Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Activities for Are we alone?

Here are activities to help with the teaching of this topic.

Cosmic habitats
The activity provides an introduction to ‘extraterrestrials’ by considering their many and varied forms in fiction and their possible forms, if they exist, in reality. To do so it uses the idea of adaptation, comparing human adaptations to those of extremophiles, and then speculating on alien adaptations to unknown conditions on exoplanets.
Teacher notes and student sheets (439 KB)
Teacher notes and student sheets (76 KB)

How could they tell?
The activities here are about evidence for the existence of life and some of the difficulties in detection. Students can attempt to make an estimation of the number of life-supporting planets that might exist using a simplified Drake equation. They also consider two different examples of research into the possibility of life elsewhere – The SETI Institute and the ESA Darwin Project.
Teacher notes and student sheets (469 KB)
Teacher notes and student sheets (91 KB)
Drake equasion PPT (1.8 MB)


Lss 50 Pix
LSS: Evaluating articles about the Universe
Students who understand how their work is assessed are at an advantage. In this activity, students examine assessment criteria, and evaluate three Catalyst articles.
Teacher notes and student sheets (755 KB) 
Teacher notes and student sheets (105 KB) 
Catalyst article 'Life beyond Earth' (1.0 MB)
Catalyst article 'Life in the balance' (1.4 MB)
Catalyst article 'Venus Express' (782 KB)

Science and non-science
This activity considers the difference between scientific and non-scientific ideas, in the context of the origins of life. The ideas include the hypothesis that life did not originate on Earth. As such it highlights the significance of any future discovery of life elsewhere, and hence the profound cultural importance of ‘SETI’ projects. It is, of course, an area of sensitivity, and the activity does not set out to do anything other than to explore the distinction between scientific ideas and ideas provided by written authority.
Teacher notes and student sheets (380 KB)
Teacher notes and student sheets (45 KB)

Breaking News
This activity provides an opportunity to look at some newspapers and at how they report science-based issues. It also suggests that discovery of new forms of life would be big news.
Teacher notes and student sheets (334 KB)
Teacher notes and student sheets (54 KB)

Life on Mars - exam style question
This question is based on a short passage about the disputed claims of evidence for bacterial life on Mars.
Teacher notes and student sheets (331 KB)
Teacher notes and student sheets (44 KB)