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Bringing Science and Math Into Writing?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the lighting-the-fire dept.

Education 434

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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You're doomed (4, Insightful)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526621)

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 (4, Interesting)

VernonNemitz (581327) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526697)

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:You're doomed (5, Insightful)

ngworekara (1027704) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:You're doomed (2, Insightful)

messner_007 (1042060) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527149)

"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" !

Re:You're doomed (1)

werdnapk (706357) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526889)

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:You're doomed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527043)

I would say, that combination of different factors at early age(5-10) made the interest and afterwards another set of factors made it possible to study and educate my self in those fields. But in both situations(developing interest and actually learning something) the biggest influence was really made by other people.
Like - I had an uncle who was scientist and who sometimes told me interesting things about the world around me, which raised my interest. He as well suggested to read my first sci-fi book, which indeed influenced my interest. But books are not interactive. As the book will not answer your questions, someone else (like real person) has to, otherwise interest will be lost.
And of course, at high school my math teacher was the one who taught how to look at things differently, to know how to ask the right questions and to know how to analyze the situations.
Thus there where no other place like physics department at University time, which could satisfy my curiosity.

Re:You're doomed (1)

whatever3003 (536979) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527139)

I agree that, while other people are the first and most profound level of influence people will have (especially young people), it's good to have a stock of material to direct these people to.

I was a failure at maths sadly and am only now just beginning to hunt down resources for my own development - and some of the delightful bits of fiction that have led me in this direction are: Contact, A Beautiful Mind, Primer, the authors Vernor Vinge, Robert, Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke .. not hard science, but they certainly get me excited about learning.

Read this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527159)

It's interesting to note that the actual scientists do not believe that any such attempts are doomed. You might want to read this (free) crime story [] to learn about modern elementary particle physics from a professor of the field. It also sums up quite nicely what a scientist's real life is like -- if you subtract the wild sex life of the protagonist. ;-) I think this is a great approach to the problem of getting people to read about science. As soon as the belief that science is necessarily boring is broken they might start to read more about it. Or so I hope at least.

Oh please (1)

B4D BE4T (879239) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527175)

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.

That is complete nonsense. There are many people whose interests vary greatly from those of their parents. And those are the very people who need/want this kind of exposure.

I took interest in computers and electronics fairly early on. However, my parents did not share this interest at all. My parents supported my interests by buying a computer and various electronic gadgets for me, but they did not teach me how to use them. My only sources of information were books, friends, and school. In fact, it was my seventh grade science teacher who originally sparked my interest in computers. During science class she mentioned that she taught an elective class on BASIC. I decided to give it a try. I found it so interesting that I continued to learn more and more about computers and software. I eventually went for a degree in computer science and a career as a software engineer.

You never know what someone will find interesting until they've tried it. Kids need as much exposure to as wide a variety of subjects as possible.

MacGyver (4, Funny) (142825) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526631)

MacGyver may be a help. It also will teach thinking and improvising.

Re:MacGyver (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526683)

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 (4, Interesting)

farkus888 (1103903) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:MacGyver (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526957)

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 communist oppressors. This one was so wrong on so many details about East Europe before 1989 that I decided to never watch MacGyver again and still have have a problem with all movies starring Richard Dean Anderson... even though he himself may be completely innocent.)

Re:MacGyver (4, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:MacGyver (2, Funny)

farkus888 (1103903) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526759)

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:MacGyver (1)

high_rolla (1068540) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526833)

While I don't think MacGyver is the best example. I agree with you that we need more focus on thinking and improvising and creativity in our teaching. I don't know what the rest of the world is like but here in Australia we are increasingly teaching to the exam, in what I guess you could call recipe teaching. Students no longer have an understanding of the material, nor a desire to understand the material, they instead know how to regurgitate recipes for things and this behaviour gets reinforced when they get good grades for doing such. Bringing more English into Science and Maths would be a great way to foster those attitudes within students. Exploring not only an idea but the background behind it (how it was discovered/derived/etc) and how it's applied in the real world would be good for inspiring students.

It hurts me to say this (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526637)

Day 1

Mommy, I am only 8 inches long, but I have all my organs. I love the sound of your voice. Every time I hear it, I wave my arms and legs. The sound of your heart beat is my favorite lullaby.

Day 2

Mommy, today I learned how to suck my thumb. If you could see me, you could definitely tell that I am a baby. I'm not big enough to survive outside my home though. It is so nice and warm in here.

Day 3

You know what Mommy, I'm a girl!! I hope that makes you happy. I always want you to be happy. I don't like it when you cry. You sound so sad. It makes me sad too, and I cry with you even though you can't hear me.

Day 4

Mommy, my hair is starting to grow. It is very short and fine, but I will have a lot of it. I spend a lot of my time exercising. I can turn my head and curl my fingers and toes, and stretch my arms and legs. I am becoming quite good at it too.

