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Science Fiction in the Science Classroom

Gail Sanchez

Mars Lander How do students learn? Watching a student growing through their educational years, one can only be amazed at the amount of learning that has allowed them to understand their expanding environment. Students learn by gathering information, processing that information and experiencing the world around them. As the years go by, there is an increasing amount of information our students must learn. On a daily basis, new and innovative information is being disseminated. How then do we allow our students the chance to explore new experiences that may or may not be real? Effective teaching is at the heart of science education. Good teachers create environments in which the student and the teacher work together as active learners. Teachers need to design and implement new ways of teaching and learning science. All students are capable of learning and it is critical for teachers to support the diversity of the students' needs, experiences, and backgrounds when providing opportunities for all students to learn science.

When educators thinks of science fiction, it is always as the unit taught by the reading teachers to introduce students to a different genre of reading. As science continues to reach beyond our known space, science fiction is becoming science fact, so then where does science fiction belong?

It is the belief of this science teacher that science fiction is an integral part of the science curriculum. It only takes the individual teacher and the knowledge they have of their students to know where and when science fiction belongs in the classroom.

Every state with the exception of one, has state mandated competency tests for students. Many teachers are driven to teach to the "test" and/or cover all the mandated curriculum as stated by district and/or state guidelines. So then does the science classroom become boring with students and teachers complaining that the excitement is gone. How does the teacher bring back the excitement while still meeting all the guidelines required, through science fiction!

This teacher had the good fortune to have a science class in which over 95% of the students watched Babylon 5 on a daily basis. The hold outs were unfortunately the six girls in the classroom, but it didn't take long for them to become involved in the opening class discussions on episodes watched by their fellow classmates. I made it a point to watch and take notes! What a way to watch TV, but there were always points of interest I wanted to make sure my students had paid attention to. First and foremost the episodes were the class sponge, meaning it was the discussion before much of the formal lessons were presented. However, many times, I was able to use one small part of the show and using the Babylon 5 website page to introduce new information. What a way to hook the student with learning! Babylon 5 made it easy to discuss other issues making the learning more relevant. Politics, current issues, poverty, government, humanities, and art became intertwined in class lessons. No longer were the students learning dissected parts of science curriculum, but seeing and learning the whole as to cause and effect of life and earth systems. My students have been limited in their personal experiences as most live at or below the poverty level. However, through the use of multimedia, new possibilities and ways of viewing their world became possible.

While I am bound to teaching scientific processes and skills, I can ensure that my students become scientifically literate with changing their attitudes and values about science through the use of science fiction. We as educators have to dare our students to dream. The dreaming is easy... teaching the students to live the dream is what takes work.

Gail is very excited to be using Babylon 5 in her classroom. She writes:

If any teachers want to email and start a dialog about the use of Science Fiction in the Science classroom..let me know! I will be more than willing to share lesson plans and other ideas. I even have one of my 6th grade reading teachers on board to help with some passage reading I am going to do with the 6th graders this year. I will also be presenting some of this to teachers who are attending the West Texas A&M University teacher training for the JASON project.

Gail's e-mail address is:

I have attached a photo of the MarsViking Probe that is housed here in Amarillo.

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