Five Ways to Teach Science With Star Trek

Model of USS Enterprise from The Star Trek Experience, by Flickr user El Miali

When I was in tenth grade, my interest in astronomy collided with a boyfriend who was into Star Trek, just as The Next Generation was ending and Voyager was beginning. Two years later, I decided that I’d taken all the calculus any person needed, but I felt a little guilty not taking any math at all. So I made things even on the cosmic scales of STEM education by signing up for an astronomy class.

That class was taught by a man with a magical cabinet. Behind its doors were rows and rows of VHS tapes holding every episode of every season of every Star Trek series that had aired to date. And they weren’t just for rewards after a tough test or days we had a substitute–he used them to teach science.

At the time, this technique astounded me. A teacher using a TV show to actually teach? But the first half of science fiction is science, and many scientists today point to Star Trek as having inspired them to go into their fields. If I were to list technologies from the show that don’t actually exist, this post would be instantly out of date when somebody invented them tomorrow.

This is not to say, by any stretch, that Star Trek always got the science right. For the most recent movie’s rights and wrongs, read Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s play-by-play. And NASA has a section of their site devoted to Star Trek. You can read up on technologies from the show and to what extent they exist in reality.

[Read Ruth Suehle’s Five Ways to Teach Science with Star Trek at GeekMom!]

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