Life in the Universe

How can we encourage middle school students to ask big questions about life outside their own immediate circles of interaction and expand that sense of wonder to include their home planet, solar system, and place in the universe? The JTF-funded Life in the Universe (LITU) project developed and tested an out-of-school model for engaging young learners in scientific processes while cultivating their curiosity around “Big Questions.” LITU offers an opportunity for students to estimate the likelihood of Life elsewhere in our Universe, using real methods of modern science applied to up-to-the-minute data about humans’ knowledge of planets outside our Solar System. The labs encourage middle school learners to "problematize" the activities and methods scientists use to make sense of our Universe in the context of a guided inquiry lab where they will explore the question, "Could humans (ever) communicate with sentient life on other planets?" (NS-58380)

JTF Cultivating Life in the Universe Publications

Udomprasert P, Goodman A, Ladd E, Offner S, Houghton H, Johnson E, Sunbury S, Plummer JD, Wright E, Sadler P, et al. WorldWide Telescope in Education. In: Impey C, Buxner S Astronomy Education - A Practitioner’s Guide to the Research. Bristol, UK: IOP Publishing ; In Press.
Houghton H, Udomprasert P, Sunbury S, Wright E, Goodman A, Johnson E, Bishop A. Cultivating Curiosity with Life in the Universe and WorldWide Telescope. Advancing Astronomy for All: ASP 2018. 2019;524 :273-277. Publisher's VersionAbstract
When students encounter complex topics like the search for extraterrestrial life, questions abound - thoughtful, unpredictable, and often profound. Despite this thriving curiosity, the first step to be able to explore complex questions is developing the capacity to verbalize a meaningful question. The WorldWide Telescope Ambassadors team designed an out-of-school curriculum called Life in the Universe, which engages middle school-aged students in the science and scientific process of the search for distant life. Students practice generating meaningful questions, which will guide them through the science content, as groups of students build to culminating capstone projects. Results from surveys administered to participating students indicate gains in curiosity in science, as well as in seeing oneself as successful in science.
Houghton H. WorldWide Telescope: The Universe in Your Hands. AstroBeat. 2018;(164).Abstract

When teaching science topics in which objects are too large or too small to observe laboratory settings—as is the case for astrophysics—how do you convey complex and intangible relationships in a meaningful way? Studies have shown that interactive visualization models that address common misconceptions can be powerful learning experiences. This article examines how the WorldWide Telescope (WWT) Ambassadors program has utilized the dynamic environment of the WWT platform to build meaningful representations of complex topics, and effectively address these teaching needs.

Life in the Universe Presentations