Day 5

You went to the doctor today. Mommy, he lied to you. He said that I'm not a baby. I am a baby Mommy, your baby. I think and feel. Mommy, what's abortion?

Day 6

I can hear that doctor again. I don't like him. He seems cold and heartless. Something is intruding my home. The doctor called it a needle. Mommy what is it? It burns! Please make him stop! I can't get away from it! Mommy!! HELP me!! No . . .

Day 7

Mommy, I am okay. I am in Jesus's arms. he is holding me. He told me about abortion. Why didn't you want me Mommy?

One more heart that was stopped. Two more eyes that will never see. Two more hands that will never touch. Two more legs that will never run. One more mouth that will never speak.


Re:It hurts me to say this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526661)

No, I won't, even though I don't like abortion. If you want to protest abortion, do it at the proper time and place. You're only going to be modded down and ignored.

BTW: Mods, please don't attract attention to this thread by modding it or any of its children up.

Why we didn't want you (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526749)

Why didn't you want me Mommy?

Our first child was such a disappointment - he posted bullshit on slashdot and we were SO embarrassed! We couldn't stand the thought that you might be like him.

Ok, doc, turn on the suction and start slicing!!

Re:It hurts me to say this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526837)

I know a lot of evangelical Christians that feel strongly about abortion; moreso "partial-birth" abortions. They use shock tactics like graphically describing how doctors take a full or near-full term baby and crush its skull with a hammer. The oddity in your above logic is that [a lot of] Christians believe that the ultimate goal of humans is to realize and accept that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all men, and in this enlightenment, one is promised eternal life in heaven. Babies are devoid of sin in god's eyes, therefore get a "free pass" to heaven and to know god. What's there to complain about? How is being denied the ability to sin somehow a hinderance to their eternal existance? Many of these fervent anti-abortionists are oblivious to real-world problems like overpopulation (e.g. Evil China trying to make sure their country as a whole isn't destroyed due to overpopulation) or even psychological and physical abuse of already-born children.

Re:It hurts me to say this (1)

TheWanderingHermit (513872) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527081)

First, the point about babies being without sin and getting a "free pass" is only true in some Christian beliefs, not in all. The point is not about sin, but about accepting Jesus as your personal savior. Whether or not one has sinned is not the determination in these beliefs but accepting Jesus and being "saved" is. In others, one can accept Jesus, but if one commits a mortal sin and dies before confessing it, then they lose it all.

I don't buy into these beliefs. I've been reading recently about the real death and resurrection and now I know who died for me and was resurrected (and stayed around a lot longer than 40 days). I live in peace knowing Harry Potter died to save me from evil.

Re:It hurts me to say this (1)

polar red (215081) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526887)

Are you vegetarian ?

Connections (1)

busdriverneal (1003974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526651)

The Connections series by James Burke, but i don't see how this will help writing about math or science.. It may be a way to tie all the subjects and lessons taught in school together though. Or if they are young perhaps Mr. Wizard is more relevant.

Re:Connections (1)

gatita84 (1153881) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526863)

The Connections series rocked! We watched it in high school, in a philosophy-type class called Theory of Knowledge (IB, anyone? hehe) which was intended to pull all our other subjects together. It was slightly ridiculous at times and therefore entertaining, but actually quite effective at teaching some important (although certainly not comprehensive) history. I think it relates indirectly to math and science because it has some technology-related content, as well as some segments on important historical math/science discoveries and the resulting changes - it gives perspective, which is good to have, and makes for good writing assignments. Our class was assigned to research, construct and write Connections of our own, which I felt was both interesting and valuable.

simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526657)

The books that weren't assigned by my teachers.

How does it work? (2, Interesting)

fishyfool (854019) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526659)

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 (2, Insightful)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526669)

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 realm of medicine, construction, urban planning, etc. TO make such an assignment interesting to the student, make sure they pick a career field they are interested in and have them investigate math's applications in those fields

I would not mix math and science in the same unit... Science is a little "softer" than math and will be more popular fore the students if given a choice. Also, make sure to have the kids pick the career field they want to write about before they are told what angle they will be looking at it from. knowing the angle will likely affect the career field they choose and thus fail to make them see math/sciences real contributions to areas other than engineering/science. Make sure they stick with that same field when you have them investigate the science involved.

As you may have gleaned, I am a trained, but non-practicing, math teacher. I found that I could not stand the classroom. All that work on lesson plans and then even when you make up games, they still do not want to learn the material. I found the business world to be much more enjoyable. At least there your hard work gives you benefits.

Re:Good Luck (1)

jkauzlar (596349) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526909)

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 something confined to the dark halls of science and mathematics. Give them readings from Douglas Hofstandter (his book Metamagical Themas is full of shorter essays) or Bell's (?) Men of Mathematics. My advice is for teachers to be more inter-disciplinary in ALL courses of study. As for myself, I was lucky to have an outstanding and enthusiastic math teacher. The other higher math teacher at our school was also the basketball coach and seemed to do his best to distance himself from the geekiness of his classwork. He was popular with the athletic students but inspired no one towards his field of teaching.

