Curiosity: is there life on Mars?

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Organic molecules found on the surface of Mars (source)

Earlier this month, NASA announced that the Curiosity Rover on the Martian surface had found ancient organic molecules by drilling down into 3-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks.

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life.

I’m completely in awe of the Mars exploration project. It blows my mind to think that there is a machine, made by humans, rolling around on the surface of another planet and sending back pictures and information. Not only that, but the machine is drilling into Martian rocks, cooking the extracts at 500°C and analysing the vapour.

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A composite selfie taken by the Curiosity Rover on the surface of Mars (source)

The machine bears the name of one of Churchill’s values: Curiosity. It is this desire to find things out that has driven us on to this incredible achievement. The project combines Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Geology, Design, Technology, Engineering, Computing, and Mathematics just in terms of the exploration programme. The interest in these subjects started for each of the people involved when they were at school. They have built their careers on applying what they have learned to this amazing project, demonstrating creativity and ingenuity at every turn. When I look at the “selfies” taken by the rover on the surface of Mars, or I see the hole in the Martian surface left by its drill, I am staggered at what we can achieve.

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Artist’s impression of the Mars 2020 Rover on the surface (source)

There are two more missions to Mars planned in the near future: NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars programme. What other secrets will they discover about the mysterious Red Planet? These missions are laying the ground work for a manned mission. Perhaps the generation of students currently at school will be the generation that first walks on the surface of another planet in our solar system. I hope they do – and it will be curiosity that takes them there.

 

Child Soldiers, by Ailís Phillips (7WKH)

This is a student contribution to the Headteacher’s Blog by Ailís Phillips, 7WKH, with the theme of kindness. If you are a student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and you want to contribute to the Headteacher’s Blog, visit the Contributions page.

You probably think that war is terrible, but that it is something done by adults in far away countries and has nothing to do with children, like us.

Well I thought so too until I read a news article about child soldiers. You might think this was a one-off; just a particularly awful story. I investigated a little bit further and discovered it wasn’t as rare as I first thought.

Myths and statistics

The name ‘child soldiers’ is not exactly accurate as, though many do fight, some are used as messengers, porters, cooks, spies or for sexual purposes. There are many other myths surrounding ‘child soldiers’ such.

  • Myth: child soldiers are only used in Africa.
  • Reality: the UN estimated in 2016 that there were 20 conflict zones around the world that involved children
  • Myth: that all child soldiers are boys
  • Reality: 30-40% of child soldiers are girls
  • Myth: that children are all are forced to be child soldiers
  • Reality: although many are (especially by ISIS), some are lured by promises of education and/or money.

Not only is being a child soldier a terrible experience when it happens, but it will affect the children for the rest of their lives. Many will not be accepted back into their communities,  particularly in cases where a girl has had a baby with a soldier.

 

What can you do?

Although there isn’t much we can do to help directly, we can raise money and fund-raise or donate money to charities campaigning to end the problem of using children as soldiers, and to support ex-child soldiers. Two great charities working in this area are Child Soldiers International  and Warchild – as both help those affected.

I reached out to these charities by raising awareness of the problem, and now I invite you to do the same, to help other children who have never had the chance at life you had. Help them live the life that is being taken away from them and support others that do.

How believing in others helps them to believe in themselves

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“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t…you’re right.”

Those words, spoken by Henry Ford, the American business magnate and founder of the Ford motor company, perfectly capture the importance of self-belief in achieving success. His statement underpins a lot of what I know to be true from my long experience in education. What interests me, as a teacher, a leader and also as a parent, is how to help children and young people who think that they can’t, believe that they can.

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One really interesting study into this area was carried out in 2014 by David Yeager, Geoffrey Cohen and colleagues. They studied a group of high school students in America, who all completed the same essay task. Teachers provided written feedback on the essays in the margins and at the end, with suggestions for improvement. The researchers intercepted the essays and added a post-it note to each one. Half of the essays had a post-it note which read: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” The other half had identical post-it notes with the message: “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your work.” Neither the students nor their teachers knew that there were different messages on the post-it notes, as the essays were handed back in wallet folders.

The first post-it contains an important message about high expectations, positive regard, and the belief in improvement. The second is a carefully-worded neutral message designed to act as a “placebo” or “control” in the experiment – in other words, it should have no impact on the motivation of the students.

All students in this study were given the opportunity to revise their essays and hand in an improved version the following week. About 40% of students who had received the “placebo” feedback did so, but double that number – 80% – of the students who had received the positive regard feedback chose to revise their work.

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What this study – and others like it – demonstrate, is that showing others that we believe in them makes them more likely to believe in themselves. Twice as many students took time to improve their work and make more progress when they were told that someone believed in their potential. I believe in the potential of every single student at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form to achieve great things. Telling the students that, and showing them that belief in our actions, is the most powerful thing that we grown-ups can do.