Conference PaperPDF Available
“Astrobiology, Complexity and Emergence” for Middle School
Julia Brodsky
Art of Inquiry, LLC, Rockville, MD, 20854;
There is a growing interest in teaching the holistic
approach to science among K-12 science education and
parental communities. The exciting field of
astrobiology provides a great example of a multi-
disciplinary perspective that emphasizes system
thinking, complexity, and emergence. By presenting
familiar scientific phenomena in unusual settings and
emphasizing the process over results, it helps students
maintain their natural curiosity and develop critical
Our approach:
We find storytelling and role-play to be excellent
tools for the development of scientific identity. It has
turned out that students overwhelmingly prefer finding
patterns and interrelationships in complex systems to
the accumulation of facts. They often feel elated when
they start seeing the same scientific concepts in diverse
settings or observe the dynamics of systems over time.
We have developed and taught an astrobiology
course for 9-12-year-old students. Our approach can be
implemented in the classroom, in a homeschool setting,
as an after-school activity, or as a science fair project.
Since students have no advance knowledge of the
subject, the class can be taught in mixed-age groups. So
far, we have successfully introduced the following
Definition of life
Emergence in natural sciences
Emergence in biology
Emergence in social sciences
System thinking and its application to early mass
The idea of the self-regulating planet
Search for life in the Solar system
Space habitats
At the end of each course, we have been receiving very
positive responses from student and parents.
We have observed a high level of engagement, the
increase in scientific dialogue in families and peer groups,
and strengthening of intellectual friendship among
students. By discussing the open-ended topics such as
ethics of terraforming planets, implications of space law,
and life preservation, our astrobiology course has brought
together students who were interested in science and
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