Science Fiction (4, Informative)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Science Fiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526727)

Definitely Science Fiction. For me the things that particularly come to mind are Star Trek, and anything written by Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov.

Re:Science Fiction (1)

z3d4r (598419) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526745)

A lot of Heinleins stories feature a fair amount of porn too

Science Fiction != Science (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527017)

Trying to teach science via science fiction is very broken. SF authors don't limit themselves with pesky laws of physics etc.

Re:Science Fiction != Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527059)

Depends on the author, Issac Asimov wrote first class Sci Fi, and also Hard Science (Building Blocks of the Universe Etc.) He is very entertaining even in the hard science and acts as a bridge between one and the other.

Re:Science Fiction != Science (1)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527115)

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.

Best piece of math/science/technical writing ever (2, Informative)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526695)

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.

Various approaches (1)

khb (266593) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526701)

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 some of the Math and Science teachers to coordindate your approaches would be helpful.

Re:Various approaches (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526737)

Either you should be expert and enthusiastic or you should work something out with some of the Math and Science teachers to coordindate your approaches would be helpful.

That assumes that the math and science teachers are expert and enthusiastici, which sadly is rarely the case. From my own experience, my high school biology teacher was also the football coach, and my high school math teacher was the vollyeball coach. While I'm not trying to stereotype athletics != geeks, when your teacher is more focused on the big game than on the big bang it makes learning science harder than it should be.

Philosophy and Debate (5, Insightful)

nebosuke (1012041) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Science fiction (3, Insightful)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Problems Solutions (1)

swordsaintzero (665343) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526725)

Maybe if the books weren't [] utter crap. I came to love math and science on my own; the teachers I had were an actual impediment to the process so I am probably not the best one to speak on this. The problem is the lack of teachers able to engage people's minds combined with people who have no interest in learning these subjects; throw in a dash of ridicule for enjoying those subjects from your oh so clever "peers" and you have a problem that is not going to be solved with a simple new teaching technique. You cannot force people to enjoy math or science, so to me it is better to find those who excel in this field and give them the most in depth and supportive training possible. You would have to maintain a good math program for the rest to root out the late bloomers and give them the level of math and science needed to be a contributing member of society; in other words, someone who uses reason and logic rather than superstition and religion to guide their life. So let's go with the assumption you are one of the rare few teachers who really and truly care, (and have not been ground down by the administration into not giving a shit) show them how math and science apply to real life. That kind of thing is what got my interest, for instance the math that goes into designing a motor cycle frame, or talk about the great scientists of the past that sacrificed everything for science and why they did it (marie curie for instance), give them a vision of where we as a species are going and how these skills can contribute to it. Deep down I think most people wish life was more like star trek, no inner conflicts unified as a species striving for some sort of progress. caveat: I am not a trekkie but i remember growing up the new generation was one of the few shows that gave me hope for the human race.

Not exactly when I was young, but... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526733)

About a month ago I read an awesome popular science book that I simply have to recommend here:

Natalie Angier: The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science

If you are looking for a book that can excite a layman, like me, about science, I think this book is one you should certainly take a closer look at. In my opinion, what makes it such a nice read is that you really feel how the author is herself excited and fascinated by the things she reports on.

Huh? (1)

edittard (805475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526741)

the average science classroom has time for labs and note taking
Am I the only one who thinks this doesn't make sense? Does he mean that the class has time, or the classroom has space?

Re:Huh? (1)

gatita84 (1153881) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526891)

He means they have to deal with a certain amount of material, so in order to fit in the essentials they have to focus on note-taking and labs rather than discussing and writing about science topics. Therefore the students are missing out on that component of their learning.

Three Words (1)

Swampash (1131503) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526757)

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 (2, Insightful)

enzeduniv (1012513) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526765)

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 investigation of reality. You need to give them the why, before the what. As for how to do that with an English curriculum well I'll leave that determination to others.

LIVING the maths and physics :-) (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526769)

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 to, just for the fun. As far as I remember, I missed deliberately "The Flintstones" once on TV because - though I loved this cartoon - I did not want to abandon the exercise I was in.

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?

Books like Gamow's "Mr Tompkins" (not the recently revised vesion) and "One, two, three... infinity" aroused also my curiosity on the subject. Also, some exercises like : "You have a 10m statue on a 30m column. At which distance should you stand from the column's foot in order to see the statue with the widest possible angle ?" reminded me from time to time how maths could be a form of "super-power", allowing to do what would be either impossible or very tedious without them (well, incidentally, I chose an engineering career because of that).

Today's books on physics by Colin Bruce seem quite challenging too, but lack the technical appendixes that would be needed by those who want to go beyond the anedotic side of things to venture a little in calculus.

Finally, the is an SF novel by Normam Kagan called "The Mathenauts" which describes students exploring a mathematical space, and which is a quite accurate desciption of the feelings you have when you are doing it.

