8th grade Science Fiction Unit: Books, Projects, and Teaching Rationale


            The books I chose were intended for an audience of middle school students.  The thematic unit covers the themes of fairness, morality, and ethical responsibilities.  The genres of books I have chosen come from the science fiction line of writing and have some real world implications written within them.  This unit would be a good fit for an English class, as well as perhaps a social studies or science class.  The themes all center on Earth’s destruction and how humanity copes with its decisions leading up to the events and the aftermath of them.  In a science class, discussions could center on why the Earth was destroyed and steps humanity could take to avoid such happenings.  In a social studies class, discussions could center on how humanity reacted to events as they were happening, what steps they may have taken to ensure fairness, and the moral and ethical dilemmas such disasters present to society.  I have written my annotated bibliographies differently, having chosen to include with each books review my rationale’s for choosing that book.  Items I included are why I believed this book to be a good fit for my thematic unit and possible discussion questions which could arise from the reading of the book.

            For my activities, I chose three which would pertain to each and every book.  I created my activities with different types of student learners in mind.  They are tailored to three distinct styles of learning, the visual learner, the group project learner, and the student who prefers to work alone.  It is the teachers’ responsibility to create more than one way of presenting a lesson to students in order to fairly encompass each student, and I feel that my activities are able to do this.  This is especially true with the special education classes I hope to bring this unit to.  With each activity, I included my explanation of which educational standards I felt the activity addressed and incorporated.  I look forward to using this unit in my own middle school special education class someday. 

Colfer, Eoin. The Supernaturalist. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2004. Print.

Cosmo Hill has a hard life, hard because he is an orphan.  If you don’t have parents and can’t trace your natural parents through the DNA records, you are sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys – sent by freight class – which gives you an idea of what that institute is like.  Cosmo spends his nights dreaming of escape and one day his dream comes true.  After nearly dying during the escape, Cosmo meets up with The Supernaturalists.  They come to his rescue and before he can even recover, he finds he has the family he always longed for in his new friends.  Together, the group fights parasites, unnatural creatures which suck the life out of the wounded and sick.  What follows are questions of morality, who decides who lives or dies, to what extent should one go to protect another?  How does one know what the right answer is?  Cosmo and his friends must go through some pretty tough times in order to come out alright in the end.

            This book addresses some thoughtful questions.  Who has the right to decide what species lives and what species dies is perhaps the most important one.  Friendships are tested and battles are waged and both won and lost during their journey.  The book is set in the future in a place called Satellite City.  A place filled with horrendous pollution which leaves its citizens scrambling for necessities such as clean air.  The people of Earth have ravaged the planet beyond repair and now everyone depends on the satellite for their existence.  Unfortunately, the satellite is failing which makes their life even harder.  The book gives a sincere look at what greed and apathy can do to a future.  This was a good look at diversity and why we should live in peace with other species or cultures. 

DuPrau, Jeanne. The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember). New York: Yearling, 2004. Print.

Lina Mayfleet is a twelve year old girl living in the city of Ember.  As all twelve year olds must do – it is time for her to reach in and blindly pick her job for life.  All she wants is to be a messenger – one who runs all over the city delivering messages.  When she picks pipe works laborer is disappointed until her friend Doon offers to change jobs with her.  Doon wanted nothing more than to work in pipe works to gain access to the underground generator and was sad to pick messenger as his job.  The city of Ember is running out of power.  Doon wants to be able to get to the generator and see if he can be the one to find the solution of how to fix it.  Before long, events sweep up both Lina and Doon, bringing them back together in a quest for answers and a search for hope.  A quest which time is of the essence as food is scarce, supplies low or gone and the city headed for its final darkness.

The planners for the City of Ember were those who built the underground city to last at least more than two hundred years although they were merely guessing if that would even be long enough.  Why they built Ember is not disclosed, that is up for the reader to decipher as the story unfolds.  The protagonists, Lina and Doon, are characters children would be able to relate to.  Although Lina and Doon are courageous, they are also typical of many twelve year olds.  They have fears, lack confidence in their abilities at the same time they are boastful of what they are good at, and struggle with their transition from childhood to adulthood, although, for Lina and Doon, adulthood comes far earlier than our society recognizes.  In this book, it is the children who come to the rescue of Ember.  This text deals with end-of-the-world issues and survival.  Exposing this text to students gives students the idea that they can affect the future in the decisions they decide to make.  This text targets middle school students and teaches the lesson on working together to solve problems, fostering an understanding of the power of cooperation and the benefits of working with others toward a common goal. 

