Textbooks Lacking Sci-Fi Movie References
October 4, 2012

Science Fiction Movie References Lacking In School Textbooks

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A University of Valencia study found that science fiction movies are not making much of an impact on school textbooks.

Both teachers and students see science fiction as a way of motivating interest in the field of science, but only 9 textbooks out of the 31 textbooks analyzed referenced science fiction in movies.

"A current concern is that students are no longer studying science and engineering and this trend is more common amongst females. Science fiction can be useful in awaking the scientific vocation of younger students," Jordi Solbes Matarredona, researcher at the University of Valencia and coauthor of the study published in the Enseñanza de las Ciencias journal, said in a statement.

The team gave a questionnaire to 173 students at four different state and grant-maintained schools in both rural and urban areas hoping to get a better understanding of the levels of science fiction knowledge and acceptance in schools.

The researchers found the most important mentions of the 578 specific references to science fiction included Star Wars, The Matrix, X-Men, I, Robot, Spiderman and The Day After Tomorrow.

"In addition there were 78 references that demonstrated confusion between science fiction and magic, action and adventure, since the likes of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings were mentioned with 59 and 50 references respectively, along with The Neverending Story and Mission: Impossible," Solbes said in the statement.

About 24% of the answers gathered by the team value science fiction positively and 31% speak of advances in both science and technology.

The team also found that 47% of the respondents had a positive outlook on scientists, 35% had a distorted or exaggerated outlook, and 12% had an unfavorable outlook.

In some of the films mentioned, scientists are portrayed in a negative way while in others scientists are hardly portrayed at all.

"In these films, the antagonist is usually the crazy scientist that wants to rule the world or even increase their power after finding a powerful 'weapon'," Solbes said.

The study analyzed the presence or lack of science fiction in 31 educational textbooks, ranging from fields of physics to chemistry.

"Out of the 31 secondary and upper school books [analyzed], in 22 of them not one single reference to science fiction is made neither in photographs, comments, texts, activities or web references," Solbes said.

Nine of the books referenced an element of science fiction, either in the form of a photo, text or problem question.

"The most salient of these was a photograph of Superman found in one of the complimentary texts on the discovery of the mineral jadarite, whose chemical formula is very similar to that of the fictitious mineral kryptonite," the researchers wrote in the journal.

They found one textbook with an image of the Starship Enterprise accompanied by a complementary text on the energy sources of ships and the distance problems that Captain Nemo could face on his underwater journey.

Another problem found in the textbooks referenced the revolutions per minute that the space station from 2001, A Space Odyssey would need to undergo to simulate the Earth's gravity.

A technology book referenced the design of a car in 2050, as well as the robotics laws of Isaac Asimov, which was seen in I, Robot. Another mentions a science fiction movie series with examples from films like Matrix and Blade Runner.

"Since texts books make up the bulk of what it taught, this tells us that, along with the scarce number of activities proposed by teaching staff, science fiction is hardly present in the classroom despite it being viewed positively by teachers," conclude the researchers.

A survey was also conducted on 35 teachers undertaking a PGCE equivalent and 21 fully qualified teachers. They were asked what science fiction they are familiar with in the questionnaire. The teaching staff mentioned books twice as much as the students.

Ultimately, the researchers propose learning activities based on science fiction films and series as a way of verifying if these activities actually do improve the image that students have of science and scientists.