Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Science Fiction: Skills, Chills, and Thrills it Offers our Kids

I discovered science fiction in my teens, but it was as a parent and teacher that I realized how rich this genre is in creative opportunities. Science fiction reflects scientific thinking of the time period in which it is/was written, and has proven a rich springboard for future research.

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 #1Squish: 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)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.jpgMrs. 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

WrinkleInTimePBA1.jpg
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 cover.jpgFlatland (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




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+)

56 comments:

  1. Having asn awful time posting comments thru Blogger.

    UAlbany has a nanotech center, and every Nanovember, an open house.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

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  2. Science fiction never appealed to me but two of my daughters love it.

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  3. Great post. A wrinkle in Time was one my daughter and I both enjoyed. I loved the Narnian Chronicles as a child and later as an adult too but my daughter didn't like them as much. When she was older she liked the Lord of the Rings Trilogy which was one I also read as a teen and liked. I read the first Harry Potter when it first came out and my daughter wasn't interested in it until some time later when her friends were talking about it and after that we both liked them. It is funny but when I read the first Harry Potter book it had just come out and my sister had sent it thinking I'd like it and my daughter would but it wasn't well known yet. My brother and sisters and I still turn each other on to new fantasy that we would have enjoyed as children and still do and sometimes the new generation in our family takes longer to warm up to them. The Dark Materials is another I like a lot and I can't remember if my daughter ever read those books or not.

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  4. Dear Carver, you mention great books - some of my favorites. I didn't mention them here though because I think many (as you note in your comment) are fantasy and not science fiction. At some point I will write about fantasy as well, which is another one of my favorite genres!
    Thanks for the comment!

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  5. As a sci fi fan myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

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  6. I used to read a lot of SF, and adored its strange worlds, unpredictability and new ideas (at its best), and the old authors that had a quaintness reflecting the politics of their time. Then I stopped for decades but have recently returned, its like starting again, discovering what has happened since. But what to do with those authors read in the past? I still have some Clifford Simak (despite numerous moves and weeding) but am wary to reread in case I am disappointed, I was so impressed all those years ago. Will I still be?

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  7. Really enjoy your posts, Meryl, - I went through a long period when there were children around being very attracted to SF, - After the children grew up I still read some SF, but mostly fantasy, and I am waiting patiently for the next Diane Gabaldon book to find out what happens to the little boy trapped underground. I wish she would hurry!!!

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  8. I love science fiction, writing and reading. Thanks for this informative post.

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  9. The only Science fiction/fantasy I enjoy is 'Harry Potter'!
    Jane x
    P.S. The skunk was found orphaned and was taken to the rehab centre I worked at.

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  10. Not a Sci Fi fan myself but my son and husband love it! I was just never able to get into it.

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  11. love your blog background! those books look really interesting - will maybe add some to my girls' reading list. rocky horror is one of my all time fave movies! thanks for stopping by

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  12. Great blog!
    I'm a new follower from the hop!
    Come check me out when you get the chance:
    Carolina Summer

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  13. I love the Time Warp trio. My son is really into sci fi books and movies. I'm going to check with him on this list. Thanks!

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  14. Great blog, following you from the whimsical wednesday blog hop! You can find me at
    http://wvfrugal-wvsaver.blogspot.com/

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  15. Love a Wrinkle in Time and Rocky Horror Picture Show. I also liked Ender's Game but have quit reading Orson Scott Card because of his outspoken and close mindedness.

    I'm your newest follower.

    Joyce
    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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  16. Hopping by to follow you! Come follow me too?

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  17. I am not into Sci Fi but I love reading romance and mysteries.

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  18. Not a sci-fi fan myself but my boys and Hubby are totally into it. Great post!!

    Have a nice day!

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  19. Interesting read....wow....so many to choose from, I'm going to send along your link to my grandson---he LOVES Sci Fi.

    Thanks for stopping by yesterday, I didn't get a chance to visit with anyone on Wednesday, so I'm playing catch-up!!!

    Thursday's post: Pure Imagination

    Have a terrific Thursday y'all!!

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  20. I've never been very interested in sci-fi but can see how it could be a useful tool to develop interest in the sciences in children. I must try harder . . . ;-)

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  21. A Wrinkle in Time was the first book I read that had me interested in reading. After that, you couldn't separate me from books. I had forgotten about Ender's game. Also a great book. My children are avid readers and this gave me some ideas for them that I had forgotten about. Great list!

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  22. Hello! Newest follower from the Blog Hop Thursday blog hop! Would love for you to stop by and follow back, whenever you get a chance. Have a great week! (:

    Amber
    http://beautifullybellafaith.blogspot.com

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  23. Great list! As my kids get older I am always looking for new ideas for books, even though some of these are probably too old for now. I loved A Wrinkle In Time and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH when I was a child, but the rest are new to me.

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  24. Your blog is very interesting. We have great readers at this house and plenty of diverse learning abilities.. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    I am glad I found yours.
    T
    Www.aseedinspired.com

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  25. I love science fiction as a genre! It is great to imagine where we could go as a society. You wrote an excellent post!
    Cheers,
    Shanae
    My Blog

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  26. We have the Dark Materials trilogy and I loved a Wrinkle in Time. Sci Fi books are fantastic.

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  27. Very intelligent comment about SciFi. I learned something...

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  28. you mentioned two of my favorites. Wrinkle in Time and Mrs Frisby. I was actually thinking about reading Mrs Frisby to my girls just yesterday. The rest I hadn't heard of.

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  29. Sometimes I like Science Fiction. I remember a book I read in high school - Brave New World, I always wanted to read that again. And may try to find that next time I go to the library.

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  30. Found you via your comment on my blog. GREAT BLOG! I'm homeschooling my youngest and am always looking for good ideas. I'm going to be taking a lot of your suggestions for myself and sharing them with my HS group.

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