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Bringing Science and Math Into Writing? 434

Posted by kdawson
from the lighting-the-fire dept.
I am an eighth grade English teacher. As much as I love my subject and believe in the value of skillful writing, I also believe that there is a terrible lack of interest in the sciences and maths among students in general. In some sense, I believe English to be a support subject for the others classes at this grade level. At my school, the average science classroom has time for labs and note taking, but reading and writing on the subject (beside textbooks) is usually limited. Math is in a similar situation: they have time to learn a concept and practice, but not to linger on possibilities. Therefore, I have two questions for the readers of Slashdot: which books / shows / movies caused a curiosity towards these subjects when you were young, and what suggestions do you have for incorporating these subjects into writing?
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Bringing Science and Math Into Writing?

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  • You're doomed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:10AM (#20526621) Homepage Journal
    It's a noble quest you are on, but it is doomed to failure. Books/movies/shows won't do it. As any psychologist can tell you, by far the strongest formative influences on a child are other people. First among these are the parents. If they discuss Paris Hilton's latest cunt flash at the dinner table, the kids are not going to learn that science and math are important. They can be exposed to good books/movies/shows, but they just won't care. If they discuss mathematical proofs - as happened at our dinner table - the child will develop an interest in math and science. Then you won't need to find books/shows etc for him - he'll hunt them down himself.

    The one good bit of news is that the next most influential person in a child's life is often a teacher. Your own enthusiasm for the subject will do more than you know. Just be your nerdy self; you will change their lives.
    • Reading (Score:5, Interesting)

      by VernonNemitz (581327) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:27AM (#20526697) Journal
      Read to your kids when they are too young to be able to do it themselves. This will at least teach them that fun things can be found in books. If you can then direct them toward science fiction, such as Tom Swift or Heinlein's juveniles, an interest in math and science becomes a likely side-effect.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bcrowell (177657)

        If you can then direct them toward science fiction, such as Tom Swift or Heinlein's juveniles, an interest in math and science becomes a likely side-effect.

        In the 1970's, I grew up on the Heinlein juveniles, and would read a Tom Swift book when I couldn't find anything better, although they were terribly dated even by then. The trouble is that the Heinlein juveniles are getting dated as well, and are disappearing from library shelves, and in general young adult SF is getting to be an endangered species. W

    • Re:You're doomed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ngworekara (1027704) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:00AM (#20526819)
      I disagree. My parents didn't talk about science at the dinner table. All those kids need is challenging reading material. Not science related reading material, not even science fiction necessarily, just challenging. If they enjoy reading and it makes them question the world around them, then they will naturally want to branch out into science, if thats the direction for them. Some of them won't, they'll end up English teachers. Nothing wrong with that. My English teachers were a huge influence on me. They never needed to point me in any direction, they just taught me the value of the written word. I went and found plenty of books on my own as a result.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by messner_007 (1042060)
        "strongest formative influences on a child are other people" I think you two agree, ... But the important part of the problem lies in the fact, that the teacher must gain respect and trust of a student, to be effective. Students can then follow their teachers. Without "pointing in any direction" !
      • I'm confused now by two conflicting insightfully modded anecdotal evidence (parent and grandparent), and the definition of influence by other people. I know other people are the bio mass entities sitting at the dinner table, but where do these books and movies magically appear from? Certainly not from the entities at the dinner table. To add to the confusion, I know of one family where they didn't talk science and one kid became a scientist and the other a hair stylist, while I also know of another family,
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by smallfries (601545)
          You may want to investigate the relevation that different people have different opinions, and that getting a +5 insightful mod doesn't make you authoritative.
      • Re:You're doomed (Score:5, Insightful)

        by blahplusplus (757119) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @07:39AM (#20527607)
        "All those kids need is challenging reading material."

        Can we stop with the "one size fits all" mentality? Most schools have no idea how to 'educate'. They don't need "challenging reading material" you have to identify what the child wants to LEARN ABOUT, you have to hook whatever it is your teaching into a child's natural interest or curiousity and then work back from it. You really have to get into kids heads about the adventurous things they want to do, what they like, and what they (even if naively) dream about. I was a product of said school system and even I can see how alarmingly curiousity killing it is. I didn't learn to like learning until I got OUT of the school system completely including university.

        What modern educational systems are doing is killing children's natural curiousity be forcing them to learn boring dry material that has no *relationship* to what kind of things they dream about, want to explore, think about or want to accomplish... if anything if I had the money I would open my own private school because I can see how criminal the "adults" of education have no clue about what it was like to be a kid! When you were at the ages of 6, 10, 15 ... Were you thinking: Man if only I had some "challenging reading material" this would be so much more interesting?? I didn't think so either.

        When I was in school I had curiousity about a lot of things and how they worked:

        -I wanted to know how cars worked (and how parts of it were made, I wanted ALL the details even if it was some simple small part)
        -I wanted to know how to put (small) video games together (and I understood at the time after a bit of reading they required math, etc. If someone really smart from the game industry had come along with a 2D shmup / shooter (not to be confused with First person shooter). I would have sat there for days trying to build my own and gobble up everything I could about it after being shown step-by-step from start to finish how to put a small one together.
        -I had a fascination with math but I think in pictures, gemoetric shapes and words, not symbol scratch like ... 1, 2, 3... I thought about creating individualized geometric notation for the number system, so kids could add and substract via shape/color recognition very quickly (visual system) instead of pushing around our standard boring number system around. (1..2...3, etc)

        Those are just the really quick and dirty ideas too. The truth of the matter is education really needs to become more individualized to the child's preferred mode of thought and data processing style in many instances.

