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A middle school teacher, Anthony Cody, writes in Teacher Magazine online that creative writing in science, math or social studies class is a great way to learn content.
The simple mass of information students are expected to absorb, and the daunting number of pages of facts, lists and diagrams can be overwhelming. As a change of pace from research papers, he sometimes has them do creative writing.
One year he had them write science fiction stories describing travel to another planet in our solar system. He started with some modeling, reading passages from Arthur Clarke’s classic story, “A Fall of Moondust.”
The story was written prior to the Apollo moon landings, and describes a lunar surface very different from what was actually found there. But that is part of the fun, he says. Students can see how Clarke had taken the limited knowledge we had of the moon and woven an adventure story around those facts; how he filled in imaginatively wherever the facts were lacking.
He allowed students to choose the planet they wanted to travel to. He provided them each with a folder full of information about their planet. He had them do some basic research: what is the atmosphere; does it have a solid surface; does it have moons; what is the temperature; what resources might we find there…
The challenge was to write a story describing a trip to this planet: the travelers would need to be equipped to survive, and the rubric gave points for the number of science details included.
The students had fun. Some were artistic and were allowed to create cartoon-style stories, with dialogue written in bubbles over the characters’ heads. Others wrote elaborate soap operas, he says, dramatizing typical teenage Sturm and Drang.
Cody feels this strategy could be easily adapted to math, social studies or other content areas beyond English and language arts. In addition, if you’re looking for ways to integrate digital tools like blogs, wikis, podcasts or Photostory into the classroom, this kind of imaginative writing adapts beautifully.
He offers some writing project ideas for science:
- A first person diary describing a day in the life of your favorite animal — with information about habitat, predator-prey interactions and survival strategies.
- A first-person account of a major volcanic eruption, such as Mt. St. Helens, including all relevant scientific details: the type of volcano, the nature of the eruption, the damage done, and so on.
- A story describing the journey of a bite of food from the mouth on downward, with details showing all the steps along the way (this makes a great comic strip or humorous first-person account).
- A children’s book explaining acids and bases, so that 4th graders could understand, using examples of chemical reactions, and diagrams showing how the reactions occur.
- With credit to H.G. Wells, a story describing a trip back in time to the Jurassic or any other era, describing the plants, animals and topography of the time.
- And nodding to Jules Verne, a scientifically accurate journey to the center of the earth, describing the characteristics of each layer one would encounter.
Cody advises scaffolding the research by providing students with reference materials, books and articles already printed out from the Internet. This gives them the basic information, and cuts down on Web-surfing time.
What you’re after is a wide variety of projects, reflecting the diverse interests and talents of the students. Allowing them to choose from several options increases their enthusiasm and sense of ownership. Their challenge is to make the facts come alive!
source: online article by Anthony Cody in Teacher Magazine at www.teachermagazine.org on 5/7/08. Cody is an award-winning middle school science teacher who now works as a professional development coach in the Oakland public school system, partnering with secondary teachers to improve science instruction. He also blogs for Edutopia’s “Spiral Notebook.”
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