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.
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, Year 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.
Winter session, Year 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. We talk about atomic structure and evolution of chemical elements, from hydrogen to the heavier ones, in the process of nucleosynthesis, and the basic chemicals of life. The students learn to notice and recognize complexity and emergent phenomena, get familiar with the “Game of Life” simulation, and introduced to the early ideas on the origin of life, including the “primordial soup”.
The second 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 introduce the concept of co-evolution of planet and life, including the “Daisyworld” simulations.
Spring trimester, Year 1 (From Exoplanets to Microbes)
We look up and notice that astronomy is also a type of science that involves travelling back in time. We devote the beginning of the session 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.
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 central theme of the session is the Icy worlds, such as Europa and Enceladus. The students enjoy discussions on different types of planetary ice, and alternative life chemistry. The last part of the session is devoted to space habitats, terraformation, and genetic studies in relation to space travel.
Fall session, Year 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 ( aka Great Filter). We survey ocurrent 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. We will also review potential life precursors, “polyester cells,” “Tree of Life,” and the Last Universal Cellular Ancestor, and touch upon astrovirology.
Second trimester, Year 2 (Cognitive Astrobiology)
Our second semester is devoted to cognitive astrobiology and AI in astrobiology. We will discuss problems with anthropocentrism, attempt to find ways to measure the intelligence of animals, wonder about the origins of intelligence, mind-reality relationship and the boundaries of the mind. We will explore the exciting field of distributed intelligence, METI languages and potential interstellar conflicts - and discuss how to make friends with extraterrestrials. 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, Year 2 ( Final project)
After completing two years of astrobiology, the students are invited to get the taste of independent research and science communication. Per students’ request, our final session is devoted to teacher-facilitated, student-led independent research, student-led mini-webinars and final project. The final project can be completed in many forms, such as a claymation, science outreach video, blog or essay, song or sci-fi story, as well as a letter to astrobiology research scientists and science fair posters. The projects will be published on the Art of Inquiry site, and shared at astrobiology conferences, per student’ approval.