BY BILL FERRIS

This week’s MBTN features an express flight to Mars, Web 2.0 project ideas, alternatives to book reports, and online sites where you can learn a new language. Read about all of it after the jump.

New ion engine could reach Mars in 39 days
We’re one step closer to warp drive. NASA has been leery to send astronauts on a six-month cruise to Mars — that’s a really long flight. Today’s rockets aren’t exactly fuel efficient for the purposes of interplanetary travel. However, former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz is developing a new rocket that could reach the red planet in about five weeks with a fraction of the fuel. Basically it works like this: rather than combusting fuel like traditional rockets do, the ion plasma rocket super-heats atoms (think as hot as the center of the sun here), creating and expelling plasma that propels the rocket through space. It’s an exciting development for science and space travel, and perhaps worth discussing in physics class, or possibly a way to introduce a lesson on science fiction.

20 Project Ideas Inspired by Learning 2.0
So you’ve learned about all these great online tools, but what do you do with them in class? Kim Cofino is the 21st Century Literacy Specialist at International School Bangkok in Thailand, and she knows a few things about using Web 2.0 tools in class. She lists 20 projects you can use, with ideas for every grade level. Project ideas include digital storytelling, blogging, learning about local culture, and lots more. Check out these project ideas and see which ones you can use in your classroom.

10 Technology Enhanced Alternatives to Book Reports
Raise your hand if you love book reports. Even though I can’t see what you’re doing, I’m pretty confident your hands aren’t in the air. If you’d like to try a different approach than the tried and true (and dull) book report, consider this list of alternatives from The Apple. Author Kelly Tenkely suggests creating a cartoon version of the assigned book, or recording a podcast or video about the book instead. These projects can get students collaborating, and might make them a little more engaged in their reading assignments.

18 Great Sites to Learn a New Language
They say if you want to learn a language you should go to the country where they speak it. Since that’s not an option for a lot of teachers and students, you can still get some practice outside Spanish or French class via the interweb. makeuseof.com lists 18 sites you can visit in order to learn a new tongue. Some of the sites, like LiveMocha, have appeared on Instructify before. Others, like Babbel, are new to us and may be worth a look.

Photo credit: A is for Angie on Flickr.