Life on Another Planet


Build a scene of life on another planet, and write about it
Grades 4-6

Science fiction is an enormously popular genre of literature. Its appeal lies in the element of fantasy, that sense of "what if?" that pervades this type of fiction. The fantasy element, however, must have some basis in technology and science. Science fiction writers describing a flight through time may rely on descriptions of machinery and computers that cause the time warp. They may describe in detail the scenery in outer space or elsewhere witnessed by the time traveller. The scientific minutiae of these descriptions render them more realistic -- even when the reader knows that time travel is impossible!

Asking students to experiment with the intertwining of fantasy and science is a way to gauge both their creative writing skills as well as their understanding of basic facts about space, physical properties, and living systems. This type of writing also can be used to assess students' ability to apply scientific facts or principles to new situations and circumstances. For instance, what are the effects of gravity on a less dense planet? How would living creatures experience the seasons if their planet had a perfectly vertical axis? Students' ability to generalize what they know about space and science can be evaluated in the context of an assignment that also gives them freedom for their creativity.

A variety of science fiction books from the school library might be useful. Older students may wish to pinpoint their planets on an astronomy chart. Photographs of the surface of the moon or Mars might also be used to spark imaginations.

The teacher reviews the characteristics of science fiction, namely, the combination of a fantasy story with a scientific or technological basis. Examples of age-appropriate science fiction may be read in class or assigned at an earlier time. For younger students, Joanna Cole's {\em Magic School Bus} series provides an understandable model of science fiction. Older students might enjoy the classic {\em Wrinkle in Time} (and the other books in that series) by Madeleine L'Engle.

The students are instructed to use the Blocks to build a scene of life on another planet. The picture should include a surface, a background (sky or outer space), living creatures, and anything else to make the picture interesting (e.g., dwellings, vehicles, weather phenomena).

Each student writes a story about his/her planet. Every item in the picture should be included in the story, and there should also be an event and a resolution. These could be as simple as telling how the creatures arrived on the planet and what they will do there in the future. For older students, there should be some emphasis on describing physical phenomena (planet features, weather, objects in the sky) as well as the life systems of the creatures (how they breathe, eat, move).

Students are evaluated on their inclusion of the assigned elements in their Blocks pictures, as well as their creative use of colors, textures, and other elements. Stories are assessed for inclusion of assigned elements, creativity, and incorporation of scientific phenomena and explanations.

The teacher may wish to have the students print their pictures and then share pictures and stories with the class. A student's ability to explain his/her picture and to answer the questions of other students could also be evaluated.

Rather than creating a picture and writing a story about another planet, students use the Blocks to create a scene of the Earth in the far distant future and write a story about it. Evaluation would center on how the student pictured and explained the changes that might have occurred on Earth during that time.

Students use the Blocks to create their fantasy planets. Then, each student trades pictures with another, and the stories are written about the picture created by a fellow student.

Students create a fantasy planet with both humans and aliens. Two stories are then written: the first is from the point of view of a human on the planet; the second is from the point of view of an alien.

Students are given specific guidelines under which to create their fantasy planets with the Blocks. The following are examples:
   * The planet must be in the solar system (therefore, put the correct numbers of moons in the sky and show the correct planet surface).
   * The planet must support a space colony of humans. Show how the humans would live.
   * The planet is able to support at least six life forms. Illustrate and write about their interactions.

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