100 Ways to Teach With Science Fiction

100 Ways to Teach With Science Fiction

Sparking a love of learning can be difficult. Not all of us love math. Many people loath science. Others don’t see the relevance of learning about history. As parents and teachers, how can we help kids cultivate a love of learning? Sometimes all it takes is the right book, movie, or TV show.  That little spark of interest can develop into a full-blown obsession and before you know it, you are considered a member of a “fandom”. The love of a fandom usually lasts a lifetime and this love can open up an immense world of learning opportunities.

For many kids and teenagers (and even adults), the fandoms that most often lure them in are categorized as science fiction or sci-fi. These stories span the universe, alien life, technology, cyberspace, time travel, and even alternate realities. Middle Earth and Narnia are not considered sci-fi, but in his book A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 author Joseph Loconte explained that Tolkien and Lewis wrote about mythical worlds and characters “not because they sought to escape the world, but because for them the real world had a mythic and heroic quality. The world is the setting for great conflicts and great quests: it creates scenes of remorseless violence, grief, and suffering, as well as deep compassion, courage, and selfless sacrifice. In an era that exalted cynicism and irony, Tolkien and Lewis sought to reclaim an older tradition of the epic hero.”

This is what sci-fi gives to modern kids. Great adventures, conflicts, and chances for epic heroes to emerge. All of this within the realm of science and technology. Science fiction asks the question “What if?”

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100 Ways to Teach With Science Fiction

1. Star Trek: Fiction meets reality

Tell your children the stories of the real-life items that began as fiction in the Star Trek universe and eventually became a reality.

2. Star Trek: Real life scientists

Share with your children the stories of those scientists who are where they are today because they were inspired by Trek. The big wigs at NASA, for many decades, have been Star Trek fans. NASA’s first shuttle was actually named the Enterprise, in honor of Star Trek’s quintessential Starship Enterprise. Star Trek even influenced astronauts. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, was a huge fan! The creators of the cell phone, personal computer, MRI scanner, tablet, automatic sliding doors, and Bluetooth were all inspired by Star Trek. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, developed it after watching Star Trek and thinking to himself, “We need to communicate the way they do on Star Trek.”

Star Wars : Would You Rather?

a booklet full of fun Star Wars themed questions for kids

3. Star Trek: Language arts

Increase your language skills by learning the vocabulary of Star Trek. I’ve created a Trekkie vocabulary list for you, as well as a special printable to help your kids learn each word.

4. Star Trek: Physics

Read The Physics of Star Trek together. What warps when you’re traveling at warp speed? What is the difference between a wormhole and a black hole? Anyone who has ever wondered “could this really happen?” will gain useful insights into the Star Trek universe (and, incidentally, the real world of physics) in this charming and accessible guide.

5. Star Trek: Calculate math with Tribbles

For the math whizzes, you could try calculating how many Tribbles you would have after so many days of multiplying. One Tribble gives birth to 10 baby Tribbles every 12 hours!

6, 7, 8, 9. Star Trek: Episodes to teach history

While it’s not exactly famous for its historical accuracy, there are certain episodes that challenge our thinking about historical events. They make for great conversation starters and can even lead to more research and debate. Best of all, some episodes are just plain fun and make great introductions into periods or events.

10. Star Trek: Delve even deeper in history

Star Trek and History is a fantastic book that explores the REAL history on which the stories are rooted.

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11. Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

Starfleet Academy is a branch of the International Star Trek Fan Association. Many of the classes are entertainment based, but even more are legit educational, such as Baroque Artists & Art, Politics and Government: US Presidents, WWI: An Overview, Basic Emergency Care , History of Microorganisms, William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Introduction to Thermodynamics. View a course catalog here.

12. Star Trek: Learn literature with Star Trek

In addition to the many historical figures that are portrayed in Star Trek, there are many fictional characters that incorporated. Data in The Next Generation had an obsession with Sherlock HolmesRobin Hood also appears in an episode of The Next Generation. On Voyager, there is a holodeck program, based on BeowulfRumpelstiltskin appeared in Deep Space Nine. Watching these episodes may be enough to spark an interest and encourage your child to read the real stories.

13. Star Trek: The True Science Behind the Voyages

Star Trek The Official Guide to Our Universe: The True Science Behind the Starship Voyages reveals the real science behind its fantastic and beloved fictions, inviting readers to step outside, gaze up at the night sky, and observe some of the destinations the Starfleet has visited. Many of the galactic destinations featured in Star Trek over the years—multiple star systems, alien worlds, supernova explosions, emission nebulae, voracious black holes—are scientifically valid, so much so that one can step out and view them in the night sky.

