Astrobiology Learning Progressions


Background and introduction to the Astrobiology Learning Progressions

The purpose of the Astrobiology Learning Progressions is to provide cognitive, instructional, and communication support for formal and informal educators, scientists, outreach specialists, and product developers who create and conduct learning experiences and otherwise communicate about astrobiology. The content of the Astrobiology Learning Progressions aligns closely with the topics covered in the Astrobiology Primer v2.0 and the NASA Astrobiology Strategy.

Astrobiology’s investigations and core concepts are inherently interdisciplinary, and are underpinned by fundamental science concepts in many different scientific disciplines. The Astrobiology Learning Progressions provide direct connections between discipline-based, fundamental concepts in science and the interdisciplinary core concepts of astrobiology.

State standards guide K-12 educators to teach those fundamental concepts, yet even the newest standards, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are just beginning to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of many fields of science. The Astrobiology Learning Progressions support teachers to use the interdisciplinary nature of astrobiology to teach those fundamental concepts required by the standards.

And for scientists, as they prepare to make classroom visits, give public talks, or otherwise communicate about astrobiology, the Astrobiology Learning Progressions help them to link their own work in astrobiology with the formal learning their audiences have likely have had in Earth, life, and physical sciences.

How To Use

How to use this resource to best communicate astrobiology concepts

There are 5 major parts of the Astrobiology Learning Progressions that help frame and guide education, outreach, communication, and public engagement efforts in astrobiology: Main interface elements
  1. Core Learning Questions and their Sub-Questions: The Astrobiology Learning Progressions are broken down into 7 main questions, each of which represents a major interdisciplinary concept in astrobiology. Each Core Learning Question has several sub-questions, at which level the content below is provided.
  2. Progressed Astrobiology Storylines: There is a storyline corresponding to the interdisciplinary concept of each sub-question that is progressed in sophistication for each grade band. Scientists and educators can read the storyline material at, above, and below their target grade band to better understand the level of information to present to a particular audience.
  3. NGSS Connections for Teachers: Provided for each grade band in each sub-question, this section shows material from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that ties directly to each astrobiology storyline. Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs) are educational standards (or performance expectations) based on key ideas that have broad implications across multiple domains of science and engineering. They are grouped into four domains: Physical science (PS), Life Science (LS), Earth and Space Science (ESS) and Engineering (E). For example, PS1.A represents a performance expectation for students in Physical Science. Also pulled directly from NGSS, the Cross-cutting Concepts can help scientists and teachers highlight connections to the multiple domains of science to aid students in developing an interdisciplinary, scientifically-based understanding of the world.
  4. Concept Boundaries for Scientists: Provided for each grade band in each sub-question, this section provides information to help support scientists in reaching students in a particular grade band effectively. The “Big Ideas” briefly summarize the major themes in the related storyline. The “Boundaries” serve as a rough guide to help scientists know the depth of information to present when engaging with a specific grade.
  5. Learning Resources: Use the “Learning Resources” tab to jump to a list of lessons, multimedia resources, and hands-on activities for each sub-question.

First, click on a sub-question that most interests you.

List of questions

Then, using the arrows to the left and right of the text box, navigate through the grade bands.

Left and right arrows on the sides

At each grade band, use the tabs to read through the Astrobiology Storyline, the NGSS Connections for Teachers, the Concept Boundaries for Scientists, and/or the Learning Resources.


Return to the Table of Contents to select another sub-question to explore.

Table of contents link

Organization and Structure

List of Core Learning Questions and Sub-Questions

  1. How did matter come together to make planets and life in the first place?
    • 1.1: Are we really made of star stuff?
    • 1.2: How did our Solar System form?
  2. How did Earth become a planet on which life could develop?
    • 2.1: What was the Earth like right after it formed?
    • 2.2: How was the Sun different when it formed compared to now?
    • 2.3: Where could life have gotten started on Earth?
  3. What is life?
    • 3.1: What are the characteristics of life?
    • 3.2: What does life need for survival?
    • 3.3: What determines if a planet can have life?
    • 3.4: Why is water so important for life as we know it?
    • 3.5: How can we tell if something is alive or not?
  4. How did life on Earth originate?
    • 4.1: Where do life’s building blocks come from?
    • 4.2: What are the sources of life’s building blocks within the Earth?
    • 4.3: What are the sources of life’s building blocks outside the Earth?
  5. How have life and Earth co-evolved?
    • 5.1: How did life first emerge on Earth?
    • 5.2: How did the first cells arise?
    • 5.3: How did life become something that competes for resources and evolves?
  6. How has life evolved to survive in diverse environments on Earth?
    • 6.1: How did life on Earth come to occupy so many different environments?
    • 6.2: What types of conditions can life survive in?
    • 6.3: Are there environments beyond Earth that could be habitable?
  7. How do we explore beyond Earth for signs of life?
    • 7.1: What is a biosignature?
    • 7.2: How do we explore within our own Solar System for signs of life?
    • 7.3: How do we discover worlds around other stars?
    • 7.4: How can we identify worlds around other stars that could have life?