Just my two cents. Hope it can help...

Biographies of scientists and mathematicians... (2, Interesting)

regularstranger (1074000) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526771)

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 about the scientists and mathematicians to the rest of the class. You should have no trouble filling out a list. The ones I read about when I was young included Marie Curie, Einstein, Fermi, Newton, Euler, Gauss, and Bohr.

watch discovery!!! (1)

b1ufox (987621) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526773)

discovery channel's shows ....awesome.

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

Re:watch discovery!!! (1)

woobieman29 (593880) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527073)

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 likely draw the interest of the boys in your class as well.

Secondly, the "How it's Made" show has proven to be pretty cool. Not necessarily always hard-core scientific content, but a nuts-and-bolts look at how a variety of different objects are constructed. Everything from a basic multi-colored lapel pin (casting and shaping through painting) to one of those new office coffee machines that can brew everything from tea and drip coffee to a cappuccino.

Discovery channel has at least proven to be very thought provoking for my 13YO son, and my 7YO triplets. YMMV, but it's worth a try.

PS - Good luck, it's a noble effort!

A noble quest ... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526779)

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


    Nova - this was "after the fact" but still kept my brain a chunkin


    James Bond, Matt Helm, Our Man Flint - aside from the other aspects, the gadgets were fascinating

And although you didn't specifically ask about it... for those that grew up in 60's, there was also NASA and the space program. Even if I didn't want to be an astronaut, you still spent a lot of time thinking about how those machines worked (and oggled a bit over those shots of mission control on TV).

To address the second part of your question, how to incorporate this into writing... hmmm....

    This is going to be something that's more difficult to approach. First, English is NOT a precise language. Mathematical formula, chemical equations, etc., are precious. At the same time written language is always a bit more ambiguous. I'm not saying that its not important (it is), but rather, you can't simply apply it everywhere.

    In particular, you need to use spoken/written language to convey your thoughts and ideas, however at the same time it is usually imperative that some of these thoughts be conveyed using other notation (e.g., mathematical equations, chemical formulae, etc.).

    I think, what you want to instill in your students is that this can be fun. When I was in college we had to take "Technical Writing" during our senior year as a degree requirement. The instructor I had was GREAT (I wish I could remember his name). The thing that made him great was that he taught by teaching you the "mechanics" of how to do something (i.e., he didn't dwell on stuff like grammar, etc.). That's not to say that this didn't come through, but rather that the delivery method was geared towards engineers. It was fun! And nearly everyone in the class LOOKED FORWARD to the next class.

    I wish you much success and I hope this helps!

Re:A noble quest ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526807)

Even though I did use preview, I missed something...

Mathematical formula, chemical equations, etc., are precious

    should be

Mathematical formula, chemical equations, etc., are precise

    Sorry about that!

book recommendation... (1)

LurkingPenguin (762592) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526797)

I would highly recommend [especially for that age group] The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. It's a somewhat-illustrated novel about a kid who dreams of a number devil who teaches him math while he sleeps. The math he learns there helps him do math quickly in his incredibly dull and boring math class, shocking the obviously-unenthusiastic teacher as well as his fellow classmates. The student who was once bored to tears by math suddenly finds joy in the patterns that exist there... As I recall it's mostly basic algebra and geometry. I didn't end up reading it until well after I'd taken the classes [I picked it up because it looked amusing, I've always had a love for math and it seemed like it was related to comic books but more novely, generally a light read]. I'm not sure how well a student who's not already interested in math would respond to it, but I certainly think it'd be worth checking out. Also, I must point out that Star Trek is wonderful and delicious.

Flatland (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526801)

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.

Re:Flatland (Mod up!) (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526893)

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.

Re:Flatland (Mod up!) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527013)

Because the comment author plagarized the entire introductory paragraph from Wikipedia.

Re:Flatland (Mod up!) (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527141)

Because the comment author plagarized the entire introductory paragraph from Wikipedia.

It's not exactly plagiarism, seeing as he did provide a link to his source.

Re:Flatland and Flatterland (1)

cocoachick (1153893) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527067)

I agree with Flatland and Flatterland, read them both, they're a good way to go. Flatterland (like Flatland, but only more so) may be good for getting more girls interested.

Try Nonfiction (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526809)

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.

John Wyndham (1)

Spudley (171066) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526815)

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 (2, Insightful)

tiny69 (34486) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526817)

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).

well... it starts in the home..... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526823)

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 Regulatory Commission). So science and math were general topics in my home.

I think the things that got me most interested in this was having a computer at home when I was growing up. Now that is not as big a deal, but having a computer system in early 1980's was. I still remember doing my first up-grade to a computer on my own (upgraded the CPU from a 33MHz to a 66MHz when I was 9 or 10). I had always loved tinkering with the computer(s), and continued loving doing this till present day (I am a Unix Systems Administrator with a degree in Computer Science). I knew from early on that I needed to learn math and science in order to work on my hobby, which in turn, I found that I could make a career of my hobby, which is one of the best things you can have in life (finding someone to pay you to work on your hobby is right up there at the top of the list).

