Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction

Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction

Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction

Teaching Science Fact with Science Fiction


The literature of science fiction packs up the facts and discoveries of science and runs off to futures filled with both wonders and warnings. Kids love to take the journeys it offers for the thrill of the ride, but they can learn as they travel, too. This book will provide you with: an overview of the past 500 years of scientific thought and the literature of science fiction which it inspired; suggestions for finding and adapting the kind of science fiction that will work best for your classroom; detailed ideas and resources for teaching concepts in the physical, earth, space, and life sciences, as well in history and mathematics; and suggested activities for a variety of grade levels. Appendices provide: science references to help you keep the facts and the fictions straight; national science content standards; and detailed lesson plans for an earth science unit where students travel the depths of time and create their own time travelers' diaries.


We live among the artifacts of scientific thinking and view the universe through a lens of inductive and deductive reasoning that has allowed us to glimpse vistas and understand natural laws undreamed of just a few centuries ago. We take much of this for granted, but shouldn’t. Human beings don’t take to scientific thinking easily. As Mr. Spock in the old Star Trek television series observed many times, human beings are highly illogical. They rely on emotion, prejudice, superstition, and intuition to make most day-to-day decisions. Loren Eiseley, in The Man Who Saw through Time, (Eiseley, 1973) (1), observed that “science among us is an invented cultural institution, an institution not present in all societies, and not one that may be counted upon to arise from human instinct.”

When did this “invention” occur? the word “scientist” was not coined until 1840 (2) at a time when few people were actually making a full-time job exploring nature in a systematic way. the ancient Chinese may have observed a nova in the heavens as early as 1300 B.C and had observed “Halley’s” comet in 240 B.C. (Menzies, 2002), but modern science grew from Greek thought and observations. For a long time the Western world revered their knowledge and wisdom, but failed to absorb their questioning attitude. It wasn’t until the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that what we call the “Scientific Revolution” began to permeate Western thought and erode a longestablished world view—a world view based on the preeminence of Spirit over matter. Galileo observed that philosophy is written in the language of mathematics and Newton demonstrated that premise with equations that tied heavenly motions to those of the matter that dominates our terrestrial experience.

The prerevolution world view was comforting: Humankind inhabited planet Earth at the center of God’s creation. St. Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century Dominican who tried to reconcile Greek rationalism and scripture, equated God with Aristotle’s Prime Mover and suggested that Ptolemy’s ordered firmament must consist of a series of nested, crystalline spheres turning about the Earth. the sun and stars occupied distant spheres, while the moon rode upon the innermost sphere. the world was changeable and imperfect below these celestial spheres, but the wisdom of the Greeks and the Word of God in the Bible provided sufficient guidelines to understand events as they unfolded (Suplee, 2000).

Imaginative literature in the early seventeenth century still reflected this world view. As Alexei and Cory Panshin point out in their book, The World beyond the Hill (Panshin and Panshin, 1989), Shakespeare could use witches, ghosts, and magic as serious plot elements in Hamlet, Macbeth, and The Tempest to capture that sense of transcendent wonder a reader craves in order to gain perspective on how the world works. Milton and Bunyan could deal with the old Heaven and Hell in Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress for the same effect. “Spirit” provided the power and mystery in mythic literature. By the 1690s, such viewpoints had lost much of their plausibility—at least for the well educated. Social revolutions in England and France forced people to question the Divine Right of its kings and the Roman Catholic church’s power declined . . .

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