Montana State University

PHSX 582-801: Astrobiology for Teachers

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Sep 12-Dec 16, 2016
Credit: 3 graduate
Instructor(s): Sanlyn Buxner and Heather Dalton

Course Description

Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and destiny of life in the universe. It defines itself as an interdisciplinary science at the intersection of physics, astronomy, biology, geology, and mathematics, to discover where and under what conditions life can arise and exist in the Universe. The course topics will cover the discovery of planetary systems around other stars, the nature of habitable zones around distant stars, the existence of life in extreme environments. These concepts will serve as a foundation to study possible extraterrestrial ecosystems on places in the solar system like Mars and Europa. Students will also investigate the methods used in the ongoing search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI) and search for Earth-like planets. The overarching theme of the course will be to help participants gain a fundamental conceptual understanding of the central topics of astrobiology and to empower teachers to bring these topics into their classroom by proving experiences using the instructional activities aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, Framework for K-12 Education, and the NASA Roadmap for Astrobiology Research.

Meeting Place and Times

Teachers login to the course at a time of day that best fits their schedule. It is necessary to connect at least 4 - 6 times per week and spend 9 - 12 hours each week the course is in session, working on course requirements, to stay current and successfully complete this 3 credit course. The time estimate above includes both the time teachers will spend on-line participating in group discussions and the time spent off-line working on assignments and projects.


Sanlyn Buxner, PhD. is an Education Specialist and Research Scientists at the Planetary Science Institute and has worked in space science education and public outreach since 1996. Over the last twenty years she has worked in formal and informal education in science museums, outdoor schools, and universities. Between 2005 and 2009, she worked as the Education and Public Outreach Specialist for the Mars Odyssey Gamma Ray Spectrometer and NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. In these positions, she conducted classroom outreach, curriculum development, teacher workshops, public tours, summer camps, and public and research presentations in the US and abroad. In addition to her work at PSI, she teaches science and research methodology courses at the University of Arizona. Her current research interests include examining issues related to scientific literacy; how to measure it and investigating how it is changed by education, outreach, and online media. Additionally she investigates how science research experiences can be used to improve both science understanding and empowerment of teachers and students.

Heather Dalton, MS. received her BS in Geology with a minor in Astronomy from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2004. She earned her MS in Geological Sciences from Arizona State University in 2007 and an MS in Earth Science from Rice University in 2010. During her graduate career, she concentrated on petrology, geochemistry, and planetary geology, specifically Martian meteorites. Since January 2010, she has worked as an education specialist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. In fall 2013, she became an Adjunct Professor of Geology at San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, teaching physical geology.


(1) a bachelor's degree, including college level biology or college level physics or astronomy (2) one year of experience teaching science (3) must be currently teaching science at the middle or high school level.

Target Audience

The course is designed primarily for Certified Science Teachers with two years of teaching experience who are currently teaching science at the middle or high school level. Exceptions are made on a case by base basis, please contact the instructor if you would like to take the course and do not fit the above description.

Time Commitment:

9-12 hours per week. If you are unfamiliar with this field of study and/or method of delivery, you may require more time.

Tuition and Fees

If you are accepted into a qualified online program, see the appropriate MSU Online Only Tuition and Fee table below:

If you are also taking a face-to-face course, please refer to the MSU Fee Schedules.

Required Books/Materials

  • Life in the Universe, 3/E
    ISBN-10: 0321687671 • ISBN-13: 9780321687678
    ©2012 • Addison-Wesley • Paper, 544 pp
    Published 01/07/2011 • Instock
    Approximately $132

    Life in the Universe can be purchased from Pearson.

    Prather, Offerdahl & Slater, Activities Manual for Life in the Universe. Pearson, 2nd edition.
    ISBN-10: 0805317120
    ISBN-13: 9780805317121
    Activities Manual for Life in the Universe can be purchased from Pearson.

    Approximately $52
    Or, used copies from

  • NASA's Astrobiology Roadmap:
  • A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012): (free download)

Computer Requirements:

  • Computer running Windows XP Service Pack 3 or newer or Mac OS X.5 (Leopard) or higher
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Internet access
  • Adobe (or other) PDF reader
  • Word processing software
  • Other free software that will be tested during the first week of class

This course uses a learning management system. You will learn more closer to the course start date.

For More Information

contact Sanlyn Buxner at or NTEN at (800) 282-6062.

How to Register

You must be accepted as a student to Montana State University to take this course.

Learn how to apply.

After your application has been accepted, you will register via MSU's online registration system, MyInfo.

Registration requires a PIN number. Learn how to find your PIN.

Once you have your PIN, learn how to register through MyInfo.

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