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Teaching Science with Science Fiction

Seminar Leader:
Mark B. Adams


Today, in popular books, films, and television shows, science fiction (SF) themes have become part of our common culture and worldview. Indeed, today’s students generally are much more familiar with SF than are their teachers. SF has often served to popularize rather esoteric scientific ideas, but it has sometimes anticipated later scientific developments with remarkable accuracy, and its authors have inspired many generations of young people to take up careers in science. As such, the genre provides rich opportunities for teaching students about reading, writing, and thinking— about science, society, literature, history, and culture.

In this seminar, we explored the emergence of modern SF and tracked its relation to contemporary scientific and historical developments. After exploring the nature and origins of the genre (with sessions on SF, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells), we took up common SF themes —“Imagining Mars,” “Utopias,” “Superman,” “The Golden Age,” “Aliens,” “Robots,” “Biofutures,” and “Virtual Realities”— and discussed their relationship to contemporary developments in science and society. Preparation for each week consisted of reading a classic SF novel on the week’s theme and seeing a pertinent film. Each session started with an hour- long powerpoint lecture giving background on the week’s theme, followed by an hour’s discussion of the week’s lecture, novel, film, and theme. The course also served as a workshop on using SF in crafting classroom materials and enriching effective teaching.

Unit TitleAuthor


Science, Science Fiction and American History

Myrtle Bastien
Keywords: Civil War, fiction, History, invention, ironclad ships, Monitor and Merrimac, naval warfare, science fiction, secret weapon, submarine

Science Through Science Fiction in a Hot Air Balloon

Nancy Baulis
Keywords: aeronautics, air machines, Dirigibles, fantasy, Hindenburg, hot air balloon, Math, Philadelphia Zoo, Science, science fiction, social studies, weather, Wizard of Oz, writing

Genetics through the Eyes of Tomorrow

Wendy J. Hafford
Keywords: Beyond This Horizon, Brave New World, creativity, Critical thinking, Gattaca, genetics, Media, Science, writing

Possible Worlds (I)

Elizabeth M. Harvey
Keywords: biological sciences, Biology, Blood Child, Brave New World, environment, genetics, governmental structures, I, robot, Science, societal structures, Technology

Teaching Inquiry with Science Fiction

Christine Lokey
Keywords: broaden vocabulary, literacy and inquiry, oral language, Reading, real world experience, Scientific inquiry, scientific reasoning, writing

Possible Worlds (II)

Kate Reber
Keywords: American History, Bloodchild, Brave New World, Humanities, interdisciplinary, Math, possible world, Science, Technology, world history

Is it Still a Brave New World?

Deborah Samuel
Keywords: Beyond This Horizon, Biology, Brave New World, English, literacy, neuropsychology, technological advances

Science Fiction of the Fifties: Reflections of Cold War Themes

Steven Shust
Keywords: American History, Cold War, cold war culture, cold war politics, cold war technology, conformity, control, destruction through the lens of science fiction, fear, films, History, novels, science fiction, themes of alientation

Teaching Science with Science Fiction

Stuart Surrey
Keywords: atomic structure, audiovisual, chemical reactions, Chemistry, energy, English, flow of energy, matter, printed, Science, science fiction

Seek and Save the Yeti Campaign

Maxine Tumaian
Keywords: art critique, career, conservation quests, cross-curricular, cryptozoology, film interpretation, Middle School, scientific process, vocabulary builders, Yeti