Southeastern Section - 66th Annual Meeting - 2017
Paper No. 25-1
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM
CLI-FI: LEARNING GEOSCIENCE THOUGH CLI-Fi NOVELS and MOVIES
Geoscience teaching and learning faces significant challenges. At Holyoke (Massachusetts) Community College, we teach a course called Cli-Fi: Stories and Science of the Coming Climate Apocalypse. “Cli-fi” is the term we use to describe climate-change fiction, a now-popular subgenre of science fiction. Our course combines introductory English literature and composition with first-year physical geology (including laboratory and field exercises). To increase student engagement and retention, we use interdisciplinary/thematic content, seminar-style learning communities, and small classes. We read Paolo Bacigalupi’s cli-fi novelThe Windup Girl and shorter cli-fi works from published anthologies. A standard college-level geology text and excerpts on climate-change science from magazines and journals complement our fictional readings.
My English colleague and I team-teach seminar style and invite geoscience or humanities faculty as guest lecturers. To help students focus on climate change issues or themes, we use a “climate-change stress index.” In all students’ fictional reading, they locate and describe several features of the climate-changed world, such as adaptation/mitigation, breakdown in civilization/social order, climate imbalance/disorder, mass extinctions, illness/disease, and resource scarcity. This stress-index technique helps us use cli-fi’s settings, plots, and characters not just as jumping off points for general discussion but as windows through which students get an integrated view of science and fiction in one lesson. For example, when reading The Windup Girl, we use Google Earth to co-locate events in the novel with real Bangkok locations. We may ask, Where would the fictional engineers build the sea wall? How high would it have to be? If it failed (and it does), what areas of Bangkok would flood first? This literary science fact-checking motivates students to take the fiction seriously by critically checking or assessing its verisimilitude. As final projects, students write either original creative cli-fi pieces or research an aspect of climate change science important in their lives. All students present their projects at an end-of-semester cli-fi/geoscience mini-conference.
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