        Right now few people in the educational system understand nor talk about neurodiversity amd really understand what that means.
    • by werdnapk (706357)
      As a child I watched many science/math shows on PBS and CBC(Canadian). 3-2-1 Contact, and a math show (forget it's name) were faves on PBS and a show called The Edison Twins on CBC were all quite entertaining to me.

      Book wise, my parents had complete sets of Encyclopaedias and childcraft books that I seemed to read over and over again.

      I can't think of any movies that I was really into Science/Math wise, but as far as TV and books... they worked wonders for me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by b4upoo (166390)
      English is a lofty goal in and of itself. Sadly very few students will ever have a clue as to the power or beauty of English no matter what you do. Going from a natural language to push them toward the formal languages, mathematics, chemistry and physics would actually degrade your purpose. There will be other teachers for those language arts.
      I had an professor who placed great emphasis on the crucifiction of the A type
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) *
      Harmonoius, I'm betting you don't have kids. As any parent can tell you, books, movies, games can have a huge influence on a child's interest in science (or music, or literature, or art).

      Plus, not many parents, or men who had much respect for women in general, throw around the word "cunt" in answering a question posed by a schoolteacher about how to best inspire schoolchildren.

      Or, you might just be an asshole. That's always a possibility.
    • Re:You're doomed (Score:4, Interesting)

      by failedlogic (627314) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @10:18AM (#20528257)
      I would agree that a child' teacher and parent(s) can be an incredible influence. That was my experience more so than any other movie, TV show or book. Its not as simple as if you read this or watch that you'll want to do science obviously. I would say that it can unlock different pathways of thinking about things. I remember as a kid figuring out/thinking about natural and human events (and not understanding the science of things) just after being influenced by media.

      There's other factors at play here too... what is the learning environment, what neighborhood do they live in, what is income of parents, child's IQ, natural intuition, ability to solve problems, explore the environment, ask questions. They might all play a miniscule role but all add up.

      My father is a biochemist. I decided to study in university the natural sciences partly because he showed me some of the 'cool' stuff he did as a kid as did his coworkers. This still has an influence on my to this day ... but I changed course of study. But as I'm still curious, I still read a lot of science literature etc.

      If anything, I think its most imporant that students being to realize the importance of math at the junior high level as they start doing algebra. When we asked "Why we needed to know this?" questions, almost all our math and science teachers rolled their eyes and said - because its on the exam, or you need to know this if you want to be x or y in a real smart ass tone of voice. Every single time. We didn't realize that algebra and calculus played such a vital role in statistics, economics, electronics, computers, business, social sciences. etc. We were listening for an informed response. Never got one.

    • Mentors Plus books! (Score:4, Informative)

      by olafva (188481) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @11:01AM (#20528473) Homepage
      NASA has a related goal of stimulating interest in Science and Engineering. I recall briefings with data showing it was very unlikely for someone to enter studies and careers in "hard" sciences or engineering without a mentor they respected in such a career. Students are unlikely to pursue such a career "by accident" as it takes careful planning (prerequisites), curiosity, persistence and a passion and thirst for knowledge. For me it was my clever MIT EE trained uncle who enjoyed demonstrating explaining and asking fundamental and challenging questions at our lake cabin.

      Since studies showed how critical mentors were, NASA supports numerous programs where we mentored students ranging from annual Engineers Week where we visited classrooms at all grade levels, explaing how "cool" science and engineering concepts are and how great such careers are. Often this became the first time students had been exposed to a scientist or engineer and provided a connection with science and engineering that can be followed up on. I was also involved in mentoring dozens of high-school and college students on challenging problems making textbook learning alive - including sunmer or year-long mentorships [].

      I'd encourage my students to get "hooked on" Feynman, Faraday (who turned on Edison) or others. who had a gift of explaning complex concepts of how our world works in a simple and intriguing fashion, like "unraveling an onion". For Example, Feynman's:

      1. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) (Paperback)
      2. What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character (Paperback)
      3. Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character

      Although books alone are NOT the answer, books, such as Feynman's, can go a long way in turning on our young people to science and engineering. Good luck on your worthy but formidable challenge so critical to our future.

  • MacGyver (Score:5, Funny)

    by (142825) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:15AM (#20526631) Homepage
    MacGyver may be a help. It also will teach thinking and improvising.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I am afraid McGyver is the worst example to give to children, because that series uses more or less science as a kind of magic, used to solve problems. Let us remember that science is essentially about how and sometimes why things work, not that much about what you can do with them, which is the domain of technique or - if the technique is successful on a large scale - hopefully technology.

      To take an extreme example, learning on which button to push to start a machine is not science - and never will be :-(

      • Re:MacGyver (Score:4, Interesting)

        by farkus888 (1103903) * on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:47AM (#20526777)
        I think you are wrong. watching the show I saw what appeared so cool its practically magic and immediately wanted to know why it worked so I could do it and be cool like him. may not be true for everyone but like I said, it worked for me.
        • by Sique (173459)
          To me MacGyver had the adverse affect. Because in some case I knew how it really worked, I was very pissed off at the bad science shown in the show. It seemed always to play on the safe side, so if an interested child would actually try to try those effects at home they would utterly fail, do basicly nothing and thus not make the station liable for damage.

          (A really bad turnoff for me was an episode where MacGyver frees an East European dissident from a psychological ward where he was locked in by his commun
      • Re:MacGyver (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:38AM (#20526983)

        I am afraid McGyver is the worst example to give to children, because that series uses more or less science as a kind of magic, used to solve problems.

        "Science can be useful." Well, that's certainly a horrible lesson to learn - Heaven forbid the kids might think that this stuff could actually be useful to them. Then they might learn it for practical reasons, rather than for love of abstract knowledge, and we just can't have such things tainting our pure and clean ivory tower, now can we ?

