Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Book Review: The Last Book In The Universe

Awhile ago, I wrote a post expressing my desire to add a literacy component to my high school science classes. Books like A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, Tuck Everlasting and other science-fiction and fantasy works sprang to mind. I want to find books that can be related to science, as well as students’ lives in order to instigate conversations about technology, progress, and scientific ethics.

Recently, I read The Last Book In The Universe by Rodman Philbrick and it was the exact type of book I was looking for!!

“Following the Big Shake, which destroyed most of civilization, a small group of individuals (the “proovs”) retreated to Eden, learned how to improve themselves genetically, and sealed their environment off from the sprawling ruins inhabited by the remaining normals. Plagued by genetic defects, a toxic environment, and illnesses, normals like Spaz live in the Urb at the mercy of latch-bosses and their gangs. Spaz knows that his survival depends on Billy Bizmo and the Bully Bangers, so when they send him to rob an old man, he obeys. Ryter willingly surrenders his few possessions except for the pages of the book he is writing-the first time Spaz has seen anything like this. And when the boy sets out to find Bean, his dying foster sister, Ryter insists on accompanying him. Along the way, they are joined by Lanaya, a proov, and Little Face, an orphan. Finding Bean is hard enough; helping her appears to be impossible, until Lanaya takes the motley group back to Eden and confronts the rulers with the truth about the outside world. This is science fiction, not a fairy tale, and everyone does not live happily ever after… Also, the science part of this sci-fi is vague. However, readers who don’t examine it too closely will be caught up in the novel. There is definitely room for a sequel…” (from

This book is ideal for discussing science ethics in the classroom for many reasons. It is a middle school reading level, which is perfect for the assignment, because I’m not concerned with challenging students’ reading skills, but giving them a book which they can read with confidence (I’m in an urban setting, so literacy is a huge issue). It only took me a day at the beach to read the entire book, which is fine with me because I’m mostly concerned with students’ reacting and processing their thoughts regarding the content of the book; the assignment would conclude with some sort of cumulating project, presentation, or class discussion. Below, I’ve listed some of the main issues addressed in Philbrick’s book.

There’s even an activity guide related to the book on the author’s website!

Topics worth discussion:

  • Genetic Engineering
  • Experiencing pleasure through “probing” and how it might relate to students’ lives
  • Racism
  • How to prevent allowing technological and scientific progress to get out of control
  • No more books and/or printed materials

Ways students can identify with the characters:

  • Gang involvement
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Lack of access to healthcare and other daily needs

Science Books On My To Do List

Here’s a list of books that have been recommended to me, but I haven’t yet had the chance to read. I’m really excited to read them in the near future. If you are as well, I’ve linked the image of the book to the website where you can buy it!


Mr. Tompkins Series

Mr Tompkins has become known and loved by many thousands of readers (since his first appearance over fifty years ago) as the bank clerk whose fantastic dreams and adventures lead him into a world inside the atom. George Gamow’s classic provides a delightful explanation of the central concepts in modern physics, from atomic structure to relativity, and quantum theory to fusion and fission. Roger Penrose’s new foreword introduces Mr Tompkins to a new generation of readers, and reviews his adventures in the light of current developments in physics today. (from Amazon)


Alice in Quantum Land

Alice is about to enter a whole new Wonderland. It’s Quantumland–a kind of intellectual amusement park, smaller than an atom, where each attraction demonstrates a different aspect of quantum theory. There she’ll meet an Emperor who thinks his new clothes into existence, dance with the Three Quark Brothers at the Particle MASSquerade, travel back in time (running into herself), and experience all kinds of quantum effects. Readers will learn about the Uncertainty Principle, wave functions, the Pauli Principle, and other elusive concepts. (from


Written under the pseudonym “a square”as a satire, Flatland offered pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. However, the novella’s more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions; in a foreword to one of the many publications of the novella, noted science writer Isaac Asimov described Flatland as “The best introduction one can find into the manner of perceiving dimensions.”As such, the novella is still popular amongst mathematics,physics and computer science students. (from Wikipedia)



Almost 100 years after A. (which we find out stands for Albert) Square’s adventures in Spacelandthat were related in Flatland, his great-great-granddaughter, Victoria Line (Vikki), finds a copy of his book in her basement. This prompts her to invite a sphere from Spaceland to visit her, but instead she is visited by the “Space Hopper” (a character looking somewhat like the “Space Hopper” children’s toy with a gigantic grin, horns and a spherical body). The Space Hopper, more than being able to move between Flatland and Spaceland, can travel to any space in the Mathiverse, a set of all imaginable worlds. After showing Vikki higher dimensions, he begins showing her more modern theories, such as fractional dimensions and dimensions with isolated points. Topology and hyperbolic geometryare also discussed, as well as the Projective “Plain” (complete with intersecting “lions”) and the quantum level. Hopper and Victoria also visit the Domain of the Hawk King to discuss time travel and the Theory of Relativity. (from Wikipedia)

Units and Books

I was thinking the other day about how I could possibly create bigger units for the year to add some current events to my class and make it applicable to my students. One thought is to have a Space unit, which could cover mechanics and electricity & magnetism. I still need to think of a unit to cover waves, modern physics, and whatever other material I might want to cover.

The idea of literacy is central to the Teachers College ideology, so I have been looking out for ways in which to implement that in my future classroom. A usual favorite is current events picked by myself and/or my students. Another option (adapted from Sephali Ray at Patrick Henry Middle School, NYC) would be to have students read science fiction. I would assign a middle school level book for my high school physics students and use book discussions to stimulate thinking about scientific ethical issues. Hopefully it would lead towards some scientific literacy!!