Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Analyzing a Science Fiction Movie

Robert Rosen

Description

Students observe and predict how technology and scientific knowledge interact. They then discuss the societal ramifications of this interaction and watch the movie CONTACT.

Objectives

The student produces final documents that have been edited for: correct spelling; correct punctuation, including commas, colons, and common use of semicolons; correct capitalization; correct sentence formation; correct instances of possessives, subject/verb agreement, instances of noun/pronoun agreement, and the intentional use of fragments for effect; and correct formatting that appeals to readers, including appropriate use of a variety of graphics, tables, charts, and illustrations in both standard and innovative forms.

The student knows that scientists assume that the universe is a vast system in which basic rules exist that may range from very simple to extremely complex but scientists operate on the belief that the rules can be discovered by careful, systemic study.

The student knows that technological problems often create a demand for new scientific knowledge and that new technologies make it possible for scientists to extend their research in a way that advances science.

The student knows that scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to matters of public concern and help people understand the possible causes and effects of events.

Materials

-A copy of the movie CONTACT
-Copies of the rubric (see attached file)
-Copies of assessment questions if desired

Preparations

1. Be prepared to discuss the ideas of current applications of technology in society today.

2. Be prepared to discuss and demonstrate the influences of scientific knowledge on our daily lives.

3. Be prepared to discuss the relationships between technology and scientific discovery.

4. Check the videotape policy in your school and district.
CONTACT has a PG rating. Before doing this activity, be sure to get approval from the proper school officials. Be aware that videotape policies vary from district to district and from school to school.

Procedures

1. Inform students that they will write a review of the movie CONTACT. The review should show how the movieís content relates to the nature of science. Students will base their written reviews on the following criteria:

a. Ask the students if the movie shows that scientists assume the universe is a vast system in which basic rules exist from very simple to extremely complex; rules can be discovered through careful, systemic study. Discuss answers.

b. Ask the students if the movie shows that technological problems often create a demand for new scientific knowledge and that new technologies make it possible for scientists to extend their research in a way that advances science. Discuss answers.

c. Ask the students if the movie shows that scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to matters of public concern and help people understand the possible causes and effects of events. Brainstorm some examples and discuss.

2. Explain to students that they are to look for specific scenes in the movie that support the above statements. The studentís movie review should describe these scenes in the movie. The student should also explain why (s)he liked or disliked the movie. Tell students that grammar, spelling, and the quality of their writing will be assessed. Provide a means for peer review or using the computer with spelling and grammar tools.

3. Show the movie in small (one hour) segments; allow for discussion and speculation at the end of each segment. Encourage the physical recording of observations and ideas at the end of each segment. At the completion of the film, brainstorm a list of unresolved questions and allow students to use this list and their notes when writing their review. Share the rubric (in associated file) with students prior to beginning the writing.

4. Have students create a review of the movie based on criteria listed above.

5. Select several reviews to read and discuss in class. Assess the understanding of the students by listening to the discussions.

Assessments

Assessing of the written reviews may be done using the prepared rubric (see attached file).

The following questions may be used to asses the students' understanding of this material:

1. Which of the following is true about scientific discovery?
a. Discovery leads to the development of new technologies.
b. New technologies lead to new discoveries.
c. Discovery may provide insight into societal concerns.
d. All of the above.

(answer d. These are all true of scientific discovery.)

2. The universe appears to be governed by certain rules. Which of the following statements is true about these rules of the universe?
a. Rules are predicted but never confirmed.
b. Rules are determined and never altered.
c. Rules may be determined or altered by careful study.
d. Rules do not predict real situations within the universe.

(answer c. Rules may be determined by careful study.)

3. Which of the following statements is true for technological problems?
a. Technology problems cannot be solved.
b. Technology problems demand the development of new scientific knowledge.
c. Technology problems offer little assistance in the development of new technologies.
d. Technology problems are often forgotten and new technologies replace them.

(answer b. Technology problems demand the development of new scientific knowledge to repair problems, and to develop new technologies.)

Some examples of plot elements that support the benchmarks are given below. The list given here is not meant to be complete.

The signal from Vega was tracked systematically by many stations around the globe. Signals from spy satellites and military bases were ruled out before Ellie told others about the signal.

Clinton cautioned the public that Ellieís finding would have to be reviewed and confirmed by other scientists. The first public announcements made it clear that any findings were preliminary and tentative.

The Vegans sent a message that was written in the language of science. It was deciphered by careful study. First, a primer was found in the message. Then the primer was applied systematically to yield schematics of the machine.

Scientists tried to discover how the machine worked by studying its core. Scientists in the movie made it clear that they did not understand how the machine worked. Some scientists speculated on the function of machine parts, but it was obvious that more thorough study would be needed before scientists could understand the operation of the machine.

Ellie wanted to talk to very distant (even dead) people. She graduated from a ham radio as a child to a complex radio telescope array as an adult.

Ellie won recognition for work on lanthanum laser technology. This technology was needed to increase the sensitivity of radio telescopes.

Building the machine required new technology and new engineering skills. Some nations gave up their right to nominate a candidate for the machine seat in return for the rights to the new technology.

The film dealt with several major issues of public concern and explored opposing views of these concerns through the filmís main characters, Ellie and Palmer.

The existence of extraterrestrial life is a matter of public concern. Contact by the Vegans had great philosophical and religious implications. Ellie offered the public a view shared by some scientists. Her views were grounded inempirical proof and a sense of adventure rather than faith or religious conviction. Ellie dismissed religious beliefs using the cold logic of Occamís razor simple explanations tend to be the correct ones. Palmer believed that both science and religion are valid ways to seek the truth. Palmer was more concerned with ethical issues than Ellie and accepted more things on faith. He challenged Ellie to prove that she loved her father. Ironically, Ellie had to ask others to accept what occurred on her trip to Vega on the basis of faith. The same type of argument she used against religious beliefs earlier in the film was used to discredit her testimony at the congressional hearing.

Palmer was deeply concerned about the effect of science on society. Palmer wrote a book that dealt with the effects of technology on Third World cultures. Palmer believed that science and technology should be our servants, not our masters. He asked whether we are really better off because of science. Palmer believed that science should unite us and help us overcome our differences, but feared that we are becoming more isolated as a result of technology. Palmer raised questions that will be of increasing concern to the public as computer technology and biotechnology rapidly develop.

Student Reflection on Learning:

Have students respond to the following:
Students spend time studying the body of knowledge that we acquire using the scientific method. Do you feel this assignment, which emphasizes the nature and process of science rather than a body of knowledge, is worthwhile? Defend your position.

Extensions

The students can discuss and brainstorm these concepts:
-know that rules are discovered that predict fundamental relationships within the universe
-know that scientific knowledge often leads to the invention of new technologies
-know that technology is an application of scientific discovery; new technologies make it possible for scientists to make new discoveries
-know that scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to matters of public concern and help people understand the possible causes and effects of events
-know that basic rules can be discovered by careful study

Enhancement:
You may ask the students to focus their essays on other benchmarks, but will need to amend the discussions and brainstorming sessions. Other nature of science benchmarks are illustrated by the movie.

Attached Files

This file contains the rubric for the movie reviews. †††††File Extension: pdf

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