Friday, May 18, 2012

Using Literature to Bring Literacy Skills to STEM

The Raven
I am definitely not a fan of "teaching" The Hunger Games - at any level, and least of all at the HS level. But a literate, challenging (generally) Hunger Games' Science lesson from the New York Times Learning Network has got me thinking. 

First of all, it uses the film as the core text, not the novel. Whew!  A local HS teacher here in Maine is using the novel to teach government in a 9th grade class.  Now that's a stretch.  On the other hand, if the ELA teacher were doing a dystopian unit at the same time, it might make sense.

This NYT lesson (which can actually be considered a unit) makes sense all by itself.  Its focus is a specific "fanciful reality" (the mockingjay) investigated in various contemporary science/engineering updos and from various points of view, including ethics.  It assumes that HS students have seen the film or read the novel.  This is literate lesson-making. 

I wonder what other STEM topics might arise from high-interest novel-to-films of interest to MS and HS students?  Here is a peek at some current films that might be tie-ins to STEM topics.  Grades 4-6 (maybe 7) might find most of the topics interesting.  Problematically, many of the "novels" are originally in the graphic format. 

  • Hugo (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) will interest students in the engineering of gears and robotics, especially since there is a body of historical robotics knowledge available online - also, of course, film-making itself
  • The Amazing Spider-Man - the physics of walking UP buildings (it is done by both robots and humans) - the spider's web itself - when Peter has a child, will it have spider powers (why or why not?) - science of special effects
  • The Avengers - pick a hero - what is the real science behind his/her powers?  to what extent are they possible? - what are the ethics of combating weapon-based terror with larger weapons?  are there other alternatives? - science of special effects
  • The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey - genetics and biology of "persons of short stature" - science of special effects
  • The Lorax - conservation of natural resources - urban development - species interdependency - science of animation
  • Prometheus - origin of life on earth - interior geology of earth - science of special effects - myths connection
  • World War Z - pandemics - are Zombies possible? (what is death?  how can life be extended with science?)
The best bet is The Raven (copy-cat killers - the science of some of the murders), which probably will not have much science in it, but which might at least inspire students to read some good literature.

My conclusion?  Using novel-based films is an interesting approach to STEM  topics, especially ethical topics, but as a rule it is a stretch.  As in all uses of technology and media, it is best to begin with the topic and then see if there is a film to back it up.  Kids see right through false attempts at engagement.

Another CCSS cautionary tale.

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