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How to Teach with the U.S. Government’s UFO Report

UFO
(Image credit: Photo by Michael Herren on Unsplash)

Teaching students about the U.S. government’s UFO report is a great way to foster engagement. Few questions are more fascinating to students -- or most people, for that matter -- than whether we’re alone in the universe.

“It does make you go, ‘Well, what if?’ or, ‘I wonder if?’” says Christine Anne Royce, Ed.D, co-director of MAT in STEM Education Shippensburg University and the past president of the National Science Teaching Association. 

Released in June, the UFO report confirmed that over the past two decades members of the military have spotted 120 unidentified objects, a vast majority of which were not U.S. aircraft and remain unexplained according to The New York Times

Though the report stops short of concluding these are alien spacecraft, it doesn’t rule out the possibility while also making it clear weather anomalies are not to blame for many of the sightings. This opens the possibility that the unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) observed could be alien craft or flying vehicles/drones from other countries with nextgen technology beyond what the U.S. officially knows about. Or maybe your students can come up with other explanations. 

Teaching the UFO Report in Humanities Classes  

“There's a lot of opportunities to discuss the report about UFOs,” Royce says. “In literature classes, if they're reading reports or announcements or articles about it, it's a great way to teach media literacy.” 

The fact that UFOs and UAP are getting serious consideration gives teachers an opportunity to guide students through various sources and have them learn about documentation and evaluating information. 

“Traditionally, we would teach students to analyze the text and to evaluate statements. And now we have to teach them how to do that online as well,” Royce says. “And how do they determine fact versus fallacy? And how do they determine the validity of the information? Or how much information or what level of validity that we can infer? Because not everything is always concrete, and I think that's where the UFO idea comes in.” 

Teaching the UFO Report in Science Class  

For science class, using the UFO report and the search for extraterrestrial life is a great launching pad to teach students about various STEM topics and introduce them to the scientific process and concepts such as hypothesis testing, evidence, and conclusions. 

“There's connections to discussing the report in biology and looking at astrobiology,” Royce says. “There's also an opportunity to talk about the probability of life out there somewhere else and talk about all the different things that would have to happen for that to occur.” 

In addition, Royce says, the UFO report and inevitabile discussion around it provide an opportunity to introduce students to the CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) strategy. “It's a great strategy, where there might be a question asked, and students make a claim to answer that question,” she says. “Then they have to provide evidence to support that claim and the reasoning for interpreting the evidence.” 

NASA Resources 

In an email to Tech & Learning, Katherine Brown, a  NASA public affairs officer, did not comment specifically on the UFO report but was not shy about how serious the organization takes the search for life beyond Earth. “One of NASA’s key goals is the search for life in the universe,” she wrote. “Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions, including whether we are alone in the universe. From studying water on Mars, probing promising ‘oceans worlds,’ such as Titan and Europa, to looking for biosignatures in the atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, NASA’s science missions are working together with a goal to find unmistakable signs of life beyond Earth.” 

For teachers looking to teach students about this search, Brown recommends the following digital resources. 

Explore life 

The Habitable Zone

Follow future explorers as they learn how much it takes to sustain life on another world. 

Universe Unplugged

This series offers playful videos rooted in fact-based astronomy and a monthly live chat with astronomers. 

Ocean Worlds Slideshow 

A slideshow that examines other worlds that, like Earth, have oceans and therefore might have the potential to support life. 

Planet Atmospheres

How Do We Know What Air Is Like on Other Planets?

In this video, which is appropriate for grades 9-12, students will learn how scientists investigate the atmosphere on planets that are many light years away. 

Gas Giants, Atmospheres and Weather Problem Set

These problem sets challenge students to use math to learn about the atmospheres of moons and planets. The problems are appropriate for middle and high school students. 

Real-World Math

This resource includes more than 165 math-based activities that have students using mathematical concepts as they learn about asteroids, comets, planets, craters, and more. 

Ocean Planets 

Is There Ice On Other Planets 

This slideshow explores other planets and satellites that have ice, including Mercury, Mars, and the moon. 

Europa 

Have your students learn all about Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, which is believed to have frozen oceans. 

Exoplanet 

Learn all about the search for exoplanets (planets that orbit around other stars) in this video. 

Erik Ofgang is a journalist, author and educator. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.