Middle School

Welcome to the Classroom Astrobiology Lessons Package for Middle School Grades (6th-8th grade). 

Thank you for your interest in the exciting, engaging Classroom Astrobiology packet to bring science and STEM education alive in your classroom! 

Please read the lesson overview and history pages. When you are ready to dig in to lesson content, you can download and use the lessons below.  If you read, pilot, or adopt any of the lesson activities, please fill out this survey or leave a comment below and tell me what you think! 

The Classroom Astrobiology lesson package has the potential to increase the number of students gaining exposure to NASA programs and STEM careers. It integrates science, engineering, and technology around a unifying theme, making science more memorable, applicable, and relevant to students. 

This classroom lesson package is narrated around the exciting story of how scientists “hunt” for habitable worlds, organized around the theme, “Are we alone in the universe? And how do we know?”

This will provide a hook to bring hard-hitting science and engineering standards into your classroom in an engaging way that improves students’ science literacy. Each lesson features:

  • Online videos and tools explaining the science of each topic;
  • Popular misconceptions surrounding the science of each topic,
  • A rubric for appropriate activities for easy assessment by the teacher; and  
  • A link between the science topic and current or everyday events.

How to navigate lessons

Below, you will find a document for each that describes activities suitable for a particular elementary grade level, specified at the start of each activity. At the beginning of each lesson, appropriate grade levels, preparation time, lesson time, learning outcomes, and supplemental material, if any, are specified. Some lessons have activities for mixed grade levels. Lessons are part of the Scientific and Engineering Practices Framework that teaches the process of good scientific thinking and methods in the science classroom and in everyday life, too. Lessons are written for educators with narration and instructions provided for facilitation.

Teachers are encouraged to adapt and tailor lessons to their learners' needs and educational settings.

The Drake Equation

So, dig in, starting with the Introductory Lesson, to introduce astrobiology and the Drake Equation! This package will follow the structure of the Drake Equation in the following lessons. The Drake Equation is a string of 7 terms that provide a framework for astrobiologists to organize their estimates of the number of potentially detectable civilizations in our galaxy, or “N.”

Classroom Astrobiology is organized around one lesson topic per term with an 8th introductory lesson. 

The Drake Equation is:

N = R* fp ne fl fi fc L where:

N is the number of communicating civilizations in the galaxy;

R* is the rate of formation of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy;

fis the fraction of stars that have planets around them;

ne is the number of planets per star that are capable of sustaining life;

fl is the fraction of planets in ne where life evolves;

fi is the fraction of fl where intelligent life evolves;

fc is the fraction of fi that develop a communicating civilization; and L the lifetime of a communicating civilization.

Please enjoy these materials. And remember, NASA wants to know what you think of these lessons! Please fill out this quick online survey with for your valued feedback if you read or pilot any material with your learners. 

Lesson 1: Introduction

Click here to download the lesson, "Introduction to the Drake Equation"

  • Grade levels: 6th -12th

  • Prep time: ~10 minutes or less 

  • Lesson time: 45 minutes for presentation and discussion and ~40 minutes total for activity. Two optional accompanying activities take 10 minutes and ~3 hours (at-home assignment) or shorter class discussion.

  • Learning outcomes: Goals of the introductory lessons are to introduce the Drake equation and Fermi paradox to students and to “set the stage” for the rest of the lesson package. 

  • Supplementary materials from the NASA Night Sky Network: Anyone Out There? Activity and PowerPoint  

Lesson 2: R*

Click here to download the lesson, "Formation of Stars Nuclear Processes: What Makes a Star Shine?”

  • Grade level: 6th -12th

  • Prep time: ~30 min. to familiarize teachers with material and websites and to print

    out in-class worksheets.

  • Lesson time: ~30 min. for presentation; ~ 1 hour high school activity; 30-45 minutes middle school activity; Two ~4 minute videos.

  • Learning outcomes: The goal of this lesson is to provide an introduction to the stellar lifecycle, and in particular, the nuclear processes that fuel a star throughout its life and how it is relevant to life in the universe.

Lesson 3: fp

Planets and Habitable Zones

Currently under construction. Coming soon!

Lesson 4:Ne

Click here to download the lesson, "Water: Its Properties, and Its Roles in Earth’s Surface Processes"

  • Grade level: 6th -8th and 9th-12th

  • Prep time: See each activity for preparation time

  • Lesson time: ~1 hour for Activity 1; ~1 hour for optional activities

  • Learning outcomes: The goals of this lesson are to introduce students to the first component that contributes to sustaining life on Earth, water, and to familiarize students with the water cycle.

  • Supporting material: Mini Water Still Activity and Instructions and Properties of Water PowerPoint

Lesson 5 (two versions): Fl

Click here to Download the lesson, "Life on Mars" 

  • Grade Level: 6-8th 
  • Prep time: ~1.5 hours to gather household supplies in activity and print out data sheets for student groups
  • Lesson time: ~4 minutes for video; ~1 – 1.5 hours total for both activities plus video and discussion.

  • 5E Learning Outcomes: 

    Engagement will allow connections to be made between what students know and can do.  

    Exploration will allow students to think about what extraterrestrial life may look like with hands-on activities and guidance.

    Explanation will  allow students to apply biology concepts in new contexts, building on and extending their understanding and skill. 

    Elaboration will allow students to apply concepts in contexts and extend their understanding.

    Evaluation will allow students to assess their knowledge.

  • Supplementary materialSearching for life on Mars activities  and Mars activities from the NASA Mars Ed program

Click here to download the lesson, "Life in the Extreme" 

  • Grade Level: 6th -8th
  • Prep time: ~20 minutes
  • Lesson time: ~ 10 minutes for videos. ~ 35 minutes total for both activities. Total: ~45 minutes
  • Leaning Outcomes: Goals of this lesson are to get students to understand characteristics of extraterrestrial life on earth or on other planets. This lesson will introduce students to the Fl Drake term.  
  • Supplementary material: NASA Night Sky Network Life in the Extreme Activity

Lesson 6: Fi

Intelligence: Artificial, Social, and Human

Currently under construction. Coming soon!

 Lesson 7: Fc

Communication among Civilizations

Currently under construction. Coming soon!

Lesson 8: L

Civilizations and ET Detection: Lifetimes

Currently under construction. Coming soon!

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