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Earth and Space Science

Life on Other Planets

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Nora Kelly Nora 395 Points

I teach an astronomy course to students grades 4-6. Based on a beginning of the year questionnaire, most students are interested in learning about the possibility of life on other planets. I love to teach to their interest level, and I'm looking for ways to make lesson plans on this topic. So far, I'm finding it difficult due to the lack of concrete data. We've discussed how there was once water on Mars, but haven't gone much further than that. I considered having them research themselves and then make a testimony based on their research, but thought it might be a bit advanced for the younger students. Does anyone have any good ideas on how to teach theories related to life on other planets? Any good websites to share? Thanks!

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Nora, You might take the approach of discussing what living things on earth need to survive - oxygen, food, light, etc. Then have the students research planets in our solar system and decide if humans could live there, and if so, what would they need to accomplish that. This approach brings it into the personal lives of young students and makes it easier for them to understand. I looked through the Learning Center resources for life in outer space and the resources seemed to be geared to high school. So you are right that is is hard to find resources for young students.

Jennifer Glass Jennifer Webber 770 Points

Hi there, We are covering the same thing and I struggled with what to do to help students. Someone posted on EMSS the following news article: I liked using the Mars Rover Curiosity site because it talked about the expedition's current search for signs of life on Mars. As well Discovery Education (united streaming) has some excellent videos about the potential for life on planets outside of our solar system.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92326 Points

Hi Nora,
You might be interested in the free archived webinar on your topic:
Archive: Properties of Living Things: Searching for Life on Mars, January 10, 2012
Also, this article:
NASA: Planets in a Bottle activity
This NASA site has lots of great info and resources as well:
NASA: Planets
Planet Quest

Cris DeWolf Cris DeWolf 11965 Points

You should also check out the search for earth-like exoplanets. You students may enjoy the Alien Safari activity on this website which explores organisms that life in extreme environments here on Earth - extremophiles.

Mitchell Miho Mitchell Miho 3090 Points

When teaching the students about the possibility of other life forms, there will be a ton of different theories and beliefs that your students will bring with them when they get to class prior to even teaching about the universe. It's really interesting and sometimes mind blowing how the "religious" students try to explain their values but have no real concrete facts other than God did it. Even though you are not supposed to have discussions about religion, it really makes the students think critically on how to disprove the God theory with science. Another good piece of evidence is the information on the planet that scientists have found to be similar to ours in its distance and size relative to its sun. Also, we have observed so many different solar systems and galaxies in the universe. Just pose the question "do you actually think that out of all the planets in the universe, we are the only one with living species on it?" I love this question because the kids like talking about aliens and sci-fi and when i posed this question to all of my periods they really got into the discussion trying to prove and disprove one another.

Nora Kelly Nora 395 Points

Wow! Thank you everyone for sharing all of your resources! I'm very excited to work with the students and explore and discover the possibility of life on other planets.

Nora Kelly Nora 395 Points

I also, if anyone is interested, I just read this article on unknown microbes they just discovered in Russia that might support the idea of life on other planets. I love how there are new discoveries in science every day!

Kristen Girch Kristen Girch 2895 Points

I am currently a graduate student, and I was just given an assignment called "Invent an Alien" which I was given Mars to research and develop an alien who'd be able to live on the planet according to the structure of Mars as it is now. I was stumped so I started searching for ideas and found Flavio Mendez's, who gave us the assignment, post on the community board. You may want to look through the posts to see if any of their ideas spark your interest. Also, in my search of "life on Mars" I came across an interesting video you might find intriguing

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64775 Points

I just read two very interesting articles that might be useful to those that teach astrobiology.

Lichen on Mars describe how a lichen that is native to Antarctica was placed in a Mars simulation chamber to see what type of life might be found on other planets.

The Toughest Life on Earth describes experiments with lichens on the International Space Station.

How might you use these articles in your classes?

Astrid Rivarola Astrid Rivarola 2720 Points

They could start by learning about the theories of origins of life on Earth and then try to apply the same theories to other planets. For example, if a planet is discovered and its current conditions are similar to Earth's when life was originated, then the student may imply that life might be possible as well. hope it helps! Astrid Rivarola FIU student

Dorothy Ginnett Dorothy Ginnett 28250 Points

Hi Nora -
Great topic and high interest for students!

There are some excellent NSTA Science Scope journal (middle school) articles on Astrobiology.
They should give you some terrific background as a teacher and the activities could be modified for the younger ages.

Astrobiology: The Study of the Origin, Evolution and distribution of Life in the Universe by Daniella Scalice and Krissina Wilmoth, Science Scope

Astrobiology in the Classroom by Tim Brennan, Science Scope

Astrobiology: Discovering New Worlds of Life by Charles C. James and Cindy Lee Van Dover, Science Scope

Commentary: Professional Development and Resources for Educators in Astrobiology, Science Scope

- Dorothy

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