Presentation #242.13 in the session Education Programs, Resources, and Research — iPoster Session.
Popular interest in the possibility of extraterrestrial life has made astrobiology common in introductory courses for non-majors. Although the modern field of astrobiology is relatively young, many of its ideas and aims have a longer, richer history than is often recognized. In teaching an interdisciplinary class on the history and philosophy of extraterrestrial life, we found that teaching this history provided valuable opportunities to develop students’ scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills. By engaging with historical arguments for or against the existence of extraterrestrial life and considering cases of misunderstood “signs” of such life, students were able to explore aspects of the nature of science, including how scientific evidence is used, the challenges in collecting and interpreting data, the role of the scientific community, and processes of historical change in scientific theories and models. We’ll present examples from our class and a guide to resources for others interested in incorporating this history into their classes.