Heck, I grew up in a house where I would play chess against my father almost every night, and I remember doing this before I was even going to school. You need to have that early connection with sciences and math. You need to have that strong foundation well before 8th grade...

As for shows, well I liked "Mr. Wizard" when I was growing up. However, that is geared for people a little younger than 8th graders (more like 3-6th).

Re:well... it starts in the home..... (1)

miskatonic alumnus (668722) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527029)

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.

Flatland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526841)

I would think something like [] would be an obvious topic.

Things that inspired me toward math and science. (2, Insightful)

Beefpatrol (1080553) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526843)

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 also fundamentally attractive to me because it presented a way to discover truth with little foreknowledge. And since it involved a methodology, it could also be automated to a substantial degree. Of course, the "wow" factor of things like fighter planes, nuclear warheads, solar cells: ("look! it does work for free!"), and postage stamp sized ICs with bajillions of internal components also contributed to my interest in science. I eventually got a BS in physics and I am currently working on the core BS requirements for a CS degree in pursuance of CS graduate school, so one could say that my interest in these subjecs is significant.

To answer your question more specifically, even though I can't stand to watch it now, Star Trek:TNG offered a look at a possible future society that was attractive to me. I suppose the general benevolence of the characters and the "mission" combined with the reverence the characters showed toward those who were knowledgable and proficient made me think that a future that transcends the usual social, economic, and political BS that our society is riddled with might be possible. I think I had a more indulgent imagination back then.

War Games (1)

brainstyle (752879) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526851)

'Nuff said.

Maths Books (1)

chris_sawtell (10326) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526855)

History Of Mathematics (1)

forkazoo (138186) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526861)

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 locales, conflict about how things should be done, and who invented what, etc. It's not exactly a way to bring math into writing, but there is a lot of writing already done about math that you may want to check out and see if it is of any use for you classroom.

Fairly Hard SF like some Arthur c Clarke can also be a great and interesting introduction to some stuff like the principles of celestial mechanics in a way that would stick better for most students than just throwing equations at them.


Flatland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526869)

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.

The story posits a two dimensional world (Flatland). The unnamed narrator, a humble square (the social caste of gentlemen and professionals), guides us through some of the implications of life in two dimensions. Part I consists of physical and social descriptions of Flatland.

In Part II, the Square has a dream about a visit to a one-dimensional world (Lineland), and attempts to convince the realm's ignorant monarch of a second dimension, but finds that it is essentially impossible to make him see outside of his eternally straight line.

The narrator is then visited by a three-dimensional sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he sees the Spaceland for himself. This sphere, who remains nameless, visits Flatland at the turn of each millennium to introduce a new apostle to the idea of a third dimension in the hopes of eventually educating the population of Flatland of the existence of Spaceland. From the safety of Spaceland, they are able to observe the leaders of Flatland secretly acknowledging the existence of the sphere and prescribing the silencing of anyone found preaching the truth of Spaceland and the third dimension. After this proclamation is made, many witnesses are massacred or imprisoned (according to caste).

After the Square's mind is opened to new dimensions, he tries to convince the Sphere of the theoretical possibility of the existence of a fourth (and fifth, and sixth...) spatial dimension. Offended by this presumption and incapable of comprehending other dimensions, the Sphere returns his student to Flatland in disgrace.

He then has a dream in which the Sphere visits him again, this time to introduce him to Pointland (which comprises a self-aware point that occupies all space and knows nothing but itself). The point (sole inhabitant, monarch, and universe in one) perceives any attempt at communicating with him as simply being a thought originating in his own mind. (cf. Solipsism)

The Square recognizes the connection between the ignorance of the monarchs of Pointland and Lineland with his own (and the Sphere's) previous ignorance of the existence of other dimensions.

Once returned to Flatland, the Square finds it difficult to convince anyone of Spaceland's existence, especially after official decrees are announced - anyone preaching the lies of three dimensions will be imprisoned (or executed, depending on caste). Eventually the Square himself is imprisoned for just this reason.

Two suggestions from my own youthful experience (1)

Bemopolis (698691) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526873)

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 of interest. And the more precocious writers could tackle essays on the destruction of the copyright system wrought by Disney.

Some more thoughts (2, Interesting)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 6 years ago | (#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

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1)

mark99 (459508) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526879)

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 (2, Interesting)

crumplez (1050548) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526881)

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 cultures. There is zero value in analyzing Shakespeare. None.

