T Sale's Blog

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Making Science Fiction Up To Date

Thinking about constructivist teaching has prompted me to change something I’ve done in my Science Fiction class for a long time. I started teaching SF when I first came to AHS in 1985, and I inherited a three-part slide show of the history of SF. The slides are in carousel trays, and the audio is on both cassette tape and vinyl records, complete with the “beep” to tell you when to change the slides. (Lately I’ve been using the records because they have better sound quality than the old cassettes.) Now here’s the thing: I’m not planning on abandoning the slide show. I have to supplement it more and more because it was made in 1974, and it’s a little corny in spots, but it has good information on the roots of SF, and it’s narrated by the great Rod Serling (creator of The Twilight Zone, for those of you too young to remember). And using such retro gear in a class about the future appeals to my sense of irony. It’s my own little tradition. However, here’s what I plan to change. In the past, I’ve always given the students a set of fill-in-the-blank notes, and later an objective test. This year I want to give them…blank paper. I want the students to really watch the show (instead of madly scribbling notes) and jot down 2 or 3 details that interest them – perhaps an image from one of the slides, or a detail about an author. Along with that, they’re going to express some of the questions they have about science fiction tropes like time travel, aliens, robots, and the future. I hope to get the kids asking about science fiction, instead of feeding them the knowledge that I think they should know. Later, as a little project, I’m going to have them research some of the authors and trends of the eighties, nineties, and aughties, and create their own update in artistic form.


  • At Tue Aug 15, 09:18:00 PM 2006, Blogger Karl Fisch said…

    Nice. I really like the idea of "blank paper" as a metaphor (is that the correct use of that word?) for what you're doing. In the end, it's whatever the students decide is important that truly ends up "on the paper" for them. No matter how important we think certain pieces of knowledge are to know, no matter how hard we try or how creative we get, if the students forget it two weeks after the test, what have we accomplished? If you truly get them thinking about science fiction, involved in science fiction, relating science fiction to their lives and the world, and then - dare I say - actually writing science fiction - how cool would that be?

  • At Mon Aug 21, 05:05:00 PM 2006, Blogger Davis said…

    I think this is a great tradition to keep, but the change sounds really purposeful. I like the idea of trying to understand what is important and pulling that information out. What about having the students looking for information on the science fiction tropes you mentioned, and figuring out why there is such a focus on these in futuristic writing. Can they then, find something in our world that seems science fiction, but is developed, or on the verge of developing (like Tyler's knee/DNA cloning of sorts)?


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