As with any theme, it can unify stories that might otherwise not be grouped together. By pairing less obvious stories, teachers can guide students in examining deeper meaning and comparing texts beyond superficial traits. This can be a good basis for a thematic unit.
One fun theme is Science Gone Wrong.
When examining Science Gone Wrong, readers may explore several approaches. Is the story about the dangers of playing god or using something not fully understood? Is it the fear of change or progress? Is it a cautionary tale or a fantastical one? How does modern understanding of science affect the reading of the story?
After selecting your stories, see what other connections you– or even better– your students can draw between them. The main theme is science gone wrong, but what other ideas do they share?
Here are some of free texts that include the idea of Science Gone Wrong:
—Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Science drives Victor to create life, but the consequences destroy him and everything (and everyone) he loves.
Activities and Projects: Write an alternate ending where Victor does finish the female monster. Compare the cultural version of the story to the text. Personal writing about the idea of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ or a person by their appearance. Watch a movie version (such as the 1931 Boris Karloff version!) and compare it with the text.
Pair with Jurassic Park to look at the consequences of creating life. Or pair with The Birthmark to look at how a person (creator or spouse) shows love or care.
— The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By way of science, Dr. Jekyll is able to become an evil version of himself and go out to act on base impulse and desire with no consequence.
Activities and Projects: Write an alternate ending where Jekyll makes a different choice about the potion. Write a police report about the search for the elusive Hyde. Compare the text with a movie version. Write an epilogue to the story.
Pair with Frankenstein to study how culture has shaped what people “know” of these stories differently.
—The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A respected man of science marries a woman with a birthmark of a hand, but comes to hate that mark. He sets off to remove it, through any means necessary.
Activities and Projects: Write a story from the point of view of the earthly assistant Aminadab (Who says he’d never get rid of the birthmark). Write a newspaper article about the death of a prominent scientists lovely wife. Personal writing about being unappreciated, as Georgiana was.
Pair with 2BR02B and further examine what cost their is for “perfection.”
–2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut. Aging and dying have been solved, but there is a cost.
Activities and Projects: Create an advertisement for the Ethical Suicide Studios. Write a sequel or epilogue with the mom or the triplets, later. Propose an alternate way to find ‘volunteers’ when one is not available.
–The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. A man uses science to turn himself invisible and is prepared to go on a reign of terror. Things don’t work out as planned, as being invisible is not as advantageous as expected.
Activities and Projects: Personal Writing about a time when something didn’t work out as planned. Write Your Own to give the power of invisibility to a character with different motivations (could also be done with modernizing it). Sequel project with what happens to the notes Marvel kept.
Pair with Jekyll and Hyde to examine the idea of a person doing evil things with little or no risk of being caught. Is man inherently evil?
BONUS: Movies about Science Gone Wrong
(Use a movie like a text for analysis and discussion)
–WALL-E. Humans leave a filthy Earth behind to be cleaned by robots and take to space until it’s time to return. What happens when their utopia is upended by a rogue robot?
Activities and Projects: Write the major events from EVE’s point of view. Evaluate why everyone was so willing to give up the life they had on the Axiom. Analyze how technology creates, hides, or solves problems, such as the ones in the movie or in one’s personal life.
Pair with The Birthmark. Do people ever really understand what they have until they lose it (or nearly lose it.?)
— Jurassic Park. (Original movie version). Using ancient DNA from amber combined with modern frog DNA, dinosaurs are cloned. But then things go very wrong.
Activities and Projects: Advertise the Jurassic Park. Write an alternate ending, such as the storm not coming or the bad guy not taking things off line to cover his theft. Evaluate the techniques in the movie, analyzing it with the same tools and process of a literary essay.
Unusual pairings can really help students to think outside the box, examining the text for connections beyond the “obvious.” And, to me, even just labeling a unit “Science Gone Wrong” is more fun and engaging than “Science Fiction Unit.”