Re:Rhetoric (1)

gatita84 (1153881) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527045)

There is zero value in analyzing Shakespeare. None.
I definitely agree with your suggestions, but I completely disagree on this point. Literature in general, and Shakespeare in particular, are reflections of the world around us and therefore studying them is a valuable process. A piece of literature reflects the time and place in which it was written, therefore it teaches us about history and culture - perhaps not in a comprehensive way, but possibly a more approachable one. It also gives us insight into human behavior, helping us to become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent. More importantly, though, in studying literature we learn to think about what we are reading, to engage in it and question it, which is an ability that transfers directly to "harder" studies. Students need time to develop the ability to read and absorb at the same time. And while it may not exactly work out ideally in the average ninth-grade classroom, it doesn't mean we should pack up every copy of Othello and give up on the process.

Time limitations (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526921)

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 (2, Informative)

davecl (233127) | more than 6 years ago | (#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

Re:Some recommendations (1)

dronkert (820667) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527009)

Exactly the titles I wanted to suggest, the ones I remembered reading in high school. I would like to add: popular science journals! Like Scientific American, New Scientist, perhaps National Geographic. I subscribed to the Dutch magazines Kijk and Natuur & Techniek, targeting resp. juniors and seniors in high school.

Offer a Selection! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526949)

Although I love old Heinlein myself, it's not for everyone! Offering only outer-space shoot 'em ups is giving students a very narrow idea of where math and science can be found. There are fabulous books that fall into many genres which discuss science and math intelligently.

Obviously, Flatland is the first book I thought of- not only is it fairly interesting, and spaceship free, but dimensional math is both mind-blowing and comprehensible to an 8th grader. A similar book would be the overpraised Einstein's Dreams, a good jumping off place, but lacking much real science. And although I haven't read it, David Foster Wallace's Everything And More is supposed to be interesting, although who knows if it's age appropriate?

If you pick up Isaac Babel's complete works, it's got a previously unpublished film script which was intended as an instructional film for children- what would happen if friction didn't exist? What if gravity stopped working? It would be a great instructional tool to start from, especially because it's just a skeleton. You could ask students to write their own, or have them act out one of the scenes, etc...

I grew up reading the works of Gerald Durrel (My Family and other Animals) and James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small), both of whom are wonderful writers on biology/zoology. Stephen Jay Gould is a fabulous, assessable writer on biology, too, if you're looking for something that addresses scientific issues more directly.

Don't ignore the greats, either- Einstein, Feinman, Hawking, Darwin, etc. have all written accessibly on their subjects.

Let them find their own way.... (1)

bradcb212 (1141199) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526951)

I'm no psychologist, but I think the reasons that drew me to math and science were as much creative as they were egotistical. My parents were not mathematicians, scientists, or intellectuals. I started out as a child obsessed by the magic that is electricity; light at the flick of a switch, entertainment at the flick of a remote. The magic of it all, especially in a child's eyes, is obvious. I still remember sticking my fingers in electrical sockets....crying and running away, and then trying again. I was told by an old family-friend recently that he can still remember me exclaiming "You told me I would die if I stuck my finger in plug-ins.. You lied to me!" That little anecdote serves as evidence of two points--that I wasn't that bright of a kid and that I was insanely curious. Later on in life my dad bought an Apple IIe clone and later a Mac for home-office type work... I learned to love the computer and through the wonderful program "Hypercard" I soon became obsessed again. The ability to make the computer do my bidding was powerful for a kid like myself. I couldn't control my life or anything around me, but I could control the computer. I think I saw this potential in electricity as well. Even now in the present I'm still pursuing my somewhat egotistical goals of control. I learned C/C++ years ago, have dabbled in digital embedded computers and electronics with the Basic Stamp and the Atmel AVR line of microcontrollers, and am now pursuing a deep mathematical understanding of analog circuitry and hopefully a BSEE degree.. So, in my case, my parents or friends weren't a factor at all, at least not directly. I was the younger of two brothers and smaller than my friends. I sometimes wonder if I was the older brother or more athletic during my childhood if I would have poured my curiosity towards the same goals--no matter though, this is where I've ended up and I still love it. So, my advice would be to play on children's natural curiosity. They grow up in a world they want to understand. Some of them will see the innate magic of the things that surround them and want to contribute. If you can demonstrate the power of technology to them, some of them will take the bait. Science fairs are a great example of this.... Anywho, that's just my story, but on a more social level I think a huge problem with mathematics and science are the stigmas surrounding its difficulty and the culture of "nerdism" that surrounds it. Take the movie "revenge of the nerds" for instance, it clearly shows the messages society casts upon these endeavors--noble, but certainly less acceptable than playing football and drinking beer. :) In the end though, I do think geekiness is becoming cooler, and if that trend continues we should see the fields of science and mathematics growing in the future. It's just culture.

Richard Feynman and Freeman Dyson (1)

Lightman_73 (183090) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526959)

If you want to somewhat expose your students to what a scientist can be, I suggest you make them read "Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman!" and "What do you care what other people think?" by R.P. Feynman, and "Disturbing the Universe" by F. Dyson.

Another nice book is "Who Got Einstein's Office?: Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study" from Ed Regis.

