Art of Inquiry LLC presents unique interactive, multi-year astrobiology curriculum for upper elementary and middle school students. The course welcomes students into the open field of science, fostering their curiosity and sense of wonder. According to the latest educational studies, questions matter more than answers -- and we focus on active questioning as a major goal for the course. The courses are developed and taught by Julia Brodsky, an astrophysicist by training, with many years of experience teaching International Space Station astronauts and flight controllers as well as K-12 students. Julia is a frequent presenter at educational and scientific conferences, including the AbSciCon international conference on astrobiology.
Our curriculum is not set in stone - very much the reverse; it is living and breathing, following the achievements, discoveries, and, naturally, the current theories and misconceptions in modern science. The topics are updated and moved around on a regular basis, following the needs of the students, and reflecting new scientific developments.
Fall session, Level 1 (From Cosmology to Space Mission Planning)
We start our year-long astrobiology course with a discussion on the deep concepts of cosmology and physics, such as time, space, matter and gravity, building a foundation for our future explorations, and helping the students to see themselves on a cosmic scale. From there, we move on to discuss the origin and properties of the Solar System, and briefly touch on the properties of the Sun.
In the second part of the session, we take a look at the specifics of the rocky planets, gas giants, asteroid belt and Jovian and Saturnian moons. In the process, we discuss which planets seem to be the most promising for astrobiology research, and consider the hazards and obstacles we could experience while planning a mission to those planets. The students are invited to choose a destination and plan a mission, as well as analyze trade-offs and use timeline planning tools. We also touch upon the ethics of space exploration and terraformation.
Winter session, Level 1 (From Complexity to Paleontology)
It is time to wet our toes in the vast ocean of astrobiology. In the beginning of the session, we focus on the definition of life, as well as learn about various self-organizing processes in nature, including examples from physics, chemistry, biology, ecology and sociology. The students learn to notice and recognize complexity and emergent phenomena, get familiar with the “Game of Life” simulation, and get introduced to the early ideas on the origin of life, including the “primordial soup”.
The central part of the session is devoted to changing geology, atmospheric chemistry and life forms on early Earth. We discuss and compare the proterozoic and paleozoic eons, mass extinctions, and the following rebound of life. We also share information on the 6th mass extinction that is taking place in front of our eyes.
After excursion into paleontology, we look up at the sky, and notice that astronomy is also a type of science that involves travelling back in time. We devote this part of the curriculum to the nature of light, and the ways we can use it to learn about the far-away objects that we cannot touch, or see in real time - along with illusions that might await us as we do so.
Spring trimester, Level 1 (From Exoplanets to Microbes)
The spring session introduces exoplanets and the “Goldilocks Zone”, and emphasizes the role of water and radioactivity in the Universe. We continue with exploring the role of water in supporting life and regulating the planetary temperature balance. The students enjoy discussions on different types of planetary ice, and alternative life chemistry. We review potential life precursors, “polyester cells,” “Tree of Life,” and the Last Universal Cellular Ancestor. We also touch upon astrovirology.
The second part of the session is devoted to co-evolution of planet and life, “Daisyworld” simulations, space habitats, terraformation, and genetic studies in relation to space travel.
Fall session, Level 2 (Big History and Strange forms of life)
We start the second year with a debate on anthropocentrism, and some examples from the recent history. Our next topic is “Big History” -- history in the cosmic context. We wonder about the life cycle of a star, cosmic heterogeneity and the role of cataclysms on different scales, including the Gaian Bottleneck. We continue on with a survey of current astrobiological missions, trying to anticipate some best and worst outcomes. In light of those missions, we focus on extremophiles, early Earth haze, and cryogenic life.
We continue with the discussion of the unresolved question in the origins of life, brines of the Solar System, comets and panspermia theory, and planetary contamination issues.
Second trimester, Level 2
Our second semester is devoted to cognitive astrobiology and AI in astrobiology. We will discuss consciousness, laws of group dynamics, and emergence of language. Our examples will cover unique brain of an octopus, the life of ants and naked moles, perception in animals and robots, and video games for space travel.
Third trimester, Level 2
Independent research and final project