Congressional leaders are taking UFOs seriously and so should educators.
In May 2022, the House Intelligence Committee held a public hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), the first public hearing to explore the topic in more than 50 years.
The hearing comes on the heels of 2021’s release of the so-called UFO report (opens in new tab), which confirmed that over the past 20 years more than 100 unidentified flying objects have been spotted by the military.
The hearing included testimony from experts about these sightings – theories range from aliens to nextgen technology from a foreign government. Democratic Rep. André Carson of Indiana, the chairman of the panel holding the hearing, said in his opening remarks that understanding UFOs was vital. “Unidentified aerial phenomena are a potential national security threat. And they need to be treated that way,” he said. “For too long, the stigma associated with UAPs has gotten in the way of good intelligence analysis. Pilots avoided reporting, or were laughed at when they did.”
The new attention the topic of unexplained objects in our skies has received and the accompanying debate makes for a good teachable moment.
“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.
Though the original report stopped short of concluding UAPs are alien spacecraft, it didn’t rule out the possibility while also making it clear weather anomalies are not to blame for many of the sightings. This opens up numerous possibilities for explanations, such as drones from other countries or other unidentified celestial objects. Or maybe your students can come up with other explanations.
For teachers looking to explore the topic in class, a good place to start is by watching a portion of the recording (opens in new tab) of the recent House hearing and having your class discuss it.
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 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.”
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.
The Habitable Zone (opens in new tab)
Follow future explorers as they learn how much it takes to sustain life on another world.
Universe Unplugged (opens in new tab)
This series offers playful videos rooted in fact-based astronomy and a monthly live chat with astronomers.
Ocean Worlds Slideshow (opens in new tab)
A slideshow that examines other worlds that, like Earth, have oceans and therefore might have the potential to support life.
How Do We Know What Air Is Like on Other Planets? (opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab)
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 (opens in new tab)
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.
Is There Ice On Other Planets (opens in new tab)
This slideshow explores other planets and satellites that have ice, including Mercury, Mars, and the moon.
Exoplanet (opens in new tab)
Learn all about the search for exoplanets (planets that orbit around other stars) in this video.
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