These are books that are not science books, but books on science (and/or scientists lifes). Most people seems to think that science is boring, and that doing science, that is, being a researcher is even more boring. These books shows that that's not always true, and that science can be interseting, intriguing and fun.

Minds, Brains, and Learning (1)

grshutt (985889) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526971)

You are right to point out that English is generally treated as a "support subject for other classes." It is true at the primary and secondary levels, and it is no less true at the tertiary level. The latter is a serious problem in that English departments at colleges and universities--the very people who train those who go on to become K-12 teachers--have failed to make tenable arguments for why one should take reading, writing, and the study of literature seriously.

Fortunately, there are some people who have made, what seem to me, tenable arguments for why one should take reading, writing, and the study of literature seriously. One of these people is Mark Turner, author of several books including Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science (1991), The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language (1996), and, with Gilles Fauconnier, The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities (2002). Without going into great detail, Turner's work develops the theory proposed by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By (1980) that our conceptual apparatus is "metaphorically" structured; that is, we proceed by means of relations.

My reason for mentioning Turner et al. is that their work suggests that the distinction often made between "ordinary" language and "poetic" language is false. It's "metaphor" all of the way down. If you introduce the topic of language to your eighth-grade students, then you will have a way of combining discussions of both language and biology, broadly conceived. A perceptive and engaging introduction to some of the matters I've mentioned is James P. Byrnes's Minds, Brains, and Learning: Understanding the Psychological and Educational Relevance of Neuroscientific Research (2001).

Two other books come to mind: Robert and Ellen Kaplan's Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free (2007), about their Math Circle program, and Gerald Holton and Stephen G. Brush's Physics, the Human Adventure (3rd ed., 2001).

The above titles ought to provide you with some insight into how you can go about engaging your students. Good luck!

The only one you will need (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526973)

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.

This culture is fucked (4, Insightful)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:This culture is fucked (1)

Pyrix (1106657) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527037)

It is much like that in England aswell, and I agree whole-heartedly with you, maybe not about the bit with Giant Bees though.

Re:This culture is fucked (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527075)

Really? It seems so much organized over there, what with the O levels and A levels and all that. A British woman I once dated always went on about how schools were better there. Sports were important, but in their own place. A better balance.

As for the giant bees, you heard it here first.

Re:This culture is fucked (2, Interesting)

bradcb212 (1141199) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527129)

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, my thoughts and hopes are certainly with him...

In your message you state that sports pros are thugs (it seems you're especially picking on football)... I'd say you've watched too many movies. You should realize that calling them thugs is in itself a reflection of our cultural understanding of football (or any inherently violent sport) players. Though there may be some bad eggs amongst them, they are not all Michael Vicks...

Sports = entertainment... These people risk their health every time they step onto the field. They turn a simple game into an amazing demonstration of athleticism. You seem to be blaming society itself for elevating such things to a high standing, but I challenge you to sit and watch people playing scrabble, chess, or any other mindgame for hours at a time...

For the record, I don't disagree with your "smart = uncool" argument... I just think calling them thugs is an unfair stereotype, in the same way that it's unfair to assume you're "uncool" just because you're into science or math.

Dune. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20526991)


Dune was, and still is, a masterpiece. I found a copy of it in my senior required "Art Class" (nothing but kids hanging off the chandeliers), and it forever changed my outlook on life & the studies thereof. Required reading for anyone.

Re:Dune. (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527023)

I liked Dune, but am I the only one who finds the rest a bit overrated?

I tried reading the Dune books by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert. Eh... mediocre. Anderson should stick with the Seven Suns saga. He works best when playing with his own toys.

But anyway, I read message boards where people act like they want to kill Anderson and B. Herbert. You'd think someone flushed their Koran. They go on and on about what a visionary Frank Herbert was. Visionary about what? Some universe he made up? And after book one the whole thing goes to crap, and after book three, I'm sorry, but it is flat out unreadable.

I say let J.K. Rowling have a stab at the Dune universe. That'd be fun at least.

Some movies of interest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527015)

October Sky
Good Will Hunting
A Beautiful Mind

Mind you, you won't learn an ounce of math or science from any of these -- but they're relatively entertaining movies that could set off a spark or two, and I feel the former two are especially appropriate for teenagers, as they touch on the issue of figuring out and pursuing what you're passionate about -- which seems to be the root issue here and in my opinion, the most valuable issue you could ever learn about.

Another movie of interest would be Pi by the wonderful Darren Arronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) -- though I'm not sure how that would go over with your typical 8th graders.

Re:Some movies of interest (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527053)

Good Will Hunting
A Beautiful Mind

Oh, great! Two films depicting very smart people as highly dysfunctional!

Another movie of interest would be Pi by the wonderful Darren Arronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND? Good flick, but WTF? The smart guy in that film DRILLS A HOLE IN HIS OWN HEAD!

And this is from an Arronofsky fan who *loved* The Fountain.

though I'm not sure how that would go over with your typical 8th graders.

