Educators and Scientists: The Conduit to Fandom

Saturday at 1PM, the Diversity Track hosted a panel discussion in Hyatt Inman on the power and potential of science and social studies to take advantage of fantasy and science fiction in the classroom. Eric Thomas, Joy Hatcher, Glenn Paris, Nicholas Hoo, and Melanie Duncan explored the world of STEM, STEAM, social studies, ELA, the kind of contribution science fiction and fantasy can make to them, and the need to break through the various silos of each to empower student learning.

Contemporary public education is dominated by distinct disciplines operating largely independent of one another. Research shows that this “silo” effect places unnecessary limits upon student learning. As a result, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) fail to realize their full potential because they lack social studies content in their curricula. Regardless of the scientific field or discipline, if you’re trying to make a difference or foster change in society you are functioning in the realm of social studies.

Hoo pointed out that social studies needs to be engaged to facilitate serious conversation in the sciences because of its links to everything. He asked the audience to think about the pandemic and how it ties into the social studies. We can not only explore the pandemic scientifically, but we can examine the way in which it is transforming economic, social, interpersonal, and cultural relationships. This kind of examination is fundamental to social studies and in fact should be seen as the “bones” or skeleton of STEM and STEAM.

Science Fiction and Fantasy can be key to these areas because of its diversity and roots in social content. The very complexity and diversity of the stories can make them useful tools in the classroom. Moreover, as schools increasingly focus on social-emotional learning (again fundamentally embedded in social studies curriculum) the characters and stories of science fiction and fantasy can both engage and inform the conversation.

Hatcher then pointed out how science fiction is being used to test the impact of innovations while still in development. This represents a new emphasis upon putting the “soul” back into science. The question of consequence has long been a staple of the science fiction. Writers and film makers living and working in a nuclear (post-1945) world have devoted a great deal of energy to thinking about and exploring the consequences of scientific innovation and development without consideration of its impact. Contemporary science classrooms can use these stories as a segue way to conversation about current innovation and scientific advancement.

Using fictional characters and events juxtaposed against historical events gives teachers a tool to challenge students and get them to consider alternatives. Could this fictional scenario have gone a different way? How might the lessons gained by examining the consequences of this event in the story be applied to a real-world situation? Using things like the Marvel multiverse or the What If? series in the classroom allows students to engage in these conversations.

The charge for educators is to find the appropriate material and weave it into their curriculum. Doing that however requires both resources and materials. Securing those, along with the necessary training teachers need in their proper use, takes time and funding. The key to that lies in the forging of alliances between the many public and private stakeholders involved in education.

The breadth and the depth of the conversation pointed to both the possibilities of empowering the curriculum through the use of science fiction and fantasy and the convergence of STEM/STEAM, Social Studies and ELA. Creative collaboration is the key to unlocking the potential of the next generation.

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