DuPrau, Jeanne.  The People of Sparks. (The second book of Ember). New York: Yearling, 2004. Print.

Lina and Doon found a way out of Ember.  After Lina found the scrap of paper and the two of them figured out what the note said – they searched the city and found the escape which the planners had built in the beginning.  Now they needed to reach their people and lead them out of Ember.  What a new beginning this was, there was color in this world, life surrounded them, and there was fresh air.  Once everyone was out they needed to find a place to call home and a way to survive.  The limited food and supplies they brought with them would not last long.  Eventually, the townspeople of Ember wandered into the town of Sparks, much to the townspeople of Sparks’s surprise.  Now, the members of both worlds must learn to live and work with each other, while battling their differences and mistrust.  If these two groups of people can’t learn how to do this, will a repeat of what happened years ago happen again?  Can we learn from the mistakes of the past before they become the mistakes of the present?

            Once again we have a text that deals with end-of-the-world issues and survival.  This text explains why the city of Ember had been built and what led up to the path the city planners had taken.  At the same time, it introduces a repeat of the earlier mistakes the human race made.  Here the protagonists learn how to work together with people from different communities – a skill much needed in the classroom.  The story also centers on reactions to having a scarcity of resources, relating to those students living in troubling times.  The strongest topic covered is the topic of violence versus non-violence.  The protagonist Doon struggles with deciding which approach is the correct one while all around him the adults are leading the way toward violence.  A great text to read concerning violence and the effect choosing it has on those involved, and those who are bystanders.  This text could lead to a thoughtful discussion on bullying and what happens when violence becomes the answer.

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Among the Hidden. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1998.  Print

What would you do if you were never allowed to tell anyone that you existed?  How would you feel if you were forced to spend your life in hiding – for fear of being caught existing?  This is the only life which Luke has ever known.  From the very beginning he remembered being cautioned every day, don’t let someone see you, be quiet, stay away from the windows, go hide in the attic.  It’s just not fair, Luke thinks, his brothers are allowed to go out, they go to town, to school, have friends, they live normal lives.  But Luke is different; he is one of the shadow children – the ones hidden away for their own safety.  And he thinks he is the only one.  Until one day when looking outside at the new houses he sees a face, it is fleeting – but enough for Luke to wonder if there are more shadow children.  Luke answers this question eventually, and then some.  He finds out that there are more like him, and why they are the shadow children, the children who are among the hidden.  His new found information leads Luke to some major decisions concerning how he wants to live his life.

This book is one of my favorites and a wonderful addition to this unit.  It deals with subjects that students can relate to in real time… not just subjects that might happen one day if the world continues to destroy itself.  Famine and droughts led the world to a food shortage.  People started to panic, the government stepped in and created laws it felt was necessary for the survival of the people.  They made laws for the farmers telling them what and when they could grow.  They banned people from having more than two children to cut down the population and protect the few resources they said were left.  They appointed a ruling class called the Baron’s who held political and governmental jobs – and rewarded them with more resources than the common people were given.  And they lied to the people.  All of these are themes which can be found in almost every newspaper on any given day.  This is the first book in a series – all of which lead students to some hard questions and make them question what their answers may be. 

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Running out of time. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1995. Print.

Jessie is a rambunctious young girl who lives with her family in the small town of Clifton in the year of 1840.  Or so she had thought.  When an epidemic of diphtheria starts moving quickly through her town, Jessie’s mother pulls her into the woods and tells her an amazing story.  It is not 1840 like Jessie believes, it is really 1996 and the whole town is in danger of dying if Jessie does not leave Clifton and get help.  There is a problem though – the people in charge of Clifton don’t want anyone on the outside to know about this and would kill those trying to escape.  They had promised the adults who agreed to live like it was 1840 that modern medicine would always be available to them – but now they had reneged on that promise and people were dying.  Not only does Jessie have to survive while escaping, she must do so while encountering a world she never knew.  With her mother’s encouragement, Jessie embarks on a journey to save the ones she left behind, facing danger, and uncertainty along the way. 

Imagine being a middle school student and finding out that people had been watching your every move?  Now think about how that would make you feel.  At an age, where most student’s wish to crawl into themselves to blend into the crowd without drawing unwanted attention to themselves, Jessie finds out she has been a ‘subject’ in a tourist park.  Then Jessie has to leave all she’s ever known and enter this ‘foreign world’, and during a time of great stress.  This story opens the door for discussions on how hard it is to ‘fit in’ when you are young, especially to those who may move to a new school.  The text discusses creation of the ‘perfect society’ which can lead to discussions about incidences like the Holocaust and Rwanda.  Another topic which can be taught is the importance of diversity in a society, much like the diversity found in a school or classroom.