        Sarcasm aside, science is a kind of magic, used to solve problems. Or just what do you think your medieval forefathers would think of the computer, the television, or even the light bulb ? Or heck, what would they think of refrigerators: "You have a closet which stays cold by itself ? Inconceivable !" And don't even get me started on electric heaters and microwave ovens.

        Just a while ago there was an article on Slashdot, describing how stem cells have been used to fix damaged spines in rats. Making the paralyzed walk again is a miracle straight from the Bible; if that isn't good enough for you to qualify science as "magic", then just what does it take ? Huh ?

        To take an extreme example, learning on which button to push to start a machine is not science - and never will be :-( .

        Actually, it is.

        Science is about making hypotheses on how things work and then testing them, a process known as the scientific method. Now, if you are trying to switch on a machine, how will you go about it ? You first look at the buttons, seeing if there's any hints on which one is the on button. If there are such hints, you try that button first, if not, then you pick a button at random. Then you observe the results: did the machine turn on ? If not, then your hypothesis was incorrect and you try another button; if yes, then it is likely that this was the correct button (but not certain, since it could be a combination of buttons or something which started the machine).

        Learning to operate a machine without instructions is an endeavour where the scientific method will become very handy. Sure, the machine itself might be technology; but your hopefully systematic attempts to learn about it are science, or at least they better be if you want to have success.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by phaunt (1079975)

          To take an extreme example, learning on which button to push to start a machine is not science - and never will be :-( .

          Actually, it is. Science is about making hypotheses on how things work and then testing them, a process known as the scientific method.

          As a nice example, consider this [] comic, and don't forget to read the tooltip text that appears when you hover over the image.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Just a while ago there was an article on Slashdot, describing how stem cells have been used to fix damaged spines in rats. Making the paralyzed walk again is a miracle straight from the Bible; if that isn't good enough for you to qualify science as "magic", then just what does it take ? Huh ?

          Magic is the supernatural violation of natural law, science is the understanding of natural law. Stop pontificating.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by smallfries (601545)
            You know, if you don't get the literary reference that the GP is alluding to then maybe you should look it up instead of posting a sniping response. Given the way it was modded I think you are in the minority. Here's a hint: look up quotes by Arthur C. Clarke.

            Magic, as the term is commonly used (especially by hackers) is anything that you don't understand. It doesn't imply a supernatural explanation in this context. The empirical approach that the GP described is exactly how we turn magic into science.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by grassy_knoll (412409)
          Thank you for this:

          "Science can be useful." Well, that's certainly a horrible lesson to learn - Heaven forbid the kids might think that this stuff could actually be useful to them. Then they might learn it for practical reasons, rather than for love of abstract knowledge, and we just can't have such things tainting our pure and clean ivory tower, now can we ?

          As a child, I had the hardest time learning anything based around abstract theory. I kept asking "what's it for?" and without an answer other than "to

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by farkus888 (1103903) *
      sadly, that is more true than you might think. I grew up spending all my time watching MacGyver and Baywatch as a young boy. as an adult I have become a complete nerd, if I am not thinking about computers, science, or math I am thinking about breasts. these shows undoubtedly affected the adult I became. and to be honest I think I am proof that exposure to the right shows can really benefit a child later on in life.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rainlord (773007)
      I agree with that the science is a bit off in those shows, however, this made me think of a particular episode I saw recently. To skip the storyline it was basically this:

      McGuyver goes to visit a school where his old science professor teaches. The son to the science professor is also in the school and is trying his damned hardest to live up to his dad's standards, but fails as his father (the teacher) is not being a good father and is never satisfied with an A when there's an A+. In any case, all the scienc
  • How does it work? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fishyfool (854019)
    Doesn't matter what it is. It can be the latest and greatest gizmo like the iPhone, or a simple older gizmo like a dial telephone or a blender. Question how things work. Plant those questions in your young students minds, and then harvest their observations.
  • Good Luck (Score:2, Insightful)

    We are geeks!!! we are predisposed to Math and Science.

    at any rate, the best thing you can do is to talk with the math teachers in your school to find out what the students are working on and then collaboratively design some extensions that you can apply in your classroom. a writing assignment that gets the kids to crack a book and report on a famous mathematician... make it a 20th century mathematician to make the kids see math is a living subject.

    perhaps get them to write some modern applications in the r
    • by jkauzlar (596349)
      Very true. If history teachers ever get around to teaching non-nationalist history (e.g. the French Revolution), there are a lot of interesting, even 'romantic' stories, in math and science, and not just silly ones, how Newton 'discovered' gravity when an apple fell on his head, for example, which make scientists seem dull, if not mildly retarded. English teachers ought to throw out big words like calculus and relativity from time to time so they seem more like a part of the real world and not just somethin
  • Science Fiction (Score:5, Informative)

    by SQL Error (16383) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:25AM (#20526689)
    You have to be careful with your selection, though, because a lot of what passes for SF these days is My Talking Pony stories and/or porn.

    Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel has a nice discussion of acceleration and interplanetary distances. Arthur C Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise offers an introduction to material strengths and orbital mechanics. Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity juxtaposes gravity and centripetal acceleration.
    • Trying to teach science via science fiction is very broken. SF authors don't limit themselves with pesky laws of physics etc.
      • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
        Some do, such as Greg Egan [], though I would recommend his books to an older audience.

        I'd say my three biggest childhood influences towards science weren't books, but Doctor Who (constantly solving puzzles with science), arcade games (how do they work?) and Usborne computer books (that's how they work!), though sci-fi literature played a large and very important role.

    • I loved this in high school. Still a great read.

