Why Explore?

Author: Sara Patricia Chavarria

Time: 1.5 – 2 class periods
Copy a class set of Handout 1
Materials: Handout 1 (Why Explore Space?)
Blank overhead sheets for notes


In this lesson, students will be challenged to start thinking about why humans explore. They will aim to make a solid connection between exploration and the quest for survival/goods. By the end of the lesson, students should be able to articulate that trade exchange networks are a direct result of the quest for ‘goods.’

Students will be able to:
i. Generate discussion by answering provocative ponder questions.
ii. Create a list of reasons humans explore after reading an expository text.

National Council for History in the Schools:
Historical Thinking Standards

  • Standard 4B: Obtain historical data.
  • Standard 5E: Formulate a position or course of action on an issue.

World History Standards

  • World History across the Eras, Standard 1: Long-term changes and recurring patterns in world history.

Related and Resource Websites



1. Have students take out their notebooks for note-taking via discussion.

2. On the board or overhead write the following statement: WHY EXPLORE?

3. Have students take about 3-5 minutes to write a brief list or paragraph answering the question.

4. When done, ask students to start sharing their ideas. As they offer answers, write on the board or overhead what they say. See if categories or patterns are developing. Ask students if they see emerging patterns or categories of exploration.

a. Possible answers will be: for land, trade products including food and spices, wealth (gold, gems, other minerals and metals), or knowledge. See how often their answers fall under these categories. Write any others they propose.

5. When done with this discourse ask the follow-up questions:

a. How do we accomplish the task of exploring?
b. What do we need to explore successfully?

6. As students answer the questions, write their observations on the board or overhead.

a. Possible answers will be money, ideas/ knowledge, technology, labor/people, faith, a means of transportation, and maps.

7. When done, pose the following ponder question.

Ponder this: Throughout history, do you think that most exploration took place in search of new space for living for food, OR did it take place for wealth-related items that had nothing to do with survival needs?

8. Before answering the question ask students why we explore today? What do we explore today?

a. Possible answers: the oceans, space, inhospitable environments (arctic regions, jungles, deserts) and microbial world.

9. Why?

10. Read Handout 1 and see what this article has to say about why we should explore space. (10 minutes)

11. Share the article contents answering the question of why we should explore space.

a. Answers:

i. Living space (or human beings will turn on themselves like rats in a cage)
ii. Technology benefits: Several examples in the article have to do with medical benefits. (You might ask students to categorize the list.)
iii. In case the planet ‘dies’ we need to be prepared.

12. So in a nutshell: The answer according to this article is that we need to explore to SURVIVE.

13. Teacher follow-up: Survival is about finding food, water, and a safe shelter. So exploring benefits us in our quest to survive!

14. Follow through: Do we explore the oceans because they can benefit us? How about the microbial world? How? (Continue with other answers students gave in step 8.)

15. In essence we explore to gain. The means by which we create these survival situations during our explorations is to establish and create trade networks and destinations. After all, if we find the food, we need to bring it back for those who can’t afford to move. Hence, for many historians, historical exploration is about trade and trading opportunities.

In the following lessons the class will explore the question of “Why do we trade?” To do so, take 5 minutes to define the following: Trade, export, import, trade items, and trade centers.

Trade: exchange of goods among individuals or groups of people.
Export: exchange items leaving their current locale.
Import: exchange items entering a new locale.
Trade items: local resources available in excess (surplus resources)

Trade centers: centralized locales where people come to participate in exchanges of goods.


Embedded Assessment
Student participation in class discussion will be evidence of comprehension.
Student answers to questions posed by the teacher.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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