A novel approach to teaching

Fact and fiction Using novels to teach academics makes learning interesting and a wholesome experience.

Everyone loves mystery. Teaching science using science fiction and teaching forensics with crime novels are not new. Many creative teachers do selections from classic novels for teaching specific subjects in science. A range of science fictions, such as The War of the Worlds by H G Wells to teach cosmology and The man who fell to earth by Walter Tevis to teach gravity, come handy for them. We also think about how much force Superman would need to fly; or the trajectory in which Batman glides, while teaching Physics. An invaluable meta-resource is available over the internet to match almost any scientific concept.

But, how to extend the novel approach to teaching to non-science subjects is the question.

Crime is an odd word in the classroom, except when dealing with hacking, criminology, and certain genres of literature. However, crime thrillers can be one of the core materials to teach any subject in schools – remember the first mathematics teacher who conjured the idea of x, the villain in all algebraic stories. 

Not limited to science

Crime thrillers can teach logic, hypothesis, data analysis and reasoning in true settings, triggering an inquiry-based approach. Be surprised to find many close parallels. “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts,” is not from a research methodology textbook. Neither “...from a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other” from a book of sampling and data analysis. Both are dialogues of Sherlock Holmes from the work, The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The challenge of fitting such resources in the plan of teaching and learning depends on the interdisciplinary mindset of the teacher while anchoring himself or herself well within the lesson objectives.  

In most cases, we can go well beyond quotes and conversations, like deduction is best explained by the approach of Sherlock Holmes. He untangles facts one by one. In teaching soft-skills and communication, Holmes, as depicted in many works of Arthur Conan Doyle, will serve as a library of body language. 

Taking a comparison and contrasts of different authors, science fiction and thrillers will come handy for social sciences too. Works of H G Wells are more sociological while that of Verne is more hard fiction. Hercule Poirot, the investigator created by Agatha Christie, uses more psychological approaches. Use of the elements of fiction interests students. However, this requires a careful selection of readings involving quotations, selected paragraphs, short stories, summaries and sometimes, full books. 

It is not hard to spot immersive connections. To craft a successful lesson using science fiction, prepare target concepts - a list of concepts to be taught. Following these aspects could help teachers:

Look for the most appropriate material replete with content in action.

Get the help of readers and literary enthusiasts online and offline.

Refuse to depend on science fictions and thrillers that have far-fetched connections with your target concepts.

Similarities can only complement the lesson and you cannot make it as a core material or teaching tool.

Shortlist the stories, books, book summaries, passages
and quotations.

Map the concepts to each of the above in a draft lesson plan.

Students of voracious readers are particularly lucky as they are more likely to find out an entire thriller mapping all the required concepts in the lesson plan.

Work on a presentation plan for the ‘selfie generation’. Enrich and complement the content with suitable film adaptations. A series of Biopics, from Madame Curie to The Man Who Knew Infinity, can enhance the coursework. 

If one is unsure which science fiction and chapters to map with the concepts selected, get a copy of the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction or its online equivalent. If you are uncertain as to which crime thriller to look for, grab Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Go to class in the company of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes! 

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A novel approach to teaching

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