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T.F. Slater (University of Arizona Steward Observatory CAPER Team)
Traditionally, many non-science majoring undergraduates readily reveal fairly negative opinions about their introductory science survey courses that serve as general education distribution requirements. Often seen as unimportant and unrelated to helping them acquire knowledge and skills for the workplace, such general education courses carry nicknames such as “Physics for Poets” (PHYSICS101), “Bugs for Thugs” (BIOLOGY101), “Rocks for Jocks” (GEOLOGY101), and “Moons for Goons” or “Scopes for Dopes” (ASTRONOMY101). In response, many faculty are experimenting with more modern science course offerings as general education courses in an effort to improve students’ attitudes, values, and interests. One might think that ASTROBIOLOGY has natural curb appeal for students. However, despite the seemingly innate appeal of a course on extraterrestrial life, when it comes right down to it, an astrobiology course is still a natural science course at its core. As such, it can suffer from the same student apathy that afflicts traditional science courses if students can not find some personal relevance or interest in the topics. One approach to more fully engaging students is to couch core course concepts in terms of what Grant Wiggin and Jay McTighe (2004, 2000) call “essential questions.” Essential questions are intended create enduring understanding in students and help students find deeply meaningful personal relevance to concepts. In response, we have created a series of probing essential questions that tie central concepts in astrobiology to dilemmas, paradoxes, and moral questions with the goal of intellectually engaging our students in the human-side of the astrobiology enterprise.
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #4
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.