Lois, Lowry. The Giver. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 1993. Print.

Eleven year old Jonas lives in a society which has no pain, war, fear, or hunger.  It is a community which gives its members no choices.  And they don’t even realize it.  Jonas is about to turn twelve years old and be assigned his role in the community.  When he is assigned to be the new Receiver –In–Training he has no idea what he is about to learn.  What he finds is that he will be the receiver of all of the memories of the world.  Memories which he will hold apart from the community in order to protect them from understanding what choice can bring.  Jonas finds out what pain is along with finding out what pleasure and love are.  Once he has experienced this he can never turn back.          

The text delves deep into the concept of memory and how memory shapes you as a person.  What would you be like without your memory?  Would you make the same choices you made if you did not have your memory to draw on to aid you in your decisions?  For Jonas and his community – that question is answered because they are not allowed choices.  Imagine never having a choice in any part of your life.  Hunger and survival are topics also introduced.  To what extent are you willing to go to in order to survive?  Jonas resorts to stealing food – not to be a thief, but to guarantee his and Gabriel’s survival.  The opportunity for choice is a fundamental right of everyone, how does this relate to middle school students who are struggling against doing things they don’t wish to do in order to fit in?  What would happen to those students who give up their right to choose what is right for them?

John, Peel,. Time shifter. New York: Tor Kids, 1997. Print.

If you could change the future – would you?  What it meant going back in time and changing the past in the hopes of changing the future?  These are questions Brandon Mooney is forced to ponder when he suddenly meets his ninety-two year old self, when Brandon is twelve years old.  To further complicate matters, what would you do if you met your older self and did not like yourself?  Brandon’s older self is on a mission; one he fervently believes is the right course of action despite actions which say otherwise.  It is up to young Brandon to either accept his future self as fate, or do his best to change the past, present and future.  After all, it’s only the fate of the human race depending on his actions.  No pressure – right? 

One of the best moments in this story was when Mooney (the 92 yr old Brandon) asked Brandon the age old question “If you were taken back in time and shown the child who would one day grow up to become Adolf Hitler―who would one day plunge the world into total war; who would order the murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and other undesirables in concentration camps―if you were shown him as a child, knowing what he would grow up to do, would you kill him?”  (38-39). Twelve year old Brandon is faced with answering this question correctly.  The stories themes cover such topics as bullying, corruption, greed, as well as misguided attempts to correct such horrible things.  All subjects which could be found wandering the halls of most any school.  How the elder Brandon responds to those who have bullied the younger Brandon opens up a dialogue appropriate for young adults and effectively addresses the issue of bullying and explores the idea of consequences. 

Weyn, Suzanne,. Bar Code Tattoo.  New York: Scholastic, 2004. Print

            It is the year 2025; Kayla is a 16 yr old girl living her life.  All around her people are getting Bar Code Tattoo’s just as the huge corporation Global-1 wanted everyone to get.  Kayla’s best friend Amber came up to her excited to show off her new bar code tattoo which she did so she could get her driver’s permit.  Kayla did not want to get the tattoo – she was worried about it ever since her parents got theirs and her father had become depressed.  The story is set in 2025 and the government has gotten more and more involved in people’s lives.  Now the newest thing is the Bar Code Tattoo.  For now it is an option, although those who choose not to get it are finding it harder to function in society.  A small group of students at Kayla’s school who find in each other a common attitude toward the bar code tattoos.  The story follows what happens to those who get the tattoos and those who choose not to.  The big question being, what exactly is in those bar codes?

            This book addresses moral questions that students should be exposed to now – as they are the same type of questions they will be required to vote on in the near future.  Scientists have already created bar codes for our DNA –what will become of this technology?  Who will step up to oversee such technology to ensure the safety, and fairness toward all involved?  Students today are the adults of the future – they can learn from this book and its subject by discussing what they would have done if they had been the adults in charge of the government.  Technology changes so quickly that people have a hard time keeping up with the ethical implications of these changes, a fact that is frightening when one thinks about the consequences that may occur.  Look at the internet and how much it has impacted not only our country – but the entire world – and in a relatively short period of time.  Student’s can discuss the pros and cons regarding the internet as a jumping off point before launching into what may be coming around the corner.  This is a great book for discussions about fairness, morality, and ethics. 

