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Asteroid Impacts: The Debatable K-T Extinction

Developed by Tim Fennell, The Liberal Arts and Science Academy of Austin, LBJ High School, Austin ISD, Austin, Texas.

How to cite this work: Fennell, T. (2009), Asteroid Impacts: The Debatable K-T Extinction, TXESS Revolution,, Date Accessed.


The purpose of the activity is encourage students to (1) engage in a scientific literature review of an intriguing topic, in this case the mass extinction event that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods; (2) apply their understanding of that event to a current issue that requires policy action regarding a potentially costly engineering solution; and (3) formulate, present and defend evidence-based arguments in support of, or against, the proposed solution.

Students are issued a challenge scenario and deliver their presentations in a debate format.

Scenario: A senate subcommittee is holding a public hearing to decide whether or not to fund a $50 billion planetary defense system. Are humans at risk of becoming extinct due to an asteroid or comet colliding with the Earth? Evidence suggests that such an event may have caused the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period. If so, can we prevent history from repeating itself?

Development, Research and Testing of This Activity

Science teacher Tim Fennell developed the Debatable K-T Extinction. Mr. Fennell teaches a course entitled Planet Earth in the Liberal Arts and Science Academy at LBJ High School in Austin. He participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored GK-12 project (NSF Grant No. 0139347 NSF) at The University of Texas at Austin and collaborated with GK-12 Fellow Vanessa Svihla to refine the activity. The activity was tested with Mr. Fennell’s students at LBJ High School in 2004. GK-12 teachers and Fellows provided feedback used to refine the activity. This activity has been implemented multiple times by Mr. Fennell in his Planet Earth class.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.