Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why Sci Fi? - The Power of What If?

WhySciFi&Fantasy.egg  on Aviary     The Power of “What if?”

Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. ~ Terry Pratchett

Our world is a rapidly changing place. Many studies show that our children need to be creative thinkers to survive the onslaught of all the newness. They will need to be able to problem solve and create solutions for problems that we don’t even know exist yet.

Science fiction and fantasy authors have been asking these questions since the start. The stories they tell are the perfect way to get kids to start thinking about creative solutions, even if the problems faced in the story are so outlandish (to us) that they may never happen. Engaging children in the conversations is a great way to train them into this kind of thinking. Try one of these and watch the minds in your classroom explode with possibilities.

What if robots continue to get smarter and smarter? This concept becomes less and less science fiction and more and more likely the further we progress in robotics. Isaac Asimov was the original master of the robotics genre. Before he came along, robots were seen as only threats to humanity. He brought in the three laws of robotics, and started to show how those robots could become useful, helpful, and valuable members of society. Not all authors see benevolent robots in our future, though. Sampling from the variety of possible futures gives students some insight into the long term implications of decisions we make today – a wonderful skill to help them make their own decisions in life. It is also a way to introduce sophisticated thoughts like “what makes us human?” and “what is sentience?”

What if the alien life that visits humanity is so dramatically different from us that we have no idea how to interact? Working through stories of alien contact is another great way to help us understand and honor differences. If students can learn to acknowledge that a culture without sight would have a different understanding of their world (like Aunt Beast in Wrinkle in Time), or that creatures living in a hive mentality would have vastly different values and society (like the Formics from Ender’s Game) – how much easier will it be for them to respect and honor such tiny differences that exist between humans?

What if we were able to get to another planet, system – or even galaxy? How could we do it? How would we survive? Hey, just having kids think about the vastness of space is pretty mind blowing. (Check out this amazing website - The Scale of the Universe - for some perspective.) If we traveled toward the very edge of existence, we’d never get there. The universe is expanding faster than we could possible move to reach the end. Try that bit of humbling on for size. The difficulties involved in finding and making it to a planet that could sustain us are inspiring, and the amazing nature of our life giving world may help generate a desire to respect and protect our planet in the hearts of the next generation.


Don’t relegate these important genres to the “if we get to it” pile!  Science fiction (and fantasy) books are a boundless source of creative inspiration for our students. They also can introduce and reinforce specific scientific concepts, deep philosophical and historical themes, and build sophisticated language.

Over the course of these posts, I’ll share more thoughts and some specific book reviews. These examples were primarily from the science fiction realm, so I’ll also share ideas that are more fantasy related.

(While you’re thinking about fantasy, also visit my blog posts discussing Graceling with my Batty About Books partner – Kathy “The Brain Lair”.) 

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