Curricular Unit: Adventure Engineering Challenge: Asteroid Impact

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Choose From: 0 lessons and 8 activities

Subject Areas: Earth and Space

Two images: A map showing the cities, infrastructure, rock composition and geologic features of the state of Alabraska. An artists' rending shows an asteroid entering the Earth's atmosphere.
The collision between Earth and an asteroid a few kilometers in diameter would release as much energy as the simultaneous detonation of several million nuclear bombs. Engineers to the rescue!
Copyright © (left) Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, (right) 2001 NASA and Wikipedia


Through this earth science curricular unit composed of eight activities, student teams are presented with the scenario that an asteroid will impact the Earth. In response, their engineering challenge is to design the location and size of underground caverns to shelter the people from an uninhabitable Earth for one year. Driven by this adventure scenario, student teams 1) explore general and geological maps of their fictional state called Alabraska, 2) determine the area of their classroom to help determine the necessary habitable cavern size, 3) learn about map scales, 4) test rocks, 5) identify important and not-so-important rock properties for building underground caverns, and 6) choose and defend a final location and size for a survival cavern.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

The Asteroid Impact unit provides a project framework in which student groups act as engineering teams to design underground caverns, following the steps of the engineering design process. Real-world engineers work in teams to invent and develop solutions to problems. Following the steps of the engineering design process, they first identify and define the problem or challenge. They gather pertinent information and conduct research to learn about topics related to the problem, and they brainstorm and propose multiple potential solutions. Engineers then evaluate the various possible solutions and select one that best meets the criteria for success. Testing is often used to verify that the proposed solution will solve the problem or challenge. And the final solution is communicated to others.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

  • Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities. (Grade 6) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms. (Grade 7) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [] to print or download.

More Curriculum Like This

Incoming Asteroid! What's the Problem?

To kickoff the Adventure Engineering Asteroid Impact unit, students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams and begin to study the situation in depth. A simple in-class simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster. They look at maps and complete a worksheet an...

Ranking the Rocks for Desired Properties

Student teams assign importance factors called "desirability points" to the rock properties found in the previous activity in order to mathematically determine the overall best rocks for building caverns within. They compare rock properties to the desired engineering properties for designing and bui...

How Big? Necessary Area & Volume for Shelter

Student teams determine the size of the caverns needed to house the population of the state of Alabraska from the impending asteroid impact. They make measurements and calculate area and volume from individual bedroom size to classroom size to large enough to house all Alabraskans. They convert betw...

Identifying Possible Underground Cavern Locations

Students apply their knowledge of scales and areas to determine the best locations in Alabraska for the underground caverns. They cut out rectangular paper pieces to represent caverns to scale with the maps and place the cutouts on the maps to determine possible locations.

Unit Schedule

This unit is composed of eight hands-on activities. The unit takes 8-10 class periods (350-450 minutes) total. Conduct the activities in the following order:

  1. Incoming Asteroid! What's the Problem?
  2. How Big? Necessary Area & Volume for Shelter
  3. Using Map Scales to Figure Distances and Areas
  4. Identifying Possible Underground Cavern Locations
  5. Rocks, Rocks, Rocks: Test, Identify Properties & Classify
  6. Ranking the Rocks for Desired Properties
  7. Recommendations & Presentations: Drum Roll Please
  8. Building & Testing Model Underground Safety Caverns

Note: The Asteroid Impact Student Workbook contains worksheets for all activities in this unit in one pdf file; the same worksheets are also available as individual attachments in each lesson and activity.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines


Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: September 6, 2018


Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
Find more at