Life, The Final Frontier
A Case Study on the Characteristics of Life
Department of Biology
Ball State University
SUNY College at Oneonta
Designed for high school and college-level introductory biology courses, the goal of this "clicker case" is to get students to think about what it means for something to be alive by defining the characteristics of living organisms and applying these to living, nonliving, and previously living objects. The case does this within the framework of a fictional scenario in which the President of the United States must decide whether to announce that NASA has discovered extraterrestrial life. However, NASA is not sure how to define their discovery. The case combines the use of student personal response systems (clickers) with case teaching methods and formats. It is presented in class using a series of PowerPoint slides (~1MB) punctuated by questions (called "clicker questions") that students respond to before moving on to the next slide. The case could be adapted and used without these technologies.
- List and define with examples the necessary characteristics of life.
- Categorize objects as alive or not alive.
- Generate an example of why it is important to be able to determine if something is alive or represents life.
- Understand that many nonliving things can show several characteristics of living things, but cannot show them all.
- Be introduced to various areas of study within biology.
- Begin to realize that biological "facts" can change as scientists learn more.
KeywordsDefinition of life; evidence of life; characteristics of life
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Type MethodsClicker, Dilemma/Decision, Interrupted
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) Science (General)
Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.