      FANTASIA MATHEMATICA :: Clifton Fadiman (editor)

      Partial selections from Contents:

      * "Young Archimedes" by Aldous Huxley
      * "Peter Learns Arithmetic" by H.G. Wells
      * "Socrates and the Slave" by Plato
      * "The Devil and Simon Flagg" by Arthur Porges
      * "--And he Built a Crooked House" by Robert A. Heinlein
    • Re:Science Fiction (Score:4, Informative)

      by edunbar93 (141167) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @02:12PM (#20529943)
      Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel has a nice discussion of acceleration and interplanetary distances.

      Actually, "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" also goes on at length about learning, the process of learning, how the public school system gets in the way of that, and how to get around that. That's at least as important - if not more - than any discussion of physics and math.
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:26AM (#20526695) Homepage
    Slightly off-topic, but tangentially related to TFA: I'm in the process of writing my masters. I'm doing it on the NAS [] Conjugate Gradient [] (CG) benchmark to several exotic architecture. Now for those of you who haven't heard of CG, it's a very-commonly-used but extremely complicated algorithm. I wanted to have a section in my masters explaining how CG works, only I hit a snag - all of the explanations SUCK. I mean, REALLY SUCK.

    I went to one of the profs in my department. He does numerical electromagnetism, so he is very good at math and CG is familiar to him. I asked him if he could recommend a "CG for dummies" book.

    He told me, as a matter of fact, there is: An Introduction to the Conjugate Gradient Method Without the Agonizing Pain [] by Carnegie Mellon professor Jonathan Richard Shewchuk. My E&M prof said it was the best bit of technical writing he'd ever seen. I'm about halfway through, but I have to agree - though it's complicated, it's by far the most comprehensible explanation I have ever seen. It really is a perfect example of what technical writing should be like.
  • A variety of the better science fiction authors may provide some useful input for the students. If your School district will permit their teaching. Having the students then write some short science fiction would t be the obvious next step.

    If that isn't permitted, or doesn't appeal, various historical figures: Newton, and Einstein as obvious starting points ... but Feynman and various Crypto experts might be good choices.

    Either you should be expert and enthusiastic or you should work something out with so
  • by nebosuke (1012041) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:28AM (#20526705)

    Rather than attempting a direct approach like including science or maths related material in your reading list, I would suggest adding in a healthy amount of philosophy and debate to the curriculum.

    Both demand understanding the subject matter (whatever it may actually be) and promote critical thinking. They also encourage the development of a larger vocabulary and command of more complex grammatical constructs, as expressing complex ideas necessitates a mastery of whatever medium is being used to convey them. These skills will be invaluable to your students in every aspect of their academic careers, and are fundamental requirements for sciences and maths.

    The best part is that the subject matter can be something that they're actually interested in. In fact, the deeper their personal interest, the more likely it is that they'll actually put forth the effort required to develop coherent arguments and care enough to force themselves to learn how to express their personal positions more clearly and effectively.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kijori (897770)
      Not to disagree with you, necessarily, but just to suggest the opposite approach. Over here (England), teachers are required to work some skills into all their lessons - these skills are numeracy (maths), literacy (English) and IT. The head of a department issues guidelines as to what skills are particularly valuable to the children, and other teachers help to reinforce these skills. For example, an English teacher might incorporate a lesson creating a newspaper using DTP software - this both teaches the ch
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That sounds like it could easily become the worst possible system. By analogy, if I'm learning German and physics at the same time, trying to get through a physics textbook written in German only pisses me off and holds me back from learning either. How the hell can you learn any one thing when doing so requires applying other skills you haven't finished learning yet? And if you've already learned the skill enough to apply it, applying it in unrelated ways just makes for more busy work (i.e. having to types
  • Science fiction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 1u3hr (530656) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:29AM (#20526709)
    Science fiction obviously. When I was young, it was Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke who had adventure stories involving science that wasn't too outrageously fantastic. The latter two both wrote non-fiction science for young people too. I think that despite their publishing dates, these would still be attractive to the current generation. They could be amazed at the clunky depiction of computers especially though, but that could be a talking point rather than a handicap. They might compare it to Jules Verne and HG Well's stories for how visions of the future have changed.

    As for TV, one used to say Star Trek, but recent versions have less and less to do with science, and in any case aren't in production now. I enjoy the new Doctor Who, but that has a great deal of fantasy these days.

    But for reading please avoid at all costs any novelisations of TV or movies. Hack writers can't bring anything worthwhile to plots whose shortcomings are only too apparent without special effects and explosions to distract.

    Short story anthologies might be a good bet. Many excellent ones, perhaps the annual Hugo Award Winners.

    And see Mathematical Fiction [] for a listo f books and stories about maths. I like Greg Egan and Rudy Rucker, but they might be beyond most kids.

    • Science Fact (Score:3, Informative)

      by Hatta (162192)
      Why science fiction, why not science fact? How about a book like "One, Two, Three... Infinity" [] by George Gamow? Or anything written by Martin Gardner []? How about Innumeracy [] by John Allen Paulos? Or Max Born wrote a book, "Einstein's Theory of Relativity" [], which explains relativity in great detail with nothing more than pre-algebra. Or for the computer nerds, the obligatory recommendation is "Godel Escher Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter [].

      I have never understood the point of fiction, e
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fermion (181285)
      Let me expand on this. Science fiction often is not used in schools as it is not written to the literary standards of academia. English often appears to be primarily concerning the promotion of a certain standard rather than the promotion of critical thinking. For instance, when on reads a passage there is but on interpretation, and if one does not interpret the passage as such, and bubble in the correct answer, you do not graduate.

