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Nebula program provides unique opportunities for gifted and talented students

Nebula web

(01/20/2022) Students in Nebula, a school-within-a-school program for gifted students at Eisenhower Elementary School, recently completed a coding project that mimicked NASA's Perseverance mission, the most recent rover to land on Mars.

Nebula is a talent development program for third through fifth grade students. The goal of this program is to provide a core curriculum, specialized in supporting acceleration by compacting and extending Minnesota academic standards while still providing differentiated learning experiences that foster curiosity, exploration, and academic growth.

“Being part of Nebula is a unique experience to go through because you get challenged in a good way,” said Jillian Paske, a fourth grade student at Nebula. “I have made so many great friends from Nebula and I get to be a better person and I get to learn more every day.”

The Mars rover project was done by third and fourth grade students this year, while the fifth grade students will work on a different Mars coding project in the spring. For the coding lessons, integration technology teachers from the district visit the classroom to teach the students advanced coding skills using an application called Scratch. The students started with a practice project and eventually applied their skills to coding a simulated Mars mission where their rover travels a path on the surface of Mars revealing important events that take place at each site. The students used LEGOⓇ WeDo 2.0 kits to build their rovers and the LEGO coding software to program their rovers. 

“I really like how we built up to it,” said Gustav Barth, a fourth grader in the Nebula program. “When you let it play you feel really proud of what you have done. It’s really fun and I really like it.”

The coding project provides the students important skills, which include communication and collaboration, creativity, logic, problem solving, self-starting initiative, abstract thinking, project planning, attention to detail, resilience and perseverance. 

“It’s getting more fun by the second,” said fourth grader Summit Wiley. “It has really developed my coding skills.”

Each winter, parents/guardians of Anoka-Hennepin students who meet the selection criteria (performing in the top 1-2 percentile across multiple measures in comparison to their peers) are directly contacted to inform them of this programming option for the following school year. 

The appeals window is now open for students who do not meet the criteria, or live outside the district, through Friday, Feb. 18. Students considered are those who consistently score in the 98-99 percentile in math and reading. For more information on the application process and to apply, visit

Nebula began in the fall of 2019. The name came from a student vote, while a new logo, also voted upon by the students, was unveiled in the fall.