Interesting Elective: The Narrative of Science

I’ve been reading An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker and I’ve been thinking about what a perfect book this would be for an elective in which students explore science and history together.  This isn’t the first time I’ve read a book that has inspired this thought – there are a large number of wonderful science books written for a popular audience that would be suitable*.

I’m envisioning a class made up of hands-on experiments inspired by the work described in the books we read, discussion of the book itself, and student presentations in which students teach their peers about ideas that the author touches on, but does not fully elaborate (both scientific and historical).  I could teach a class like this myself, but I think it could be even better if I was able to collaborate with a humanities teacher.

I’d like to teach a class like this for a variety of reasons.  Most importantly, I think it would be a good way of reaching students who have connected with the humanities but feel alienated by science (and vice versa).  For students who already embrace both subject areas, it would be an opportunity for them to see how history and science fit together.  And, on a personal level, I simply want an excuse to share some of the many wonderful books that fill my head and make life so interesting for me.

*Off the top of my head, I think all of the following books and authors would work well for high school and some of them would be good for middle school as well.  I’m sure if I thought about it a bit more, the list of potential books could grow quite long.

  • Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process By Irene Pepperburg
  • Nearly everything by Oliver Sacks
  • The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance By David Epstein
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  By Rebecca Skloot
  • The Microbe Hunters By Paul de Kruif
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World By Steven Johnson
  • A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered that Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants By Ruth Kassinger
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

2 thoughts on “Interesting Elective: The Narrative of Science

  1. This sounds a lot like the Novel Engineering initiative from Tufts University that this article describes ( Combining the humanities with science is a great way to bring both into the “real world” and answer the question, “Why do we need to know this?” The example in the article here is students trying to solve a potentially real-life problem posed by a book (defend a pet turtle from a dog using engineering), but the possibilities are pretty endless.


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