      By itself, this is not necessarily a problem. The one right answer ant

  • Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov Any parent who does not provide his/her child with a set of the Heinlein Juveniles does not deserve descendants.
  • Go to the Root (Score:2, Insightful)

    by enzeduniv (1012513)
    One of the ways to encourage love and respect for maths and science is to teach the children where it all came from to begin with. Mathematics and science came out of philosophy, so that is what you must teach your children! Teach them good philosophy and maths/science will reveal themselves and you can go from there. I think that teaching children what they can do with maths/science is good and necessary, but to many it will remain a pile of magical symbols and rituals instead of a beautiful language and
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Math is in a similar situation: they have time to learn a concept and practice, but not to linger on possibilities.

    I wonder if the time one has - or rather the time one finds to linger on possibilities is not bound to their motivation in exploring the subject. I for one remember having done that two times, once in 9th grade (internal composition laws) and in 10th grade (2x2 matrices). Being eager to explore that really new world to me, I was writing pages and pages of exercices without anybody asking me t

  • Reading about the life of a certain scientist or mathematician was important for me. Knowing that those kind of people exist (all I knew was sports prior to my discovering mathematics, astronomy, and physics), and knowing about their work made me want to know more. Make a list of scientists and mathematicians. Assign each student to one, and have them read a biography about that person. Have them choose a writing topic, and then have them give an in-class presentation so that they can share information
  • discovery channel's shows ....awesome.

    Please help your students by encouraging them to watch Discovery channel.

    • Let's expand on this a bit...

      First off, for highly entertaining lightweight science content it is hard to beat the Mythbusters. Yes, they can be a bit sloppy some times, and sometimes Adam's zeal overshadows his abilities, but still the show presents a lot of highly entertaining experiments that the average person does not have nearly the resources to attempt. This will be especially entertaining for your class since extremely large explosions and mass destruction are recurring themes. Kari will also like

    • by Matt Edd (884107)
      So they can learn this?

      Discovery Channel - Nostradamus []

      I have not seen it so maybe I am wrong. Maybe it exposes him as a fake. They describe it as a "factual based drama" but I have the feeling they take the popular route. I just looked at the science of prediction section and they talk about astrology and lucky charms.

  • A noble quest ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm an electrical engineer who's been in industry for 30 years (you can figure out how old I am). In addition, I was about 6 years old when I determined that I wanted to be an engineer. With that as a bit of background, I'll try to answer your questions...

    What books/shows/movies influenced me...


    The "Alvin Fernald" books - about the boy inventor

    Popular Mechanics - how stuff works

    Popular Science - sort of like Pop Mech, but substantially more cerebral

  • Flatland (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions [] is an 1884 novella by Edwin Abbott Abbott, still popular among mathematics and computer science students, and considered useful reading for people studying topics such as the concept of other dimensions. As a piece of literature, Flatland is respected for its satire on the social hierarchy of Victorian society.
    • Dunno why this is still sitting at 0. Flatland is considered a classic piece of mathematical fiction, and is definitely worth considering.

      Also worth considering the unofficial sequel, Flatterland [] by Ian Stewart.
  • It will not only perk interest in the sciences, but has also been shown to increase literacy. []

    Be prepared for resistance though, as schools are still a female-dominated sector, and sexist sterotypes are as strong as ever. You don't want to become the next whipping boy [] like Larry Summers.
  • When I was a kid, I got totally hooked on John Wyndham books -- "The Day Of The Triffids" is his most well known one, but he wrote quite a number of others.

    Dunno if it'll help you in your quest, but he certainly inspired me when I was young.
  • Technical Writing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tiny69 (34486) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:00AM (#20526817) Homepage Journal
    I didn't like to read until I got into D&D. It's kind of hard to avoid reading when you have a Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, Monster Guide, the adventure itself, etc. So, find out what the kids are interested in and get them to write about that.

    For science and math, focus on technical writing. English was viewed as "creative" writing when I was in school. There is not much to be creative about when it comes to writing about science and math. Unless things have changed, technical writing isn't covered until college, and that's only if you take a technical writing class. So if you want to help those interested in math and science with writing, try focusing on technical writing (even though that may seem dry for someone who teaches english).
  • Truly, unless the parents / family / guardians have an interest in sciences and math, it will be very hard to get the children to be interested. I personally loved the subjects, but that was easy to do as my environment was conducive for me to learn these subjects (my mother was the Valedictorian in high school, and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology, my father graduated salutatarian from high school and cum laude from college as a general sciences major and works for the Nuclear Regulato
    • I think it starts in the DNA. When people banded together in small tribes, what was the shaman : hunter/gatherer ratio? Some people are just not interested in science, and never will be. You can't normalize interest in all the spheres of human activity.
  • For me, fiction wasn't particularly inspirational. I was mostly intrigued by the automation power of computers. Since computers automate that which, at the lowest level, is mathematics, I was naturally inclined to attempt to learn mathematical techniques for tackling problems because I could then devise a machine that would tackle those problems for me with great speed and proficiency. So essentially, it was the computers themselves and their capabilities that inspired my interest in maths. Science was

  • 'Nuff said.
  • The history of mathematics is a really fascinating subject. Somewhere I have a history of 0 called something like The Nothing that Is. It puts math in a context, and stops it from being magic that nobody could have thought up on their own. The book on zero is really quite short, and quite easy reading, even for somebody not well versed in math, and it makes it all the way to explaining Calculus in a reasonably accessible way.

    Through the history of math, you get all sorts of interesting characters, exotic
  • First, a book. "Relativity: The Special and the General Theory" by Albert Einstein. A math-light explanation of relativity by the man himself. The descriptions and implications provide several jumping-off points for fiction and non-fiction writing.

    Then, a cartoon. "Donald Duck in Mathmagicland". Seriously. Includes demonstrations of the mathematics of music and three-cushion billiards. Would challenge students to consider the mathematical underpinnings of other activities in the junior-high sphere
  • Some more thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RotateLeftByte (797477) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:11AM (#20526875)
    A few books (apart from the Asimov, Clark etc SF that has already been mentioned.

