In his article "Imperial Imageries: Employing Science Fiction to talk about Geopolitics," Robert A. Saunders (2015) encourages the use of Science Fiction ("SciFi") to provide an avenue to make geopolitics more accessible to students in higher education. But what about students in elementary school? Can SciFi, or pop culture in general, be used to develop critical thinking around land use and other topics in the Social Studies curriculum?
Saunders writes "students possess a helpful fluency in popular culture...[which] allows for the employment of an intellectual shorthand that accelerates learning, facilitates critical analysis, and enables thoughtful discussions and debate" (Saunders, 2015, p. 150). In fact, it seems as though students spend much more time engrossed in popular culture than they do in their studies for school. Thus, it seems natural to use popular culture to engage students in the less entertaining topics set for study at school. Pop culture is something students know about and feel comfortable with, which makes it easy for them to talk about with confidence. If we as educators can link these familiar topics to the required curriculum, perhaps students will feel more comfortable and become more engaged at school.
In Grade 4, for example, students are required to "assess some key ways in which industrial development and the natural environment affect each other" (Ministry of Education, 2013, p.102). The teacher could use a movie like Wall-E and select certain scenes which highlight the impact industrial development had on the planet Earth (in Wall-E the planet Earth has been abandoned due to human destruction and garbage, leaving only the robot Wall-E behind). The students could discuss and debate the issue, and then move on to applying this knowledge to how different regions in Canada have been affected by industrial development.
In Grade 3, students are supposed to "investigate some of the environmental effects of different types of land and/or resource use" (Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 90). The teacher could turn to a novel like "The Martian Chronicles" to discuss how Earthmen affect Mars as they conquer it, and then how the land affects the Earthmen in turn. Or even a popular movie and book, Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax" tells the story of what happens when someone harvests all of the resources with no thought for the future. Again, these provide links into the challenging Social Studies curriculum that may hook students into the topics required.
The point here is that SciFi and pop culture are not just for teens and university students. Elementary school children benefit just as much from teachers making links to pop culture in order to unmask some of the deeper themes of the Elementary Curriculum. In fact, when teachers begin with pop culture movies, books, and games they can make a very dense curriculum into something manageable for our younger students. This can then help to lead children into deep discussions about land use, interactions between people of various cultures, and how their actions as citizens can impact the world around them.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). The Ontario Curriculum: Social Studies: Grades 1 to 6; History and Geography Grades 7 and 8. Queen's Printer for Ontario.
Saunders, R. A. (2015). Imperial imageries: employing science fiction to talk about geopolitics. In F. Caso, & C. Hamilton (Eds.), Popular Culture and World Politics: Theories, Methods, Pedagogies (pp. 149-159). Bristol, U.K.: E-International Relations Publishing.