The Space module, “Is there life in space?” consists of six activities to be implemented over approximately six 45-minute class periods. The module uses real-world data and computer-based models to help students explore how scientists find extrasolar planets and determine their potential habitability. By the end of the module, students will be able to look at data and determine whether a planet is present around a star and reason about its habitability.

Below describes an overview of the sequence of activities:

 

Activity 1: Constructing an Argument: Space

Students will learn how to create a good scientific argument in the context of space. They will learn to develop scientific arguments through a series of questions that  ask them to make a claim, explain their answer, rate their certainty with their answer, and explain that rating.

Activity 2: The Vastness of Space

Students are introduced to the unanswered question of whether there is life in space. They learn how scientists are looking for planets outside of our solar system and are evaluating the possibility of finding a habitable planet within their lifetimes.

Activity 3: Moving Stars and Their Planets

Students investigate how scientists use Newton's Third Law of Motion to infer the presence of a planet orbiting a star. Students use interactive computational models to explore the Doppler effect, the influence various factors have on the ability to detect an orbiting planet, and the effect of telescope noise and data imprecision on scientists' ability to find planets around stars. 

Activity 4: Hunting for Planets

Students discover how scientists use the transit method to detect planets. Using interactive computational models, they investigate how a star’s light intensity changes based on the effects of planet size and angle of orbit. Next, they explore the effect of data noise on detection. Finally, students challenge each other to find planets based only on data from velocity and light intensity graphs.

Activity 5: Habitable Conditions

Students use an interactive computational model to explore the zone of liquid water possibility around different star types and determine the characteristics of stars and planets that are most favorable for habitability.

Activity 6: Looking for Signs of Life

Students explore how scientists determine the atmospheric composition of distant planets. They use an interactive computational model to explore how elements in a gaseous mixture can be identified through absorption spectroscopy. Finally, students explore what compounds are most likely to reflect the presence of, or favorability to, life on other planets.

 

Accessing the Module

1.  Go to learn.concord.org/has-space for the interactive Teacher Edition of the Space module and other teacher resources. You will need to have a teacher account to access the teacher materials. Registration is free.

2.  Set up a class on the Concord Consortium Learn portal (learn.concord.org/has-space). Assign the Space module.

3.  Have your students register for student accounts on the Learn portal. Students will join your class with the “class word” you selected.

4.  Use the embedded teaching tips and discussion tips in the Teacher Edition to help facilitate your students’ investigations in the Space module.

 

Informal Assessment

The Space module includes pre- and post-assessments. Use these to assess your students’ understanding of hunting for extrasolar planets. In addition, you can use the real-time Class Dashboard to track students’ progress through the module and give students feedback on their responses.

Use the embedded argumentation items to assess your students’ understanding of planet hunting and determining habitability. Rubrics are available to registered teachers at learn.concord.org/has-space.

 

  Funded by the National Science Foundation

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0929774 and DRL-1220756. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.