How Fictional is Science Fiction? the 7th grade study of literature and brains

This is our claim:

FOUR RIVERS STUDENTS MASTER CONTENT KNOWLEDGE WHILE DEVELOPING SKILLS IN CRITICAL THINKING AND COMMUNICATION.

And here are the Four Rivers School-wide learning targets that the 7th grade investigation "How Fictional is Science Fiction?" addresses:

For years, the 7th graders have read "The House of Scorpions" in their humanities class. It's a science fiction story set in a future where extraordinary long life, cloning, and environmental destruction is the norm. The 7th grade Humanities and Science teachers teamed up to have their students investigate the question: How fictional is science fiction? They invited student questions about the things they wondered about as they read.

After they shared their questions, in their science class, 7th graders investigated the questions that connected to their standards and learning targets in biology:

  • I can identify the general functions of the major systems of the human body and describe ways that these systems interact with each other. (MS-LS1-3, MS-LS1-7 )
  • I can describe how specialized cells operate as a part of an organ and organ system.
  • I can pose a testable question and design a single variable controlled experiment to answer that question.
  • I can describe at least 2 study strategies and exactly how they make my brain physically grow and change.

The students went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to meet with researchers who study the branches of science represented both in the book and in the questions students asked. They met with biologists and environmental scientists to learn just how fictional the science in "House of Scorpions" really is.

A researcher shared concepts of cloning

They also worked with biologists to do an experiment with DNA.

Students worked in small teams to conduct the experiment
They were amazed at the results!

The learning targets focused on learning about major systems in the body and about how specialized cells operate in an organ or an organ system. To meet these targets, students learned about the nervous system, the brain and brain cells. Experts from UMass came in to share some of the research they were doing in neurology. Student thank-you notes following that visit served as a check-for-understanding formative assessment. They did a lab on memory and studied the nervous system. A professor from Amherst College came in to share expertise related to the brain's role in the nervous system,. Students were able to examine real brains - several from sheep and one human brain. They drew the brains, took extensive notes in a note catcher and asked their visiting expert lots of questions! After his visit, their thank-you notes again served as a check for understanding. They did one more lab and then, using the information from their research and learning, developed an anchor chart on which to gather study tips to help them study for the last assessment of their study: a test. They used what they knew about the brain to help themselves study for a test on the brain!

While they were learning about the real science vs the stuff of fiction in Science/Math class, in their humanities class, the Four Rivers 7th grade went to work on writing essays about "House of Scorpions". Here is an excerpt of the curriculum map that includes both the standards and learning targets the students worked to master.

They explored the themes of the book in class discussions and in a socratic seminar, which helped them to deepen their understanding fo the book's content. They learned about literary elements and devices and applied their understanding to analysis of the novel, had mini-lessons on qualities of good writing, engaged in writing workshops and then three things happened: 1. they were assigned their final essay, with clear targets and descriptions of quality, particularly focused on topic sentences. 2. They first practiced editing, using a one-page sample essay and then went through a rigorous editing process that included self-edits, targeted peer edits and teacher feedback. 3. Their teacher assessed their work using a rubric aligned to the targets. This multi-step process helped students to master targeted skills in writing and to become more effective editors of their own and others' work. Below is data spanning several years on the overall performance of the students on the reading, writing and communication standrads for How Fictional is Science Fiction?

After they completed their analytical essays, students did a creatinve writing piece, as well. Using their anayltical skills, they did a character analysis using evidence from the book and wrote an imaginary monolgue in the voice of a character from "House of Scorpions."

The 7th graders learned a lot about both literature and science while also developing skills in inquiry, analysis, and research. They learned to conduct labs, use their data to make inferences, and follow an investigation from start to finish. They had to think critically about the "House of Scorpions" and make connections from what they read to what they knew or wondered about the real world, and also to what they had learned in science class! Last, they communicated their ideas in writing and developed writing and editing skills. They also learned just how fictional (or not) science fiction can be!

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