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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

Science fiction to Science lessons

I recently read the fantastic science fiction trilogy - The three body problem, The dark forest and Death’s end by Cixin Liu. The three body problem trilogy is incredible and I highly recommend it for fans of science fiction, but it got me thinking… Science education has always been a portal to the unknown, a journey that unlocks the mysteries of the universe. In recent years, educators have explored innovative ways to captivate students' interest in science. One compelling avenue is the use of science fiction—both historical and contemporary—as a powerful tool for teaching scientific concepts.

Throughout history, science fiction writers have been pioneers of the imagination, envisioning scientific advancements long before they become reality. Take, for example, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which predated submarines, or H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, foreshadowing the concept of extraterrestrial life and space travel. Educators can use these historical gems to trace the evolution of scientific thought and inspire students to think beyond the confines of the present.

Incorporating classic science fiction into lesson plans serves as a bridge between the past and present. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, for instance, delves into themes of bioethics and human experimentation, providing a historical perspective on scientific responsibility. This is increasingly relevant with more and more development on biotechnology and leading to ethical questions about biohacking and human gene editing. Pairing such literature with contemporary scientific debates encourages critical thinking and ethical considerations among students.

Another example of technology that was science fiction which became science fact is video calling. Video communication devices were featured in various sci-fi works, including Star Trek (1966).In reality, platforms like Skype, Whatsapp and Zoom have made video calls a routine part of modern communication.

With the influx of contemporary science fiction, educators have an expansive array of resources at their disposal. Works like Andy Weir's The Martian can ignite discussions on space exploration and survival science, while movies like Interstellar can spark curiosity about relativity and the fabric of spacetime. These resources not only engage students but also provide a glimpse into potential futures shaped by scientific advancements.

These ideas give rise to possible interdisciplinary projects for students to do, such as: 

Literary Analysis Meets Lab Reports:

  • Encourage students to analyze the scientific accuracy of science fiction literature.

  • Ask them to research and present findings on how certain concepts align with or deviate from established scientific principles.

Sci-Fi Film Festivals:

  • Organize film screenings followed by discussions on the scientific feasibility of the depicted scenarios.

  • Challenge students to propose alternate scientific explanations or advancements.

Creative Writing and Scientific Speculation:

  • Foster creativity by having students craft their own science fiction stories grounded in scientific principles.

  • Evaluate their narratives for scientific accuracy and encourage peer reviews.

Incorporating science fiction into science education provides a holistic and engaging approach to learning. By embracing the historical foresight of past authors and exploring the limitless possibilities of contemporary works, educators can inspire a new generation of scientists, critical thinkers, and dreamers.

For some of my teaching materials on interesting science tied to the classroom, please check out this link - link here

Thanks for reading. 

Cheers and stay curious

Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist


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