14. Star Trek: Science Fiction to Science Fact

STEM in 30 – Star Trek at 50: Science Fiction to Science Fact is a fun 30 minute video from NASA. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s STEM in 30 series of live, fast-paced, 30-minute webcasts are designed to increase interest and engagement in STEM for students. In recognition of the premiere of Star Trek, 50 years ago this September, this episode of STEM in 30 explores how one of the most popular shows in television history has inspired generations of scientists, astronauts, and engineers, and introduced many technologies that have gone from science fiction to science reality.

15. Star Wars, Star Trek and NASA

What do Luke Skywalker and Captain Kirk have in common? Would you believe they are both helping NASA? Scientists at NASA are creating a new robot. They got ideas for it from Star Wars and Star Trek! Part of the idea for the design of NASA’s Personal Satellite Assistant (PSA) came from the movie Star Wars.

16. Star Trek: Warp Drive & Transporters

This is a very helpful infographic on how Star Trek technology works in the fictional world and what real-life scientists say about the technologies.

17. Star Trek: The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek

An Analysis of References And Themes in the Television Series How is the android Data like Shakespeare’s character Hamlet? Is the vengeful Khan (original series episode “Space Seed” and the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) an echo of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick? The links between Star Trek and literature are vast: themes and characters that reflect those in classic literature; characters that quote literature in their dialog; and an enormous body of nonfiction books, novels, articles that have grown from the saga. Finally, like literature, Star Trek seeks to help in the human endeavor of understanding the world and its place in the universe. This book explores all of those connections.

18. Star Trek: Learn to Speak Klingon

Here is a list of everyday Klingon words and phrases from the official Klingon Language Institute.

19. Star Trek: Create Refrigerator Word Magnets

This is a big kid version of the ABC magnets that most of us homeschool moms have had on our refrigerators at one time or another. To make these, I located a list of the 100 most commonly used English words and the 3 of us brainstormed a list of about 50 common Star Trek terms and characters.

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20-36. Learn History With Doctor Who

Doctor Who is pack to the brim with history references and important figures, real and mythical. Here are 17 characters and events from 2005 to today (Doctors 9 – 12) to help spark an interest in history.

37. Doctor Who: Hands-on Math and Engineering

STEAM-powered Classroom shares a very hands-on Doctor Who-style project/ that her family completed…a 3-D cardboard replica of the TARDIS.

38. The Science Of Doctor Who

Brian Cox is an English physicist, an Advanced Fellow of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, and an avid Whovian. In the Science Of Doctor Who, Brian Cox presents the latest theories as well as 200 years of scientific discoveries and the genius of Einstein, and tries to answer the classic questions raised by the Doctor – can you really travel in time? Does extra-terrestrial life exist in our galaxy? And how do you build something as fantastical as the TARDIS?

39. Doctor Who: Real Science

Beginning in 1963, 20 Doctor Who Stories That Are Based On Real Science takes us through 20 episodes that are based on plausible scientific facts and theories, like mutations, pesticides and networked computers.

40. Star Wars: Civil Rights

In the video How Star Wars Helps Explain Civil Rights, Nate Bowling, Washington state’s Teacher of the Year explains to Bill Gates how he uses the original Star Wars trilogy movies to help his students understand the three landmark moments in the history of America’s civil rights movement.

41. Star Wars: Build a R2-D2

The R2 Builders Club is an international community that builds their own replica robots from the Star Wars universe. The members area provides blueprints and digital magazines.

42. Star Wars: Is Yoda Shakespearean?

Master Yoda has an unmistakable speak pattern and many think he sounds more British than American, Shakespearean to be precise.  Grammar Girl analyzes the subject-verb-object order.

43. Star Wars: Cooking 

Sit down and brainstorm Star Wars themed dishes with your family. See if you can adapt any of your favorite recipes to fit with the Star Wars universe. See some examples here.

44. Star Wars: Tyrant and Dictators

With real-life  tyrants like Emperor Palpatine popping up around the world, is war is a necessary evil? Investigate this claim at Democracy versus Dictatorship.

45. Star Wars: Blaster Fire

The article An Analysis of Blaster Fire in Star Wars addresses the questions: What are these blasters? How fast are the blaster bolts? Do the blasters from the spacecraft travel at about the same speed as the handheld blasters? Why do people still think these are lasers?

46. Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

Click on the fact and fiction tab  to view full color mini posters for the first 6 movies. Information is the from the traveling Star Wars exhibit.

47. Star Wars: Distance vs. Time

You’ll hear any reputable Star Wars fan point it out eventually: Han Solo’s famous boast that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” may have sounded impressive, but from an astronomical perspective, it made no sense. A parsec is a unit of distance, not time, so why would Solo use it to explain how quickly his ship could travel? Read the analysis at How the Star Wars Kessel Run Turns Han Solo Into a Time-Traveler.

