Astrobiology

Astrobiology is a full-year genuinely integrated science curriculum that weaves its way through the disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and Earth science, as well as sociology, ethics, and the psychology of human thought and behavior. It kindles interest and curiosity in students and offers an exciting entry into high-school science.

Astrobiology students experience science in a meaningful way.
Astrobiology students address exciting Challenges as they wrestle with age-old questions of how life on Earth originated, and what is life’s future on Earth and investigate the fascinating story of searching for life in the universe.

Astrobiology students learn like scientists.
Students learn about, explore, and participate in the real processes of science research and discovery through a series of inquiry-based activities.

Astrobiology is for ALL students.
The reading in Astrobiology is accessible to all students. Science content is delivered in student-friendly, easily readable, manageable bites.

Chapters

Chapter 1: Cosmic Questions

Students debate issues associated with the search for life on other worlds and write a position paper using evidence from the chapter. The central questions of astrobiology are introduced to spark students’ thinking about the nature of life and life’s prospects in the universe. Also, the differences between scientific evidence and pseudoscience are delineated.

Chapter 2: Worlds in Our Universe

Students produce a “for sale” advertisement for a world they design. Students learn about the structure of the universe. They study the planets in our solar system, various types of stars and galaxies, and the potential for habitable environments in other parts of the universe.

Chapter 3: Where Do Elements Come From?

Students design a route map that explains how and where elements like carbon are created and how they might arrive on Earth. Students discover that stars are the nuclear furnaces in which the elements and energy central to life are forged. They study the structure of atoms and elements and the forces that hold matter together.

Chapter 4: What is Life?

Students design a simple experiment to test or prove whether something in their packet of materials is alive. Students explore various living systems, from microbial gardens created in the classroom to natural habitats outside the classroom, to define a working definition of life and life’s minimum requirements for survival.

Chapter 5: The Chemistry of Life

Students design a Chemistry of Life Exhibit that illustrates why carbon is vital to the existence of life. Students learn about some of the chemical reactions central to life on Earth and about the organization of elements on the periodic table. They see how certain elements can bond to form molecules that provide energy and the raw materials essential to life.

Chapter 6: Cellular Basis of Life

Students design a Chemistry of Life Exhibit that illustrates why carbon is vital to the existence of life. Students learn about some of the chemical reactions central to life on Earth and about the organization of elements on the periodic table. They see how certain elements can bond to form molecules that provide energy and the raw materials essential to life.

Chapter 7: Evolution and Diversity

Students write a short report that uses data they collected about variation in a human trait to speculate on how the variation might influence survival under certain conditions. Students explore the process of natural selection and its role in the evolution and diversification of life on Earth.

Chapter 8: History of Life on Earth

Students complete a WebQuest that allows them to demonstrate their understanding of life on Earth and what it may tell us about life in the universe. Students explore pivotal events in Earth’s history, from the emergence of photosynthesis and the rise of oxygen levels to asteroid impacts and the resulting mass extinctions. They also examine the co-evolution of Earth and its biosphere.

Chapter 9: What is Habitability?

Students create a poster showing their designs for two new life-support modules for the ISS, one that will support a human, the other a colony of bacteria. Students identify essential habitability factors and develop a working definition of habitability. They test their ideas in several ways and ultimately try to determine which worlds in our solar system are candidates for simple and complex life.

Chapter 10: Finding Energy and Raw Materials on Habitable Worlds

Students expand on their advertisement produced in Chapter 2 and add a description of the sources of energy and carbon available for organisms that live in their world. Students study the host of strategies that life has devised to meet its energy and raw material needs. Students gain insight into life’s adaptability and its ability to survive a wide range of conditions.

Chapter 11: Planetary Systems that Contribute to Habitability

Students produce an illustrated storybook about habitability in the solar system that can be understood by 6th graders. Students define habitable zones for different kinds of life and consider the likelihood of life in the solar system and the universe.

Chapter 12: Is There Life Elsewhere?

Students make a set of 3 trading cards to represent life on the habitable world they created in Chapter 2. Students investigate the reasons water is so central to life and whether it exists on Mars and Europa. They also examine planetscale systems that regulate temperature and distribute materials essential to life, such as water, energy sources, and raw materials.

Chapter 13: Signals from Space

Students submit a proposal for building an observatory to search for intelligent life. Students become familiar with the electromagnetic spectrum and examine how it helps us learn about the universe. They study its role in communication and remote sensing. Students also study how spectroscopy provides information on the nature and composition of objects in the universe.

