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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 Richard Varner on September 3, 2010 at 5:19pm
Eileen and Debbie, Great additions to these comments!

I think from your comments, it is beginning to become more clear that the Science Fiction genre has moved to the shelf less circulated.

One of the education specialists that I worked with at the Goddard Space Flight Center had a project with some of the physicists who "moonlight" as sci fi writers. I found it fascinating that some of the scientists whose briefs I had read were actually SciFi authors by another name. While I have read a handful of their novels, they seem to be more oriented toward teens and mature readers.

Maybe it's time we engage the dilithium crystal chamber and move this SciFi writing into warp drive for the younger audiences? I am going to compare notes with my education counterparts at NASA and see if there is anything in the works to promote literary inspiration for the next generation of explorers.
Comment by Debbie Silver on September 2, 2010 at 7:06pm
I enjoy reading Robert Heinlein, and I'm wondering if middle school students still find his books engaging. When I was young, his books for young adolescents were some of the best available. With all of the new literature out there, I'm wondering if his books seem "dated" to students. A favorite among many teachers with whom I work is Maximum Overdrive by James Patterson. One principal told me he had his whole school read it and then developed thematic units to go with the novel. Cool idea!!
Comment by Eileen McIlvain on September 1, 2010 at 9:01am
I agree, Richard, that the fantasy genre seems to be where most middle school level readers are hanging out, when it comes to sci fi. I am a huge sci fi fan myself and have been for decades (we won't discuss just how many decades!). Madelyn L'Engle books come to mind for middle schoolers. I have always loved the interest in science that science fiction can spark - and I remember that the first time I ever heard of the "Heisenberg uncertainty principle" was on Star Trek - because the "Heisenberg compensator" as developed in the future was the only thing that made the transporter possible at all! Not being a budding physicist or quantum mechanics maven, I nevertheless appreciated the possibilities that science fiction is capable of laying out - and, it seems that some actual things in our present time were/are often inspired by science fiction - such as the Segue (I'd love to have one myself), or talking vehicles. Seems like a great topic for a unit of instruction, and fun!
Comment by Richard Varner on August 30, 2010 at 8:53pm
I mentioned this quest to the group of middle school students with whom I was working and the genre did not seem out of favor with the kids, but the availability of books that interested them seemed to be a puzzle. Where science fiction might have once been popular, fantasy appears to have become the hands down replacement.
Comment by Jessica Fries-Gaither on August 30, 2010 at 10:57am
I'm not a big science fiction reader - but I am currently finishing up the third book in the popular YA series, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Wikipedia classifies it as science fiction, and there are certainly elements that could lend themselves to discussion in science class. Not in terms of space explorers and rocketry , but if students are reading it (personally or in school), it may be interesting to work in some connection there.

Sorry - I can't be of much more help. Like I said, it's not a genre I regularly read.
Comment by Kim Lightle on August 23, 2010 at 2:00pm
The Literacy Group had a similar discussion - here is a comment I made a while back:

Here is an article from the NYT - Raiders of the Lost Earth - that describes a fantasy set in a future eco-dystopia by David Klass and books of stories of teen environmentalists by Blake Nelson and Jennifer Cowan. The titles of the books are Timelock, Destroy All Cars, and Earthgirl.

Is anyone familiar with these? I guess Timelock is the final volume of David Klass’s Caretaker Trilogy, a story of ecological crisis played out between the heedless present day and a barren 31st-century future.
Comment by Richard Varner on August 23, 2010 at 1:32pm
Most of the book lists that I caught had very few modern science fiction topics. One did catch my eye, since it has received a national recognition with a Newberry Award, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. I am unfamiliar with the book, but have found the Newberry Awards to be a very reliable indicator of quality.
Comment by Kim Lightle on August 23, 2010 at 1:21pm
Richard - Great idea. I just read the book "The Unit" with my book club - science fiction, dystopian future - not appropriate for middle schoolers but sure got us thinking about the future. Maybe we can get librarians and media specialists to help with starting a book list.

And you know literacy is a huge issue at all grade levels - I just highlighted a few of the MSP2 resources in the email I sent out to MSP2 members - I'll list them again here:

Vocabulary Development. Wiki page with lessons, activities, and background information.

Reading Mathematics is Different. Webinar recording and supporting resources.

Reading Comprehension Strategies in Science. Ideas for integrating reading in a crowded curriculum.

Literacy in the Content Areas. A discussion group here on MSP2 to facilitate conversation.

Teaching With Trade Books. Wiki page with resources for science AND math.

"Teaching Literacy Across the Curriculum." Big picture overview with concrete examples of how literacy is embedded into the full curriculum.

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