48. Star Wars: Study the Biomes

The various planets of the vast Star Wars universe are extremely diverse. From the frozen planet of Hoth to the volcanic planet of Mustafar, there are dozens of different locations with unique biomes.

49. Star Wars Money Facts

In the article How Much Does it Cost to Build a Death Star? financial guru Dave Ramsey investigates the cost and 9 other Star Wars money facts.

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50. Star Wars Art

CyberDrone shares dozens of custom Star Wars Cubeecraft templates. Simply, print, cut and assemble.

51. Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code

Learn to program droids, and create your own Star Wars game in a galaxy far, far away with the global movement Hour of Code.

52. Exploring the Music of Star Wars

A free unit study about John Williams, the composer of the Star Wars film score.

53. Star Wars: The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a 12-step common narrative template that describes the typical adventure of a hero in a book or movie. Luke Skywalker is a perfect example of one such hero. Use this lesson plan to plot Luke’s adventure.

54. Star Wars History

The Real History That Inspired Star Wars explains how real-life characters and events from history inspired the creation of this sci-fi saga. Explore how history—some of it a long time ago and some much more recent—has been a powerful force in shaping one of Hollywood’s top movie franchises.

55. Star Wars in Shakespearean

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return are brilliant re-tellings in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. Download a free educator’s guide to go along with the books.

56. Star Wars: Writing Prompts

Get your kids excited about writing by using Star Wars to spark their interest and creativity. Just about any Star Wars related topic will work, but in this lesson students will take on the role of a background character and write about their experiences.

57. Star Wars: Real World Gadgets

This article, Star Wars’ Coolest Gadgets — And Their Real-World Analogs, compares pieces of tech from Star Wars to their real-world equivalents.

58. Star Wars: World War II

Star Wars in the Classroom provides 10 unit studies and viewing guides comparing the imagery and story lines of Star Wars to World War II. Click on the history tab to access them.

59. Star Wars: America’s Westward Expansion

Star Wars in the Classroom provides a unit study comparing the imagery and story lines of Star Wars to America’s Westward Expansion. Click on the history tab to access them.

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60. Star Wars: The American Revolution

Star Wars in the Classroom provides 3 unit studies comparing the imagery and story lines of Star Wars to the American Revolution. Click on the history tab to access them.

61. Science Fiction Sounds

Nowadays, when people want to add a sound effect to a movie, they mostly just pull up a digital archive, choose a sound, and drag and drop. But in the pre-digital age, people created sounds using whatever objects were close to hand. Origins Of Classic Science Fiction Sound Effects explains the 10 most unusual sources for your favorite sound effects.

62. H.G. Wells Predictions

H. G. Wells (1866-1946) was one of the seminal minds of early science fiction. Beginning with The Time Machine (1895), his classic novel of travel through the ages, Wells churned out dozens of stories and novels, establishing many of the basic ideas that SF writers of today use as background props. Science Fiction Predictions of H.G. Wells details this many predictions that came true.

63. The Day the World Ended

On October 30, 1938 Orson Welles causes a nationwide panic with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds” – a very realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth.

64. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Complete Teaching Unit

This free teaching unit includes: Chapter-by-chapter lesson plan, Discussion questions, Vocabulary, Chapter summaries, Trivia questions, True/false reading check questions, Easy to use forms for tracking vocabulary, quotes, and writing logs, and more.

65. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Quote Analysis

This $3 teaching unit includes a quote analysis packet for students and a quiz card and rubric template.

66. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Book to Movie

Use a Venn Diagram to compare the movie to the book. Movie adaptations are almost always significantly different from the book. The reason for this is because if a movie was filmed to include every single plot detail and conversation from the book , it would probably be over 5 hours long. It is extremely rare for a movie to do a book justice, but it is my opinion that the 2005 movie version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy IS just as good as the movie. I loved the way the writers brought the story to life.

67. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Vogon Poetry

Vogon poetry is known for being the worst poetry in the universe. Have your student try  to write the absolute worst poem they possibly think of.

68. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Changes

After the Earth was destroyed,  Arthur Dent was given the option of changing any aspect of the new planet Earth. If you could change anything about Earth, what would it be?

69. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Luxury Planets

The people of the planet Magrathea have a very special job…they manufacture custom-made, luxury planets. What type of planet would you build if you had the option?

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70. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 42

According to Deep Thought, the massive super computer, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. Why? Analyze the number and see what you can come up with. Here are some theories.

71. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Towels

Ford Prefect tells Arthur that a towel is the most useful thing any interstellar Hitchhiker can carry.  Do a mind map on reasons a towel can come in handy.

72. Jules Verne: Around the World in 80 Days

Jules Verne was a master of science fiction stories. The book Around the World in 80 Days (which is free for Kindle, by the way) contains many 19th century methods of travel. Using different forms of modern  travel, how fast do you think we could go around the world and how much money would it cost?

73. Jules Verne: Country Studies

In Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg traveled through France, Germany, India, China, America, Ireland and many more in between. Choose your favorite location and do a unit study on that country.

74. Jules Verne: Around the World in Real Life

Several adventurers have completed real life imitations of Around the World in 80 Days. Read their stories.

75. Jules Verne: Bridge Engineering

In Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg had to deal with a failing suspension bridge. This is a great time to work on a bridge building project.

76. Jules Verne: Around the World Map Work

Print out a world map and plot Phileas Fogg’s route using different colors for the different modes of transportation.

77. Jules Verne: Around the World Recipes

Recreate food from each country Phileas Fogg visited and have a week of foods from around the world.

78. Jules Verne: Book to Movie

There have been many movie adaptations of Around the World in 80 Days. Choose one that looks interesting and use a Venn Diagram to compare the movie to the book. A teach with the movies guide can be found here.

79. Jules Verne: Submarines

History of the Submarine – Military Documentary is a well done overview of the ever versatile submarine from its birth in the days of the US War for Independence in 1776 to the steroid fleet of the Titan submarines of today.

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80. Jules Verne: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Book to Movie

There have been many movie adaptations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Choose one that looks interesting and use a Venn Diagram to compare the movie to the book. A teach with the movies guide can be found here.

81. Jules Verne:  Journey to the Center of the Earth

Study the different layers of the Earth. How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World is a cute children’s book about one boy’s 8,000-mile journey through the earth to discover what’s inside.

82. Jules Verne:  Study Volcanoes

Journey to the Center of the Earth takes readers on an adventure into a volcano. YouTube is full of educational (and gorgeous!) videos of erupting volcanoes.

83. Jules Verne: The Time Machine Book to Movie

There have been many movie adaptations of The Time Machine. Choose one that looks interesting and use a Venn Diagram to compare the movie to the book. A teach with the movies guide can be found here.

84. Batman Science

Batman is science fiction because of the outlandishness of some of his gear. The Real-World Science Behind Batman’s Gear is a fascinating look at whether or not any of his gear has a basis in reality.

85. Word of the Day Mug

This was my son’s word-of-the-day mug. It is a great way to introduce new vocabulary words!  The little book is cut from black vinyl and vinyl is very similar to a chalkboard, but it actually wipes off cleaner than a chalkboard. The vinyl could be cut into an object from whatever book you are studying.

86-93. Do an Author Unit Study

Unit Studies on any famous person can often be quickly pulled together by searching their name on Wikipedia. Here are some great science fiction authors to consider:

  • Ray Bradbury
  • H.G. Wells
  • Jules Verne
  • George Lucas
  • Gene Roddenberry
  • Aldous Huxley
  • Douglas Adams
  • Isaac Asimov

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94. Star Wars Chalk Art

BB-8 Chalk Art is a very easy to follow chalk art tutorial from Tricia at Hodge Podge.

95. Sci-fi Visionary Ideas

Some of fiction’s technological inventions were so richly imagined they virtually demanded their own development. In the article Five visionary ideas inspired by sci-fi, Cathal O’Connell has a rundown of ideas that became something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

96. Sci-fi Story Starters

This list on Write Pop contains over 1000 science fiction themed story starters for all ages.

97. Short Story and Film Analysis

Science Fiction Short Story & Film Analysis – Teach your students how to “read” a movie in just the same way that we closely read literature with this five-day lesson that begins with a study of Brian Aldiss’ short story, “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” the inspiration for A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a 2001 film directed by Steven Spielberg.

98. Another Short Story and Film Analysis Resource

Science Fiction Unit 2 Weeks of Sci Fi Short Story & Movie Analysis – Take a trip to another dimension as you introduce your students to the delights and horrors of modern science fiction. Using the works of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Isaac Asimov, this two (or three, depending on pacing) week mini-unit will entertain and challenge your advanced middle school and high school classes.

99. Math is the only universal language 

What Science Fiction Can Teach Us About Communicating With Other Cultures – Science fiction is full of great lessons about how to approach people with a different worldview — even if they don’t actually come from a different world. Here’s what science fiction can teach us about learning to understand other cultures.

100. Questions to Consider

This is a one page, condensed (but very helpful) resource called Questions to Consider While Reading Science Fiction.

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