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The Science Connections in Science Fiction

As I was preparing for a summer rocketry program and activities at Western Connecticut State University this week, did some quick background research in an attempt to connect Robert Goddard's work of almost a hundred years ago to today's adolescents.

Turns out that Dr. Goddard has credited the classic novels of Jules Verne and Orson Wells as his early inspiration to look skyward and dream of tomorrow's realities. When his research was moved from Devers, MA to Roswell, NM in the 1930's there is no doubt that at least one of his desertl launches may have inspired a few stories on the part of distant citizen observers.

I have taken a peek at a few summer reading lists from across the country and find very few new generation science fiction novels that emphasize the science fact behind their fiction. So here is a question for the Middle School Portal Readers. Outside of the classic science fiction authors, like Verne and Wells, what science fiction authors and novels might serve as the inspiration to the next generation of space explorers?

Maybe our community should further develop this genre for in-between agers?

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Tags: Goddard, adolescent, fiction, integrated, interdisciplinary, novels, rocketry, science

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Comment by Susan Kaye Quinn on October 8, 2010 at 10:12am
I'm not a teacher, but I know that our jr high (gr 7-8) uses team teaching and thematic units. For example, Anne Frank is used in everything from english (obviously) to math and science in a coordinated effort. As a school board member, it was impressive to tour classroom after classroom and see how the same threads were being tied through all these different classes, tailored by each teacher.
Comment by Richard Varner on October 8, 2010 at 7:10am
As the National Middle School Association's conference in Baltimore approaches, I was thinking a bit more about Debbie Silver's comments on interdisciplinary units.
When I worked at Lincoln Middle School and, to some extent, at Howard Bishop Middle School in Gainesville, FL, there was an expectation that teachers develop thematic interdisciplinary units. While much of this planning time was during our personal hours, eventually release time was provided and the specific outcomes addressed. Thirty years ago, we were content mapping before anyone had identified this as a best practices strategy.

What I found was interesting every time we would conduct these units was the initial surprise on the part of the students. "You mean the teachers get together and work this stuff out?" was the type of comment we'd receive. Following the unit the students wanted to know when the next team wide unit would be presented.

Many of these units had social studies and science themes and the Reading/L.Arts teachers would select a novel for the overarching connections we would work from. Although we never used one, a science fiction novel could very well become the central focal point. From the suggestions provided in this blog from our community, I would have to imagine that the technology and engineering content strands would flourish.

So taking a meandering path on this topic.... How wide spread are interdisciplinary or content integrated units these days? Is that still a part of the middle school concept as it was in the origins of the educational design?
Comment by Richard Varner on September 26, 2010 at 2:05pm
I'll be on travel in MA for the STEM Summit, but did go on line to view a youtube posting of FUTURESTATES. Very interesting. Love the social implications, very much like the classic Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes.
Thanks Kim!
Comment by Kim Lightle on September 26, 2010 at 11:03am
Just came across this free webinar - Teaching with Science Fiction Film: FUTURESTATES from ITVS - http://www.learncentral.org/node/104600 - on Learn Central. It is Monday - so short notice but might be worth checking into.
Comment by Susan Kaye Quinn on September 8, 2010 at 11:02am
I just stumbled across a new middle grade book called "The Reinvention of Thomas Edison" where Science geek Eddy Thomas can invent useful devices to do anything, except solve his bully problem. I'm putting it on my TBR list! :)
Comment by Currie Renwick on September 7, 2010 at 3:32pm
In a previous entry, someone mentioned The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. This Newbery award- winner that delves into the repercussions of cloning reminds me of some other great books that touch on cloning and genetic engineering. I am sure that there are lots more, but these come to mind as good middle school reads: The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, Double Helix by Nancy Werlin, Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, and Eva by Peter Dickinson.
Comment by Eileen McIlvain on September 7, 2010 at 1:31pm
That's wonderful, Susan - love seeing sci fi as an avenue to the sciences and math - it makes so much sense to use sci fi as a vehicle for encouraging science passion....
Comment by Susan Kaye Quinn on September 7, 2010 at 9:58am
Richard - I actually interned at NASA Goddard, but it was a long time ago! But if I need some current rocket scientist help, I know just where to come. Thanks for the offer! :)
Comment by Richard Varner on September 7, 2010 at 9:47am
Thanks for your insights Susan.
A quick glance of your blog looks as if it is a perfect fit for this conversation. If you are interested in speaking with NASA personnel in developing one of tyour novels for the middle grades, please, let me know if I might be of assistance.
Comment by Susan Kaye Quinn on September 7, 2010 at 8:30am
This is a great discussion!

First a little about me:
I have a Ph.D. in engineering and getting kids excited about science has always been a passion of mine. I have three boys ages 7-11, am very involved in their schools, and I currently serve on my local school board as an elected member of the board of education, where I've advocated for years for more science education for kids at all levels of our K-8 schools. In the last couple years, I've also become an author. My first published novel is for teens, but I just finished writing a middle grade science fiction novel that has lots of science in it, as well as a Science Files appendix at the end that talks about the real science behind the story. That novel isn't published, but I'm working on it!

I also have a blog Ink Spells where I talk about writing and reading middle grade novels for advanced readers, with an occasional emphasis on finding science fiction books targeted (and appropriate) for that age group.

I recently blogged about the Dearth of Science Fiction in Middle Grade and a new wave of SF in young adult books - which may translate into a "trickle down" into Middle Grade.

I also review books on my blog, and have a growing list of middle grade books, including SF, that may be useful to you - although, granted that most of them are not "heavy" on the science. I hope to change that, and I'm glad to see educators looking to fiction to draw kids (especially at this age) into science!

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