Ya think?

8th grade? (1)

alphaadidas (1153887) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527041)

By the time i reached 8th grade, most the kids i grew up with were (already) either interested in math or hated it. The source that sparked my interest was probably closer to 4th grade, while we were still being taught the 3 R's (Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic). I remember my 4th grade teacher making math fun to learn, but reading/writing were so boring.

But are you trying to get 8th graders interesting in learning math and science, reading about math and science, or writing reports about math and science. In my opinion, those are not completely the same.

Math/Science History (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527065)

I have this one book called "Math Wonders - To inspire teachers and students", which i can recommend. More of this educational books you can find under [] .

Me personally, I find the study of some history around the mathematicians is very appealing to learn about the math itself. For example the story about "Gauss" where the teacher asked the students - 8 to 10 years old - to calculate the sum of all numbers between 1 and 100 to keep them busy while he does something. And Gauss figured out so quickly it is 51 pairs with the sum of 100 creating the formula Sum_(n=1)(^x) = x*(x+1) / 2.

Huh? No Bill Nye yet?? (1)

KarMann (121054) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527069)

Bill Nye the Science Guy, of course! (Bill, Bill, Bill!)

Though to be honest, he was a bit after my own formative years. In my time, it was probably 3 2 1 Contact that did it most for me, And Carl Sagan's Cosmos certainly didn't hurt, either.

Re:Huh? No Bill Nye yet?? (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527099)

Cosmos was pretentious. There. I said it.

And if I get one more fucking "it has been 9 minutes since you have posted" broken warning, I'm going to hack an Al-Quaeda server and make Slashdot their next target. Fix that already. At least have the script realize it's completely bones when the variable for minutes is >2.

Contest math (1)

Singularitarian2048 (1068276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527083)

One of the best ways to get kids into math is to expose them to contest math. There are lots of great books about contest math for middle schoolers. Check out to learn more about that.

Inspirational movies helped me (1)

nozpamming (664873) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527123)

It's people that you admire. It's role-models that inspire. Case in point: Apple's commercial 'The crazy ones': lated&search= [] (link is to the first youtube hit I found - there's probably a million others)

I would show the kids this video at the beginning of the class year. Half of the people in the clip are scientists. Let them dream a bit and hopefully one will become passionate to change things too in science.

Shows & Reading (1)

Lally Singh (3427) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527125)

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 having kids watch MythBusters and then making fun of the show is worthwhile. I'm still amazed they'll spend 30 min showing an experiment to prove what 30 sec of basic math & physics will usually tell you.

Reading-wise, you've got an unlimited selection of good material. Personally I'd try Cryptonomicon. It's fun and the whole thing's based on math & science.

Either of the first two books by Simon Singh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20527127)

I've always had a knack for Maths-related subjects, but I my real enthusiasm was sparked by Simon Singh's "Fermat's Last Theorem". Singh has a great talent for communicating advanced ideas in a way that is easily understood by the layman. You won't find a single equation in the text (it reads more like a documentary), but some of the appendices contain classic mind-benders such as the infamous "proof" that 2 = 1.

His follow-up, "The Code Book", I found even more involving. It charts the use of codes from ancient times (simple substitution) through to the Enigma, RSA codes and it even touches on Quantum Cryptography. As an added bonus, Singh included a "cipher challenge" at the end of the book: ten encrypted messages, each using a more advanced form of encryption than the last. The first person to successfully decode all ten messages would win £100,000.

As a 17 year old reading these books (and, to be honest, not being much of a book-reader at the time), I can confidently say that these books are easily accessible to school children of 15 or above.

To find out more, visit []

Why? (3, Interesting)

kamapuaa (555446) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527135)

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.

A Wrinkle in Time (1)

woobieman29 (593880) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527161)

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 through the use of an incredibly engaging story.

FYI, for others that grew up with a fascination for this book Madeline L'Engle passed away at the age of 88 just 3 days ago, September 6th, 2007. I had no idea until I did a quick Google search just now to check on the spelling of her name. Made me sad to read about it, actually. She had a great talent.

Anything by Gregory Benford (1)

demallien2 (991621) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527171)

Well, I probably got here too late, but f you are looking for some texts that could be read in an English class, but which pose big scientific questions, you couldn't really go wrong with Gregory Benford - I'm thinking in particular of two of his novels, Cosm and Timescape.

Benford's hook is that he uses research scientists as his protagonists. They are typically on the verge of making a big scientific discovery with accompanying moral dilemmas (will it save/destroy the world, who should profit from it, who 'owns' the science, etc). The characters live in our real world, and the physics is all valid (well, riffing of cutting edge unproven theories, but still possible - sending messages back in time, creating mini event horizon universes etc). But most importantly, the concerns of the characters are real world concerns.

The only downside is that the books are perhaps a bit too difficult for 8th graders... Cosm might work, but Timescape definately requires high level reading skills.
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