Montana State University

PHSX 582-801: Astrobiology for Teachers

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Sep 16-Dec 20, 2013
Credit: 3 graduate
Tuition & Fees: $835.20
Instructor(s): Sanlyn Buxner and Tracy Perkins

Register Online

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 we have created that are 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 a Education Specialist for the Planetary Science Institute and has worked in space science education and public outreach since 1996. Over the last fifteen 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 as 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.

Tracy Perkins, MS. is a faculty associate at Arizona State University and Phoenix College teaching Physical Geology and Geologic Disasters and the Environment both online and in person. She has worked in science education in formal and informal settings since 1999 providing outreach to teachers on project based learning, embedded in classrooms as an NSF GK-12 fellow, working in museums and parks, and helping develop online educational resources integrating place-based geoscience learning modules with mathematics.


(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.

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

 Program Fee $25.50
 Computer Fee$10.20

A $30 registration fee is also charged once per semester.

The costs above assume that you are taking only MSU Extended University courses during the semester that the course is offered. If you also registered for courses through the MSU Registrar, the regular MSU fee structure may apply.

A $40 late fee will be assessed if payment is not posted to your account by 3 pm (Mountain Time) of the course start date (or the business day before if the course starts on a weekend or a holiday).

To learn more about tuition and fees, please see the University Business Services' Student Accounts Web page.

Required Books/Materials

  • Bennett & Shostak, Life in the Universe. Addison-Wesley, 3rd edition.
    ISBN 10: 0321747305
    ISBN 13: 9780321747303
    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.

    Or, purchased them bundled together from myPearsonstore.

    Or, used copies from

  • NASA's Astrobiology Roadmap:
    Astrobiology Road Mapping Community:

  • 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

Register Online

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