Chapter 14: Searching for Extrasolar Planets

Students examine dossiers (data files) of two sun-like stars. They are charged with determining whether or not each star has an orbiting planet, and if so, whether the planet lies in a habitable zone. Students investigate the methods scientists use in looking for extrasolar planets—planets orbiting stars other than our sun.

Chapter 15: Exploring Planets and Moons

Students complete a WebQuest that requires them to design a museum exhibit that is an overview of the missions that have allowed us to explore space. Students explore the gathering of information about a planet or moon over time. Focusing on Mars, they consider different types and sources of data, such as infrared imagery and experiments on the surface, and how understanding of the planet matures with each discovery.

Chapter 16: The End is the Beginning

Students select from four different activities that enable them to best exhibit what they’ve learned.

Authors

Jeff Lockwood

TERC, Cambridge, MA

Jeff Lockwood taught high-school Earth science, physics, and astronomy for 28 years and is currently a project director and curriculum developer at TERC in Cambridge, MA.

Jodi Asbell-Clarke

TERC, Cambridge, MA

Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke is the director of the Educational Gaming Environments Group (EdGE) at TERC in Cambridge, MA, USA. TERC is a not-for-profit research and development organization that has been focusing on innovative, technology-based math and science education for nearly 50 years. As the director of EdGE, Jodi leads a team of game designers, educators, and researchers who are designing and studying social digital games as learning environments that span home, school, and community. Jodi’s background includes MA in Math, an MSc in Astrophysics and a PhD in Education. She started her career at IBM working on the first 25 missions of the space shuttle as an onboard software verification analyst. After teaching at the laboratory school at University of Illinois, she joined TERC and has spent the past 20 years developing science education programs and researching new ways to promote science learning. In 2009, she co-founded EdGE at TERC.

Teon E. Edwards

EdGE / TERC, Cambridge, MA

Teon Edwards is an experienced education materials developer, having developed numerous science curricula, after-school programs, museum exhibits, digital experiences, and games for both formal and informal settings. For over fifteen years, she has worked on a wide variety of projects, including the IAT-published Astrobiology: The Search for Life in the Universe and Investigating Astronomy. She has a background in astrophysics, mathematics, and education, and she earned her Masters Degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, with a focus on the use of technology and multimedia in teaching and learning. She is co-founder of and a lead designer for the Educational Gaming Environments group (EdGE) at TERC, a not-for-profit math and science education company in Cambridge Massachusetts. As part of EdGE, she helped design, develop, run, and research the science-based games Martian Boneyards and Canaries in a Coalmine, and she's currently working on designing a series of Leveling Up games that will be validated against high-school science learning and assessments and a SportsLab: 2020 collaborative game-based environment where participants create a concept model and pitch for a sports product as part of a science-based design challenge.

Jamie Larsen

SportsLab:2020

Jamie Larsen, PI on SportsLab:2020, has developed both online and print-based science curriculum for various organizations including TERC, the GLOBE Program, Scientific American Frontiers, NOVA, and NSTA. He has extensive experience in teaching, curriculum, and professional development. He has taught at both public and private schools, served as an administrator and technology coordinator, as well as facilitated and presented at a variety of professional development workshops. His current work at TERC includes projects for the Educational Gaming Environments (EdGE) group. This work includes innovative ways to integrate science content and research on how scientific experiences and collaborations can be taught through the use of science-infused games and augmented reality. You can learn more about his work at EdGE at edge.terc.edu. Other work as a consultant includes: NSTA as reviewer, writer, and developer of on-line professional development (SciPacks), including projects funded by FDA, NOAA, and other government agencies; Developer of Slam Dunk Science, which SportsLab:2020 is based, a project he started as a middle school teacher based on his years working in a sport research lab; various other science and technology activities for grades 3-12; designer and co-facilitator of summer workshops at Penn State University on Evolution and on Extreme Environments for middle and high school science teachers.

Chris Randall

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Chris Randall specializes in developing resources that make complex ideas accessible and that advance people's understanding of science, engineering, and technology. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chris developed materials for an innovation and entrepreneurship Masters degree program. As a Senior Editorial Project Director at WGBH, he developed activity guides, websites, and professional development materials for science and engineering television shows, such as NOVA, Design Squad, and FETCH. Before joining WGBH, he developed curriculum at TERC, an R&D firm specializing in hands-on science and math curricula. His projects included developing IAT’s astrobiology text, activity guides and websites for NASA’s Mars Exploration and Astrobiology programs, professional-development programs, and museum exhibits. Chris began his career teaching science and earning a Masters in Education from Tufts University.