Though I'm sometimes met with bafflement when I mention what and how I teach, I've never believed that I'm the only person who perceives and trusts the interconnections of science and literature. The Science Leadership Academy's January 2015 EduCon2.7 in Philadelphia seemed an auspicious place to find others who see the power of fiction for teaching concepts in all disciplines. The EduCon folks agreed, so it was down to Philly to share Teaching STEM with Fiction, an exploration of the practice behind such curricular efforts as StoryCode.
EduCon is my kind of conference. The sessions are "conversations" rather than "presentations". It takes place in a school with wifi and projectors, plenty of white board space and all the colorful scenery of classroom walls well used for learning. There are teachers and students and parents, brown bag lunches, plenty of time and space for large, small, private and public discussion and not a hotel ballroom nor vendor in sight. Saturday's wonderfully facilitated conversation on Doodling the C's: Creativity, Comprehension & Connections with Shelley Paul and Jill Gough was a joyful validation of all the informational diagrams I've scrawled throughout my life and made me eager and optimistic about discovering common ground.
My Teaching STEM with Fiction conversation on Sunday did not disappoint. Twenty teachers running the K-12 gamut came together to share, brainstorm and debate the texts we love, the texts students love and how to use them to open up wonderful areas of scientific and mathematical knowledge. It turns out many folks have been meeting students right where they live, using such contemporary favorites as Louis Sachar's Holes, M.T. Anderson's Feed, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games series, Veronica Roth's Divergent books and, of course, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga.
The mega-series were just one facet of the discussion, however, with picture books such as Judi and Ron Barrett's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts considered alongside more esoteric literature like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and the plays R.U.R. by Karel Capek and Copenhagen by Michael Frayn. There was (as there must be) a role call of sci-fi films old and new that can be used to help teach science: Johnny Mnemonic, Fantastic Voyage, Star Wars, Interstellar, Gattaca, Jurassic Park, Contagion and yes, even Mel Brooks' satire Space Balls. (Plaid speed, anyone?)
We didn't get to examine every fascinating text percolating in people's minds as there was a hunger for employable practices and so I shared some of the techniques I've evolved over the years for locating, distilling and delivering STEM fiction for the classroom. ("Don't be afraid to abridge!") We did, however, take the first steps in creating a library of fiction for teaching STEM: texts and practices that can be a truly valuable resource for interdisciplinary education everywhere.
Best of all, of course, was the absolutely wonderful opportunity to meet so many committed educators who know and are ready to share the power of stories in all disciplines. Thanks everyone for your enthusiastic participation in a conversation that seemed to race through its allotted time at, well, plaid speed. Look for updates about the STEM Fiction Library right here!