Skills and Thrills it Offers Our Kids: Science fiction weaves story lines with real or imagined innovations in science and/or technology, often commenting and exploring the consequences of such innovations. It is an exercise in alternative possibilities. And, as my last post was on reasoning, this seems like a logical follow up. Science fiction presents options, possibilities, and alternatives - encouraging its audience to brainstorm, imagine, and analyze technologies while offering scintillating scenarios and satisfying reads.
Ender's Game, Asimov's Foundation trilogy, Flatlands and Dune were the classics that hooked me. What were/are yours? Here are some examples of how you and your child can 'depart' science fiction texts while sharpening reasoning and abstract thinking:
Squish: Super Amoeba (by Jennifer & Matt Holm [authors of Babymouse]. Random House, 2011- grades 2-5). Squish is a graphic novel about amoebas Squish and Pod and their friend Peggy a paramecium- as they navigate school, Principal Planaria, deal with bullies and dream of superheroes and "doing what's right." The book presents wonderful twists and lessons on single-celled organisms with humor and sensitivity.
Text-departing discussions: How do the characters move and propel themselves on different types of surfaces? What happens if the floors are polished, wet, or dirty? What kind of sports might Squish, Pod, and Peggy play? What might life in school be like if other single celled organisms were there? How do single-celled organisms actually fight other single-celled organisms in our bodies or on our desk tops? Talk about social issues in school.
2095 - Time Warp Trio (book #5) (by Jon Scieszka - grades 2-5) is about three boys who while on a school field trip to the American Museum of Natural History, contemplate life in New York City in 2095. With the help of Uncle Edward's magic book, they find out, meeting new and old relatives and strange ironies and alternatives.
Text-departing science related discussions: Explore where science technology and space / time travel. Talk about what life in New York City or in your neighborhood might be like in 100 or 1000 years? What might change and what, if anything, would remain the same? Discuss the paradoxes of time travel. How might seeing the future effect the boys' life when they return? Might they change history and the time line story as a result of knowing the future? Below are some interesting time travel links you can watch and discuss with your kids.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (by Robert C. O'Brien - grades 3-8) relates how Mrs. Frisby seeks the aid of a group of former laboratory rates in rescuing her home from destruction by a farmer's plow. It also relates the rats' escape story and how these rats can read, write, and operate the technology and machines they've developed.
Text-departing science related discussions: What are the ethical issues (pros and cons) of animal rights and medical research? How do animals communicate and might they have their own languages? How do animals of different species cooperate with each other for survival? Research rat facts. You may also want to check out these sites for lesson plans and games:http://www.mrsdell.org/nimh/; http://library.thinkquest.org/J002079F/; http://www.kyrene.org/schools/brisas/sunda/mrs_frisby/home.htm
A Wrinkle in Time (by Madeleine L'Engle - grades 4-8) is about teenager Meg Murry, who is transported through a "tesseract" (a fifth-dimensional wrinkle in time) with her younger brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin O'Keefe to rescue her father (a gifted scientist) from evil forces holding him captive on another planet. These three kids learn from Mrs. Whatsit (a celestial being who can read Meg's thoughts), Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which that the universe is threatened by "The Dark Thing" which has taken the form of a giant cloud and engulfed the stars around it. Several planets have already succumbed to its evil force. The three Mrs. W.'s transport the three kids through time and space, and their search for Mr. Murry begins.
Text-departing science related discussions: Discuss time /space travel and the paradoxes it presents (see the links below). Einstein postulated (and it has now been proven) that when objects fly in space - time passes much slower. Given this, what would happen in real life to Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin's relationships with the friends they left behind (who would be much older upon their return)? What about their relationship with Mr. Murry - would he be older/younger than the kids? Here is a link with lesson plans: http://drb.lifestreamcenter.net/Lessons/Wrinkle/index.htm
Flatland (by Edwin A. Abbott, 1884 grades 6+) In Flatland, women are simple line segements, men are regular polygons and the narrator is a square. The square has a dream about a visit to a one-dimensional world (Lineland) inhabited by "lustrous points" and attempts to convince these points that a second dimension exists. Then one day a three-dimensional sphere passes through Flatland and shakes the narrator's world as it tries to convince him of a three-dimensional world. The square is convinced only after he is transported to Spaceland and together he and the sphere contemplate life in a fourth dimension (and more). This book has sparked tremendous thought and scientific research since it's publication in 1884. And, while it's fun for for middle schoolers, I recommend revisiting it in high school as well to further appreciate the mathematical, scientific and philosophical issues it offers. The first read will spark their interest and imagination. The later read can be used when studying higher levels of math and physics.
Text-departing science related discussions: Discuss what life might look like in two dimensions. Try to imagine what the fourth or fifth dimensions might look and feel like. Discuss what different threats or dangers exist in worlds of other dimensions. What might a vacation be like in a two or four dimensional world? What might you study in school in a two or four dimensional world?
Tribes: The Dog Years (by Michael Geszel & Peter Spinetta, ary by Inaki Miranda - grades 11+ for some violence and the fact that one tribe of kids are cannibals) This is a brilliantly illustrated graphic novel about life on earth after a medical lab's research goes terribly wrong. The story opens in the year 2038 to a world recoiling from a nano-tech virus that reduced himan life span to 21 years. In 2038, civilization is organized in tribes. This is a story of life in 2038 and the promise of a cure. I think it is an excellent companion to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as it makes a powerful statement about the responsibilities of medical research. Please see my blog "My Jaunt at C2E2 2001..Departing the Text: Teaching Inference with Graphic Novels" for details http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-jaunt-at-c2e2-2011departing-text.html
Text-departing science related discussions: Discuss how science can not only save lives, it can also break them. Discuss the roles of regulation, research design and the responsibilities of researchers in protecting the population. Discuss nano-technology today - what it offers and what it promises.
The Science behind and beyond science fiction:
- Time travel in science fiction: http://youtu.be/kDAZD2INl0Y
- Newton and Einstein Views of Time: http://youtu.be/LPYhwiCCRKY
- Flatland Physics Probes Mysteries of Superfluidity (Science Daily April 2, 2009)http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090325132340.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29
- New, flexible computers use displays with any shape (in Mathematics & Economics, 2008) http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/06/02/new.flexible.computers.use.displays.with.any.shape (an extension of Flatlands)
- Nano technology:http://youtu.be/sITy14zCvI8
- Nano technology and medical research:http://youtu.be/5jqQxuVncmc
- How nanotechnology works:http://youtu.be/cyLtGj8dAJs
A Note on Einstien and Time/Space Travel: Time is not a constant but is changeable. He suggested that objects objects accelerated at higher speeds would shrink and grow heavier and time would pass slower for these space traveling objects than for those left behind. As a result, those traveling in space with age much slower than his or her friends and family. This has been proven as fact and is no longer fiction. You might want to discuss these paradoxes with your child when reading time-travel books.
Other highly recommeded classics:
The Giver (by Lois Lowry - grades 5-9) When twelve year old Jonas comes of age, he and his friend recieve 'assignments' for their future. Jonas is the only one selected to be the receiver of memories shared by "The Giver." Jonas then discovers the terrible truth about their society.
Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card - grades 5+)- Ender, a boy who is an expert at simulated war games is recruited by the government for a special space/defense school. He and others are being trained as soldiers by engaging in war and computer games. But, are they just games?
His Dark Materials Trilogy (by Phillip Pullman- grades 6+)- blends of fastasy, religion and science fiction as Lyra must travel between parallel universes to save her friends and father.
The Foundation Trilogy (Isaac Asimov - grades 9+)