Final Project Activities

Activity One:

A tableaux drama scene is a picture that describes a scene in your mind, or a scene in a book, which you draw and then using captions describe the scene.  Instruct students that they are going to make two tableaux drama scenes.  One explaining where they think they will see themselves in twenty years, and one where they think they will see the world in twenty years.  Then they are to stop at a place they desire in the book they are reading, freeze a scene that interests them, and make another tableaux scene.  After all three assignments are done, students will write a short journal entry describing any similarities they might see between their future, the world’s future, and the scene chosen from the book.

This activity is especially chosen for the student who is a visual learner.  Using visual cues such as this helps the reader enter the story and ‘see’ where it may take them.  Use of visual cues help determine what the text is saying and helps students infer what is happening within the text.  This helps the non-reader summarize events and determine what the main idea of the story is.  Pairing up visual cues with content helps the student analyze the meaning of the text.  The role of the graphic novels is to help students read for perspective, to build an understanding of the text in relation to themselves, and the cultures of the world.  Standards addressed are communication skills and strategies, understanding the human experience, and reading for perspective

Materials:  Paper, colored pencils, markers, rulers, and scissors

Activity Two:

Students will be placed in groups of either 3 or 5 students.  They will be given the following scenario.  As many of the books have written about, our planet is in bad shape.  Resources are limited due to such widespread events such as war, famine, and droughts.  You will each be given the same amount of land to carry out your plan.  Each plot will have a water source on it, but there will be no buildings with which to begin with.  It will be each group’s decision on how they will allocate the land to create a sustainable community.  Each group will be given the same random items picked from the rubble to begin a new community – they can trade with other groups’ labor and items but the trades must be approved by all members of each group.  It is up to you to decide who will be allowed in this community, how many people will be allowed, and what their job descriptions will be.  First you must decide what your roles will be when creating the community.  The following roles are some in which to choose from, community planner, medical services, builder (which encompasses electrical and plumbing), agricultural, food services, and educational.  The group must decide how to spend your budget and on what resources you will be purchasing.  The goal of the group is to create a self-sustaining community.  

This activity is meant to emphasize diversity and cooperation.  This is a Project Based Learning (PBL) assignment, where each person will play an important role in the completion of the project.  Some of the standards addressed are communication skills and strategies, applying knowledge, evaluating data, multicultural understanding, and participating in society.  Practical math skills are addressed with the inclusion of such things as building plans and resource budgeting formulas each group must abide by.  Odd number groups should be encouraged to make voting on what direction the group is taking easier. 

Materials: Poster paper, colored pencils, markers, rulers, price list of resources and supplies, budget template, calculators, descriptions of available jobs. 

Activity Three:

Students will bring in at least three annotated bibliographies from current news magazines or newspapers centered on a common problem our world is facing.  Each annotated bibliography should be at least two paragraphs long.  Students will present their annotated bibliographies for approval before the paper is written.  Once this is done, Students are responsible for writing a paper explaining what the problem is and how it is affecting our world today.  Students will present their ideas for solutions to the problem, detailing the steps which they would take to help fix the problem if they were the President of the United States.  Papers should be at least two to three pages long.  Attach papers to the annotated bibliographies and turn in. 

This assignment is created to give students the opportunity to learn what is going on in their world today.  Current events are important to the future, as the many books in this unit will show.  Allowing students the chance to not only research what interests them, but to showcase ideas which they may have for solutions to the problems.  Some of the standards utilized with this project are developing research skills, applying language skills, evaluating data, applying knowledge, communication skills and strategies, and reading for perspective. 

Materials:  News magazines, news papers, internet.

Timeline for Activities

Monday:         Describe Tableaux Dramas concept, Tableaux scene of yourself in 20 years

Tuesday:         Tableaux scene of the world in 20 years

Wednesday:    Tableaux scene from the novel of your choice, homework if all three not finished, due tomorrow.

Thursday:        Write a short journal entry describing any similarities between the scene from the book and the scenes where you see yourself or the world in twenty years, due tomorrow.

Friday:            Present project to the class.

Monday:         Describe PBL assignment, Choose groups, hand out supplies, groups assign roles

Tuesday:         Group work, outline plans for community, begin to map out poster board

Wednesday:    Group work, final budget due

Thursday:        Group work, continue to create community

Friday:                        Final project due

Monday:         Describe Research Paper, Student’s explore articles

Tuesday:         Student’s explore articles, begin annotated bibliographies, homework

Wednesday:    Annotated bibliographies, due tomorrow for approval

Thursday:        Approval checks, Student’s Work on papers

Friday:                        Work on papers, papers due on Monday


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