The Science in Science Fiction: A Strategy for Integrating Sci-Fi in the Classroom

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The Science in Science Fiction A Strategy for Integrating Science and ELA HERO
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Science Fiction in the Classroom

Many, including Jurassic Park author, Michael Crichton, would argue that the best works of science fiction have their roots in real science. In fact, many of the most celebrated science fiction writers—Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Andy Weir, and Michael Crichton—are also scientists.

In our science classrooms, we often have students who struggle to see the importance of science in their daily lives, and we long to spark their curiosity and engage their creativity. As a teacher, one way I chose to do so was by teaching the science in science fiction in the classroom.

Selecting Texts to Analyze

Several science fiction texts work well with this strategy, whether you want to choose a short story or an entire novel. I’ve provided some options below. I preferred to use stories that took an element of science to an extreme or added a twist to the real science that allowed the plot to run wild.

I, Robot

Isaac Asimov

“The Last Question”

Isaac Asimov

The Descent of Anansi

Steven Barnes and Larry Niven

“A Sound of Thunder”

Ray Bradbury

“The Evening and the Morning and the Night”

Octavia E. Butler

“The Great Silence”

Ted Chiang

“The Story of Your Life”

Ted Chiang

Code Orange

Caroline B. Cooney

Jurassic Park

Michael Crichton


Michael Crichton

The Marrow Thieves

Cherie Dimaline

Microcosmic God

Theodore Sturgeon

Identifying the Science in a Story

As students read, their task is to note when real science is being presented and when the author strays from real science to create the fictional story. This stage of the strategy can lead to several different supplementary projects.

For example, in Jurassic Park, students might note that cloning is real science. If you're working with older students, you might require them to explain the cloning process, cite some examples, discuss the ethics of cloning, or do some additional reading about successes in cloning extinct species.

Your students might also note that the author relies on imagination because there are still-unresolved issues in the cloning process, such as efforts to ensure genetic diversity, keep ecosystems intact, and create healthy animals whose populations can be sustained.

When I was a classroom teacher, I liked holding discussions on what techniques the author employed and why. We would talk about how elements of real science made the story more believable. Students could identify with the characters being excited to try something new, and that excitement led to problems such as being overconfident, overlooking biases, or neglecting ethical considerations. Students also developed their understanding of the importance of thorough, accurate data gathering and interpretation, as well as leaning on peer review for critical feedback.

This task of identifying the science is also a great time for students to pose questions, define problems, or even create models based on the real and fictional science suggested in the story—all important scientific and engineering practices.

Writing Science Fiction

Once they’ve analyzed an existing piece of science fiction, it’s time to turn the tables and have your students write their own short stories. Students can complete this project individually or in small groups.

Provide your students with guidelines on story length, and if you want them to analyze a specific scientific topic, provide them with the element of science they are required to include. Once students have their science topic, they can dig deeper into it so that they can write about it more convincingly.

I recommend developing specific project steps for your students. First, have them submit a science topic for approval, including how they plan to twist the science or take it to an extreme to build their story. Then progress into an outline and drafts of the story. You can also provide an opportunity for peer reviews in partners or small groups to make edits and suggestions. Finally, students publish their stories using an in-class library or a class website.

Benefits of Teaching Sci-Fi

Studying and creating their own sci-fi in the classroom provides many benefits for students. But from a science education view, when I implemented this lesson, one of the most important benefits was that my students were able to tap into some realities of studying science. They learned that scientific pursuits must guard against biases, thought through potential repercussions, and grasped that scientists rely on each other and benefit from accepting critical feedback from their peers.

Watching my students get excited about creating their own science fiction stories was a highlight of my teaching experience and one I hope you can share with your students as well!

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