        Surely You're Joking Mr Fenyman
        The Man with No Endorphins

      Although technologically quite dated, the SF novels by Fred Hoyle.

      I don't know if the transcripts or videos are available in the USA but the UK) Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are great vehicles for stimulating a child's interest in Science and Engineering.
    They try to pose the 'What if?' question.

    However much of the writing I have to do as part of my work is 'dry, technical and totally uninspiring'. (Reports, Specifications etc)

    Get your children to express their imagination and be creative in their writing. SF (classical SF anyway) with a sold basis in Science and Fact can be a good platform to get kids to let their imagination run riot.
    Why not let them have a go at writing a screenplay for a Dr Who episode? or something similar?

    I think back in total horror at the 500 word English essays I had to write in School. As I am dyslexic these were a real bind. There was no stimulation of though or any need to be creative. One time I let my imagination run riot and instead of 500 words, I produced over 5000. IT was a proper story with a beginning, middle and end. I thought it was brilliant. I got an 'F' for my efforts (it was not 500 words approx) but won the School prize for best story of the year.

    I write stories even today. Mainly they are for my (and my grandkids) enjoyment. They are what can only be classed as in the Classic SF genre. I do it for relaxation and fun. I also write everything in Longhand first.

    Good Luck in your quest
  • It facinated and inspired me way back in the 70's when I stumbled across it in the library.

    Also provides some interesting paradoy of Victorian society at the same time. And since it was written in 1884 teachers can claim it is a "classic".

    There are some modern variations that are quite good too, and more politically correct in their handling of woman :)

    Wikipedia has more on this: []
  • Rhetoric (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crumplez (1050548)
    All I remember about my 8th-12th grade english classes were the hours wasted analyzing rhetoric. As soon as I stepped foot in college, I took classes on technical communication, writing research papers, etc. In other words, learning to write without ambiguity. Without rhetoric. If you want to do a service to science and math, encourage writing assignments with tangibles and applicability. Give assignments like writing useful instruction sets, targeting audiences (this is a big one) and targeting different
  • Aren't there time limitations involving mathematics and science? Maybe if there were 50% to 100% more class time, you could teach more.
  • Some recommendations (Score:3, Informative)

    by davecl (233127) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:28AM (#20526943)
    Science fiction in general is good, but there are some very good non-fiction books out there as well. Suggestions, possibly for a somewhat older age group, would be:

    Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter

    The Dancing Wu Li Masters - Gary Zukav

    The Tao of Physics - Fritjof Kapra

    The First Three Minutes - Steve Weinburg
  • Asimov's New Guide to Science ISBN, 0140172130.
    My sister bought it when she began to have an interest in science and I was amazed by Asimov's skill to tell the history of scientific discoveries like a thrilling tale. This is however a big book (800+ pages), I would recommend to choose some chapters or some extracts and to study them.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:40AM (#20526989)
    Here in the States, Smart = Uncool.

    Been that way for a long time. There's the occasional aknowledgment of scholarship, but look at the schools. Great athletes are paraded about like gods. Great scholars get a Printshop certificate. It's a tired old complaint, but nothing ever gets done about it. Our pro sports teams have become high paid clubs for thugs, and still no one cares.

    I mean, like, dog fights? A guy makes it huge and becomes a millionaire and is staging asswiping dog fights? He doesn't need to be put in jail, he need to be put to sleep and have his brain srudied by science so we figure out the fuck happened in there.

    I still remember the time I was at a gym and overheard a guy complaining how his ex-wife was raising hid son. "Fuck, she probably has him coming home with straight-A's some stupid shit!", he said. I've seen this stuff over and over. Even the parents thing smart = bad because it's how THEY were raised. It's a generation that thinks it's perfectly OK for a 50 year old to be a bagger at the supermarket.

    So you see, this is why I laugh when laws get passed that fuck over the population.

    Whatever. We'll all be wiped out soon by nuclear holy war or an asteroid or giant bees, so what matter?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bradcb212 (1141199)
      My cousin was a college football player and a damn good one. I don't want to name names but he's played in NFL Europa and although his chances of getting in the NFL currently are slim it's not a reflection of his abilities.

      He has worked his ASS off all his life to get as far as he has. He's damn good and his records are evident of that. Unfortunately, the pro-team that picked him already has a good player in his position and it looks as though his chances of making it pro are slim. Perhaps he'll get lucky,
  • Every scientist I know (and I grew up with more than a few) loved Sci Fi. Specifically, Star Trek. Unlike most sci-fi, Star Trek was actively engaged in science. (I personally grew up with Next Generation, the ones after -- meh). The officers talked scientifically, and they respected science.

    Any show where you see people taking scientific measurements and using them relevantly within the show is useful. Show how science is relevant to them and the kids'll pick up on it.

    For what's on today, I'd say havi
  • Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kamapuaa (555446) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @05:12AM (#20527135) Homepage
    I went to college in English and computers, I have a job which involves writing and computers.

    And I absolutely disagree with the precepts your question. As an English teacher, you should be doing your best to teaching the English language, and an appreciation of the English canon. It's almost like you're sabotaging your own field, and hope to stress other subjects! The sciences already receive far more government spending and grants than the arts; anyway it's not your place to correct perceived imbalances.

    Plenty of nerds here will advise you to read Heinlen or some shit. But the prose of science fiction (or really, of any genre fiction) is for shit and the metaphors shallow, and really don't add anything to being a well-rounded, broadly-educated youth. They're the literary equivalent of watching "the Matrix" and "Independence Day" in a marathon session, with no real depth or artistic value. Furthermore, the sort of people who would get anything out of science-fiction are the sort of people who would read it anyway.

