachers to use the learner report as a start for joint evaluations, striving for consensus between teacher and student/pupil about the learning outcomes and their value for the learner, but also compared with the learning objectives as stated in the curriculum.

  2. The learning achievements are visible in the output produced by the students: it is physical evidence: reports, answers to questions asked in the Webquest, presentations, and performance during presentations (preferably recorded). The teacher completes an evaluation grid stating clearly what the learning outcomes for the student/pupil are. The categories in the grid can be modified by the teacher to cover more precisely the content of a Webquest.

    >We advise teachers to use the grid to start a joint evaluation discussion, aiming at consensus or at least understanding between the teacher and the student/pupil about the learning outcomes: were they achieved (as planned in the curriculum and communicated before the Webquest started) and to what extent? To communicate the learning goals clearly before any learning activity starts, is a transparency requirement that is widely acknowledged in the educational community. The history of making learning objectives explicit goes back to the evaluation ‘Bible’ by Bloom, Hastings and Madaus: ‘Handbook on formative and summative evaluation of student learning’ (1971), a standard work that also served as inspiration for the earlier mentioned Prof. De Groot.


The procedure also applies when students/pupils have worked together on a Webquest. The teacher will ask questions about individual contributions: ‘What did you find? What part did you write? How did you find the illustrations? Who made  the final presentation?’

All the evidence (of learning efforts and outcomes plus joint evaluations) is preferably stored in the learning portfolio of the student, or in any other suitable storage system (folders with written or printed documents, online collection of files, etcetera ).

Changes in personal points of view and feelings are harder to value and here the consensus between teacher and student/pupil about experiences during the learning process provides essential insights.

The grid below gives an example of how the evaluation of the learning process and achievements can be shaped: what kind of reactions to the Webquest does the teacher expect and how valuable are they? Is the teacher capable to explain the value or score allocated to answers or presentations given by pupils? Does the pupil/student understand the evaluation outcomes, and does he/she agree? If an agreement (consensus is not possible, it is still the teacher who decides how to value the student’s work.

Please note that the text in the grid addresses the pupil/student directly: this is important and it is in fact a prerequisite for using such an evaluation grid: it is specifically meant to enable a discussion of learning results between teacher and student and not to communicate learning achievements of learners to others who had no direct role in the Webquest.

Evaluation Grid

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Funded by
sCOOL-IT erasmus logo EN

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Talk To Us

t: +357 2466 40 40
f: +357 2465 00 90

Funded by
sCOOL-IT erasmus logo EN

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Talk To Us

t: +357 2466 40 40
f: +357 2465 00 90

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