Integrating Science and Literature: Life as We Knew It

Supplement your science units with science fiction novels!

By Jennifer Sinsel

Integrating Science and Literature

In the real world, our activities rarely involve a singular discipline. The process of purchasing a car often requires researching various models online (language arts and science), crunching numbers to determine how much one can afford (math), and talking to friends or neighbors about their experiences with specific cars (social studies).  Even a trip to the grocery store involves planning meals for the week, creating a list of foods to purchase, calculating the best buys, and analyzing nutritional information on food labels.

With real life consisting of interdisciplinary experiences, why do we organize our school days into single subjects taught independently? Wouldn’t our students benefit from seeing a bigger picture? For instance, novel studies can often be a springboard into in-depth study of science content. Depending on the age and ability levels of your students, excellent novels that integrate science content include Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, October Sky by Homer H. Hickman Jr., Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck, Peak by Roland Smith, Hoot by Carl Hiaasen,  and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

Integrating Life as We Knew It in the Science Classroom

Life as We Knew It, an apocalyptic novel by Susan Beth Pfeffer, tells the story of a cataclysmic astronomical event that threatens the existence of all humankind. Told through the diary entries of a 16-year-old girl, the plot revolves around the struggle of a rural Pennsylvania family to survive an asteroid strike on the moon. With the moon’s orbit altered, people must now contend with global climate change, numerous natural disasters, and food shortages. Students will love the first person storyline, as well as the “world is coming to an end” plot. Best of all, Life as We Knew It is only the first in a trilogy that later tells the same story from the perspective of a teenage boy in New York City – giving students a reason to read further after the unit is complete.

In addition to the many language arts standards that can be taught through this novel, science teachers can use it to supplement units on astronomy, climate change, or sustainable living. Students in space science classes might learn about asteroids, cratering, planetary orbits, and the moon’s effect on Earth, while Earth science students might study volcanism or compare and contrast current climate change data with what happens to Earth after the asteroid strikes. Finally, biology classes could conduct investigations on plants that might grow with low light levels (due to volcanic ash blocking out sunlight) or research sustainable food sources.

Learning About the Moon

However you choose to use the novel, it is helpful if students have a basic understanding of the moon and its phases before reading the book. In the activity Demonstrating Moon Phases, students have a chance to experience first-hand the relative positions of the sun, Earth, and moon. By examining these positions, they will discover why the moon goes through phases – a concept even many adults do not fully understand!

Regardless of how you integrate novels into your science classroom, your students are sure to reap the benefits of an integrated curriculum that allows them to visualize the bigger picture. For more lesson plans related to the science found in Life as We Knew It, check out one of the following activities.

Lessons that Meld Science and Literature:

Crashin' Craters

This experiment involves students showing the effects of a crater on a scale model. In this experiment, students drop a golf ball from various heights to illustrate the effects of a crater on Earth. Students then gather their data in a table and make a prediction based on Earth's craters.

Global Climate Change: The Effects of Global Warming

In this lesson involving global warming, high school students use worksheets, lab activities, and computer animations to explore climate change. Students will experiment to determine carbon dioxide concentrations in various gas mixtures. They will also be able to use worksheets and flash interactive animations to demonstrate increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth's atmosphere.

Amazing Asteroids

In this lesson, students will use linear equations to explore the relationship between the orbital periods and the distance from the sun of certain asteroids. They will need access to the computer program: Graphical Analysis, and will then create a scatterplot for the information found.

eThemes:  Life as We Knew It  

The resources found in this lesson are for use with the novel “Life As We Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer. There are several study guides, activity ideas, vocabulary lists, and a quiz. Also included are several related eThemes resources on survival, the moon, asteroids, and more.


Elementary Science Guide

Jennifer Sinsel