    I think people have too little appreciation for culture, here in China my friends (many in the Computer field) can rattle off 8th century poetry, and have a much deeper appreciation of history and culture. How many Americans can quote even a single poem? Honestly I think it's terrible that an English teacher has so little regard for their own subject. If you were the teacher of my child I would demand them being transferred out, and I strongly believe you're in the wrong field.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jim_deane (63059)

      I think you significantly misinterpret the poster's intention.

      There is a great push to integrate cross-curricular activities to strengthen the connections between the various academic subjects.

      The purpose is to strengthen the teaching of each of the subjects, not to weaken the teaching of one in favor of another.

      You also seem to be confusing the teaching of literature with the teaching of composition. Composition cannot stand alone--students must write about SOMETHING. If, in choosing the topics about whi
    • The parent post puts it harshly, but in my view is pretty spot-on in spirit. You should be analyzing literature of "high quality" (academically/pedagogically weighty) rather than mass-market stuff which may not have much substance.

      There's plenty that's mathematically interesting in, for example, poetry... You can study the structure of different types of poems mathematically and play games with that. Have students figure out which meters "work" (sound good) and which don't. Try to have them come up with
    • Rote memorization is a sign of intelligence and culture? My favorite poem is "Charge of the Light Brigade," but there's no way I could recite the entire thing. I know people with photographic memories that could recite an entire act from Shakespeare, but not understand any of it. I get your point, but that's a poor way of phrasing it.
  • One of the books that turned me on to scientific though was Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in time". I still think that it is a powerful read today. I have suggested it to my 13YO son, and will suggest it to the 7YO triplets when the time is right. This book is firmly in the world of SF, and takes a lot of liberties with it's scientific content, but for me at least it really brought home the possibilities of a scientific/intellectual life. This is the sort of book that deftly encourages scientific curiosity
  • You're looking for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the people who publish Science magazine.

    They've developed some educational programs, and have a list of online resources [].

    One of their programs is Science Books and Films [], which sounds like what you're looking for.

    I think it's a great idea to get kids reading and writing about science in English class. As a scientist, I wish I was a better writer. The difference between a good scientist and a great one is often commun

  • Issac Asimov (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @05:31AM (#20527197)
    Issac Asimov wrote almost as many Science books as Science Fiction. Among the best are "Asimov on Chemistry" and "Asimov and the realm of Algebra". The 2nd is so good that paperback versions sometimes sell for > $50 on eBay. (It's out of print) I read it in 8th grade at the beginning of Algebra class and sailed through the rest of the year.
    • by aunchaki (94514)
      I found one of Asimov's books on chemistry called The Noble Gases in my high school library and was amazed. As I recall, it tells the story of the creation of the Periodic Table. It was well-written and engrossing.

      Also, I still love Heinlein's juvenalia -- his early work written for teenage boys. Rocket Ship Galileo, Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Space Cadet, Starman Jones, etc... They all deal with teenage boys who think it perfectly reasonable to study tensor calculus
  • Back in HighSchool 1995, people had calculators keep all their notes on them. So calc and physics was simple when you had the equations, but people used them in English too. I'm not sure if they just kept notes or had full test answers on them. Yah Ti-85s were on the rage in my high school.
  • Well I always liked 80's era Mr. Wizard's World on Nickelodeon.

    But I also liked Beakman's World on TLC when it was on.

    Maybe you can show them the film "What the *bleep* Do We Know!?" and the pseudo-science crap will piss them off so much they'll want to learn the real thing.

    In the library, I always liked this one series of books about the planets. They were thin hardcover books and pretty large, each one dedicated to a planet (plus one for the Sun). The pictures and diagrams of the layers of the planet so

  • When teaching 9th grade physics, I look for as many opportunities to include reading and writing in the curriculum as possible. Biographies and history are important to read, and I find that having students write research papers (of the short, reasonable 9th grade kind) is good exercise.

    It is laudable that you want to include such cross-curricular activities in your language arts classes. Perhaps you can collaborate with the science faculty to do a joint activity--such as an experiment or research project
  • by slffea (152586)
    One of the greatest movies on mathematics ever. A Disney masterpiece that transcends all grades to show how very complex math concepts appear everywhere around us.

    Everyone should check Donald in Mathmagic Land [] out. It's one of the best movies I ever saw in grade school and I still remember it to this day.
  • Start with Feynman... 1. Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman?

    2. What do you care what everybody thinks?

    Both by Richard Feynman

    The movie Infinity, Matthew Broderick, Patricia Arquette

    The books are the best. The movie concentrates on the love story between Feynman and his first wife..

  • My interest in science I guess probably was grounded in the fact that we always had computers at home, and I used to play computer games with my dad. It wasn't too long before I became interested in how to do make the computer do more and more things that _I_ wanted to do, and then of course you fall quickly into programming.

    Computer games have to be an easy way to get people's attention, but working from there (for grade eight) your conversion rate into getting people interested in programming might be pre
  • when i was about 5 years old it was all about star wars and dinosaurs. At primary school we were taught about dinosaurs straight away and that fostered an interest in natural history. all the kids were into star wars and the space shuttle was doing interesting stuff. i think we were taught about the moon landing when we were about 7. i used to love watching "the black hole" probably before i'd even seen star wars, and back to the future had a massive impact on me when it came out, so between the two of the
  • From Douglas Hofstadter. This book tought me that no system can be complete and coherent at the same time (you are allowed to choose only one). That had profund impact on my life. In fact Godels incompletnes theorem is been studied for its philosophical consecuences a lot of times.'s_incomple teness_theorem []
  • No, not that MTV "reality" show, the thing outside the window... Rarely a day goes by without the media quoting some bit or science or statistics (and usually getting it wrong - but that's fine - get kids to critique it and write letters to the paper explaining why they agree or disagree with the figures...) You'll get into trouble, of course, but maybe in English you have slightly more leeway to discuss possibly contentious subjects.

