The Science of Star Wars: Integrating Technology and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephanie Thompson

Star Wars: The name alone implies action, adventure, the vastness of space, alien creatures, and of course, who can forget light sabers? The Star Wars saga has entertained millions of people around the world for years, so I asked myself: Why couldn't Star Wars motivate a group of students to delve into the depths of technology?

I decided to assign my students the task of designing and building a working light saber. A light saber is a fictional weapon created for the Star Wars movies. The light saber consists of a handgrip similar to a flashlight and a tube of colored light that forms the blade.

Mentioning the mythical weapon was all it took to send a group of kids off into a frenzy of collaboration. I had never seen this class show more motivation and excitement over a project. Who thought school could be fun?

The students were instructed to design, build, and explain the scientific reasoning behind their projects based on standards taken from the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS 1994). The project aligns with the curriculum in that it allows students to demonstrate the appropriate use of the science process skills and use of technology in the classroom.

Getting started

In the first few days of the project, the students were working and collaborating with one another to discuss design ideas for the light saber. Students had great ideas for assembling their own light saber, but found it difficult to create a set of detailed written instructions based on their ideas. I spent some time in class discussing methods of writing appropriate instructions, and provided appliance user manuals downloaded from the internet as examples of how instructions should be written.

I placed students into groups and had them compare the sets of instructions from the appliances. Students reviewed several sets of instructions and wrote down the most helpful information in each. Students found that the instructions were easier to follow if they were broken into small steps and included pictures or diagrams. We finished with a class discussion about what makes a good set of instructions. Students then practiced writing instructions for constructing their light sabers. Once the instructions were written, they shared with several classmates to obtain feedback. (Sample student instructions are available with the online version of this article, available at www.nsta.org/middleschool.)

When the instructions for building light sabers were finalized, we began construction. Students were asked to bring in their own supplies from home, and the resulting flood of materials turned my classroom into a hardware store. I am lucky to have a classroom and separate lab, so students were able to keep their supplies in grocery sacks in the lab. I supplied basic tools, glue, tape, scissors, measuring tapes, batteries, wiring, and mini lightbulbs. Once the materials were collected, students quickly began assembling their light sabers.

Build your own light saber

Long, long ago, in a galaxy close to home, there was a teacher who challenged her students to build light sabers. The apprentice builders were known as padawan and their teacher was known as Thompson-Wan Kenobi. Students were instructed to design and build a model light saber, 30 cm in length. The light saber blade could be any color, but the blade had to light up. In order to complete their task, students had to use the "Scientific Force" to guide their work, while fighting off the urge to turn to the "Dark Side" and not follow Thompson-Wan Kenobi's instructions. A sad fate awaited those students who turned to the Dark Side. In order to become a Jedi, each padawan was required to: 1. Complete a set of designs for the light saber. 2. Write a set of instructions for the light saber. 3. Write a persuasive paper detailing the pros and cons of developing a light saber and its possible impact on society. …