“Is there life elsewhere in the universe?” “How did life originate and evolve?” “What is the future of life?” Astrobiology questions such as these can stimulate meaningful classroom discussions about the nature of life and one’s place in the cosmos. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) is NASA’s flagship in the exciting, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology. In addition to catalyzing and promoting interdisciplinary research in astrobiology, NAI’s goals include training the next generation of astrobiologists. To accomplish this, NAI provides a wealth of resources and support for educators.
For the past seven years, NAI has been engaged in the innovation and delivery of classroom materials and professional development experiences for educators in astrobiology. NAI has produced various products for the classroom including short, independent activities, and has supported the production of a yearlong, modular curriculum focused on evolution. Numerous professional development experiences, from hour-long sessions at conferences to weeklong immersive field and laboratory experiences, are the cornerstone of NAI’s commitment to educators.
NAI’s products and programs highlight the process of science through inquiry-based learning, and showcase the humanity and experiences of the astrobiologists themselves. To facilitate ease of use, NAI’s materials always point to the National Science Education Standards. Whenever possible, working astrobiologists are supported to interact with educators directly either in the classroom or as featured speakers in workshops.
In terms of classroom materials and professional development support, the collective offerings of the NAI span the spectrum of versatility. Developed by the SETI Institute, also an NAI Lead Team, the ninth-grade, interdisciplinary, modular curriculum Voyages Through Time (VTT) is centered on the theme of evolution. The activities and lessons of VTT guide the students through the evolution of the cosmos, planetary systems, habitable worlds and life, humanity, and technology.
Focused on VTT, the Astrobiology Summer Science Experience for Teachers, or ASSET, will be held from July 10–16, 2005, at San Francisco State University (SFSU), San Francisco, California. ASSET is a six-day astrobiology institute for high school science teachers conducted by the SETI Institute. Teachers explore astrobiology through science talks, experience lessons from VTT, learn about inquiry-based science teaching and learning, and plan professional development outreach activities. Graduate science education credits are available through SFSU, and all participants receive a copy of VTT. Information and applications can be found at http://www.voyagesthroughtime.org.
The University of Arizona, another NAI Lead Team, offers an online graduate course in astrobiology for educators. The course uses a specially designed set of lab activities, Life in the Universe Activities Manual, to accompany one of the primary texts. While the course allows participants to complete the work on their own time schedules, teachers must log in daily and complete several group projects during the semester. Information regarding upcoming courses can be found at http://btc.montana.edu/ceres/astrobiology.
NAI has helped support the Astro-Venture project for several years. Astro-Venture is an educational, interactive, multimedia web environment highlighting astrobiology research. The site focuses on searching for and building a planet that is suitable for human habitation, and leads students through inquires into astronomy, biology, geology, and atmospheric sciences. Astro-Venture can be found at http://astroventure.arc.nasa.gov.
In addition to these products and programs, several other summer workshops are offered through NAI’s network. Laboratory-oriented experiences are offered by NAI’s Lead teams at the University of Pennsylvania, the Marine Biological Laboratory, and the University of Hawaii. NAI’s Lead team at NASA Ames Research Center partners with the Lunar and Planetary Institute to offer a more field-based course every summer where places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon have been explored in an astrobiological context. NAI’s University of Washington team sponsors Project Astrobio, bringing together local scientists and teachers in a yearlong innovative partnership. Information on all of these programs and other classroom materials is available on NAI’s “For Teachers” website at http://nai.nasa.gov/teachers.
Daniella Scalice (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) and Krisstina Wilmoth (e-mail: Krisstina.L.Wilmoth@nasa.gov) administer the Education and Public Outreach program at the NASA Astrobiology Institute from its central office at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.