Course Objectives:

The two main goals of this course are:

1. To provide information on the central concepts related to the field of Astrobiology, and

2. To provide experiences with using and creating student-centered and inquiry-based curriculum materials for teaching astrobiology that are aligned with the National Science Education Standards.

Specifically, participants will:

  • Identify NASA's science goals for the study of Astrobiology
  • Complete lab activities designed to develop knowledge and skills in Astrobiology
  • Create an original reading activity that synthesizes Astrobiology information
  • Develop inquiry-based curriculum in Astrobiology education
  • Field test an Astrobiology lab activity with middle or high school students
  • Write an implementation plan for teaching an existing lab activity with students

Weekly Objectives:

Week 1:

  • Identify and explain the importance of NASA's goals for Astrobiology program.

Week 2:

  • Explain how solar system dynamics has influenced the existence of life on Earth.
  • Describe how terrestrial mechanisms have affected life on Earth.
  • Survey students to determine existing concepts related to the study of Astrobiology.
  • Analyze student surveys to provide qualitative and quantitative data on student beliefs about astrobiology topics.
  • Discuss the use of inquiry-based learning in the classroom.

Week 3:

  • Identify Astrobiology topic and activity content goals to be used for the first Curriculum Development Project.
  • Select the lab activity and dates for the Field Test Project.

Week 4:

  • Develop reading comprehension questions at the synthesis level using the Jakosky Astrobiology text.
  • Identify extreme environments on Earth where microbial life exists.
  • Compare and contrast extreme environments on Earth to other environments found in the solar system.

Week 5:

  • Explain how remote sensing allows scientists to gather data about other places in the Solar System and universe.
  • Identify and match unknown spectra to known line spectra from a catalog.
  • Describe how false color images and line spectra are used to gather information about the temperature and chemical composition of other worlds to infer the possibility of life outside of Earth.

Week 6:

  • Identify how characteristics of living organisms help them survive in specific environments.
  • Explain how living organisms evolve and adapt to their environment.
  • Create a DNA code that represents given characteristics of a hypothetical organism.

Week 7:

  • Explain how living organisms have adapted to life in extreme environments.
  • Investigate the diversity of organic life in extreme environments.
  • Identify the processes by which organisms interact with their environments.
  • List the types and species of organisms according to which extreme environments they live in.

Week 8:

  • Sequence the major eras of Earth's geologic ages according to age, biologic and geologic factors.
  • Create a timeline that includes the name, age, geologic features and biologic lifeforms for each stage in Earth's history .

Week 9:

  • Explain how the gravitation interaction between from planets and stars cause a star's orbit to wobble.
  • Calculate the location of the center of mass for a two-body system.
  • Make inferences about planetary bodies given stellar and orbital characteristics.
  • Gain experience with using the Doppler method to find extra-solar planets.

Week 10:

  • Classify stars according to physical characteristics.
  • Define the location and specifications of the "habitable zone" for planets around stars of different stellar class.
  • Hypothesize about the possibility of life on newly discovered planets based on orbital characteristics.
  • Develop real estate ads for imaginary planets that meet qualifications for supporting earth-like life.

Week 11:

  • Explain the relationship between stellar mass and luminosity.
  • Describe how stellar characteristics influence the potential for finding complex life forms on orbiting planets.

Week 12:

  • Identify the variables that are essential to estimating the number of civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy that are capable of communicating with Earth.
  • Explain how estimations are used to approximate unknown values for specific variables in the search for life.
  • Use the Drake equation to estimate the number of civilizations that could be present in the Milky Way.

Week 13:

  • Investigate the equipment and personnel needed and science mission goals for a manned mission to Mars.
  • Write a press release that details a manned mission to Mars.


Week 14:

  • Develop a new lab activity related to one of NASA's goals for Astrobiology as the second Curriculum Development Project.