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Use Science Fiction to Teach STEM, Inspire Innovation

The United States lags behind other nations when it comes to students’ STEM achievement, but one science-fiction fan and author is trying to change that.

Inspired by the science and tech-enabled adventures of the Starship Enterprise crew, “Star Trek” fan Matthew Kadish sees storytelling as the key to getting students interested in STEM subjects.

earthman jack science fiction

“Storytelling is useful, simply because it’s something that clearly catches the power of imagination,” he explained. 

Although many believe students have short attention spans, Kadish views that assumption as false, since so many kids will spend hours playing video games. “[Gaining their attention] is about discovering what today’s students respond to, as opposed to what kids 20 years ago responded to. The real trick to comprehension and retention is desire. When kids aren’t really interested in something, they don’t care to retain it.”

Kadish’s book, Earthman Jack vs. the Ghost Planet, demonstrates the strategy of STEM-related student engagement via storytelling. The book tells the story of unpopular Ohio teen slacker Jack Finnegan, who must use his knowledge of quantum physics to save the world.

The scientific principles that drive the story’s plot not only feed readers’ imaginations, but also cultivate their interest in the subject matter. In this way, Earthman Jack helps readers understand scientific concepts that would be less accessible outside the context of a narrative.

Could sci-fi inspire the next generation of technology innovators?

In addition to engaging students to learn about STEM subjects, many legendary works of science fiction have influenced the real world by inspiring the development of technology that we now take for granted.

Kadish cited luminary Jules Verne’s impact on real-world inventors. Verne’s sense of adventure, combined with his surrealist tendencies and boundless imagination, inspired countless scientists. The mind behind the submarine (Simon Lake), the inventor of the helicopter (Igor Sikorsky) and rocketry pioneers Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard and Hermann Oberth can all cite Verne’s work as a major influence. Another example is Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R., which introduced the word “robot” to the world, and Isaac Asimov, who invented the Three Laws of Robotics.

Shows like “Star Trek” popularized the ideas behind smartphones and voice-controlled computers. In fact, many iPhone features reportedly stem from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ “trekkie” tendencies.

Kadish pointed out that unlike fantasy, science fiction is always grounded in real concepts, or ones that seem plausible at the time a book is published.

“Eventually [sci-fi] becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it inspires people to try create the [fictional technology].”


Related resources

Lesson Plan Booster: Building the Starship Enterprise
Science Virtual Field Trip: Warp-Drive Space Travel

Article by Jason Cunningham, EducationWorld Social Media Editor
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