    The big problem is that the Math taught in schools is so divorced from

  • Jurassic Park (Score:3, Interesting)

    by garett_spencley (193892) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @09:05AM (#20527929) Journal
    It might sound a little corny but Jurassic Park actually created my interest in science-fiction, computer programming and science in general. I saw the movie first and besides being an entertaining thriller with some cool special effects it had no effect on me at all.

    Then I read the book a couple of years later. I was around 13 or 14 and sick at home for a couple days. I read through it very quickly and I just remember how despite being a nut, Ian Malcolm was the one character who seemed to have a down-to-earth and realistic point of view on the whole situation. I also remember how cool it was that Crichton gave actual examples of computer code to support the story. It sparked my interest in computers and programming and logical, scientific thought in general.

    Afterwards I convinced my grandmother to help me buy a computer and I spent the next few years going from pothead rocker to nerd teaching myself how to program the best I could.

    Without having read that book my life would have turned out quite differently.

    If you're trying to appeal to the average kid who watches far more movies than they do reading books, why not use something from pop-culture that was made into a successful movie ? Like most books vs. movies the two are rather different and so it would be difficult to impossible for one of the students to do any kind of report or test based on the movie.

    It also has the advantage of demonstrating how powerful science can be. It's science fiction but it does a good job of coming off as plausible (if not then no one would have asked afterwards "could we do that?", even if the answer is "no because we haven't found such DNA still in tact"[1]) and it also goes to show how "cool" science can be. It deals with computers, biology, science fiction and logical thought and even touches on scientific ethics every once in a while. Over all it's a very entertaining book that most young people should enjoy reading while also doing a good job of advertising what science and math has to offer.

    [1] Yes I realize there's several other reasons that it's still fiction, as well.
  • by Brett Johnson (649584) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:35PM (#20530663)
    There are a few things that I remember from my childhood:
    • Apollo When I was a kid, the Apollo Project was an incredible motivator of young people to develop an interest in science and math. These were my nerd heros before the word "nerd" was common. As a national mission, the Apollo Project probably had a far greater impact on the education of our young than the No Child Left Behind Program ever will.
    • Star Trek (TOS and TNG). Probably a direct result of my interest in space travel from the Apollo Program, but Roddenberry's positive vision of the future made me want to make it happen. The influence of these shows on two generations of nerds and engineers is visible everywhere.
    • Mr. Dighton My 7th grade math teacher. I was bored - so very bored with school. I hated it - every minute - for years. Up until about 1/3 of the way through the seventh grade. My math teacher recognized the symptoms. He sat me down one day for a talk. I don't remember the exact conversation, but he convinced me that education was a privilege, not a prison sentence*. He started giving me more challenging assignments, going way outside of the curriculum. I eventually exhausted the math program at my local school system and spent two years of high school taking math and science classes at LSU - for free (well on my parents' taxpayer dime). I am the only member of my immediate family to graduate from university. Today, teachers get reprimanded, even fired, for teaching outside of the approved curriculum or treating gifted students any differently than they teach, uh, un-gifted students. One great teacher can an incredible impact on a child. I was fortunate - I had at least 3 outstanding teachers in my primary and secondary education. That is probably 2 more that your typical kid gets.
    • Scientific American In the 8th or 9th grade, I had a Marine Biology teacher with a box of Scientific American articles covering a wide variety of subjects. We were to read one article weekly, then write up a 1 page summary, with comments on the scientific methods used. She told us that, at first, we were not likely to understand anything about what we were reading; but she wanted to introduce us to science writing for peer-reviewed journals, scientific analysis and presentation. [Remember that Scientific American in the 70's was not nearly as fluffy as it is today.] Martin Gardner's monthly column probably influenced my interest in Mathematics. I still read SA to this day. Come to think of it, the mere fact that we had a marine bio class in my middle school still amazes me; considering the uniform, least-common-denominator, curriculum in our current schools. Like, Mr Dighton, this teacher (whose name I unfortunately don't remember) taught me two of my fundamentals of education*.
    • Robert Heinlein Again, Heinlein's mostly positive view of the future made me want to make it happen. He taught me that nerds (and particularly, female nerds) rule. He also gave me my smart-ass attitude and complete lack of respect for authority figures.
    • Isaac Asimov's Non-fiction I enjoyed reading Asimov's non-fiction much more than reading his fiction. His popularization of math and science histories made me truly appreciate the concept of standing on the shoulders of giants. His timelines of scientific progress show just how incremental and cumulative the process is, and made me mourn the loss of histories' great libraries and universities through religious extremism and fascism, resulting a the loss of great swaths of that accumulated knowledge.
    • Robert Rimmer's The Harrad Experiment [The book, not the movie.] Porn disguised as science. This book probably had more impact on my attitudes about sex and sexuality than anything the church, school, and maybe even my parents tried to impress upon me. I'm not saying that the end result was a great thing, just the power that a single book can have in shaping a
  • by Descalzo (898339) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:30PM (#20531089) Journal
    If you just want a neat writing activity involving writing and any subject at all (I've seen it done in geography and science, and I used it myself in an art/social studies lesson), you might want to try a GRASPS activity. Here [] is a page that describes how to think up a GRASPS activity. I learned it from a guy who uses these activities as performance assessments in 8th grade Geography. I'm going to try to incorporate one into a math activity this year. If you need suggestions, or if that link isn't very helpful, let me know.

Never put off till run-time what you can do at compile-time. -- D. Gries