Teaching Science Fiction in High School Classes

Developed by Paul Brians

Note: this course is no longer being offered. The syllabus is being made available for people who may want ideas about how to teach such a course.

Course Overview

      Note: This is a preliminary syllabus provided to help potential students get an idea of the course ahead of time. Changes may be made before the course actually begins. Because this is a compressed course taught in half the usual time, and is offered at the graduate level, students should expect to set aside adequate time to do the work. Considering it as approximately the equivalent of a half-time job should be adequate. Because it is a discussion course, students are responsible for setting aside the time to work on it consistently. This is not a “flex-time” course which can be done at leisure.

Although the general public thinks of science fiction (SF) primarily as a phenomenon of escapist movies and television shows, there is also a large body of fine written SF which qualifies as good literature by any standard. This course seeks to familiarize students with written SF as literature rather than as a pop culture phenomenon. Students will learn the history of written SF, study specific major works (both novels and short stories), and become acquainted with literary criticism in the field.


When you have completed this course, you will be able to:

  • identify outstanding authors and works which may be recommended to students, encouraging them to explore beyond Star Wars novels and other pop series
  • locate scholarly sources to support the study of works of SF
  • design and create materials to help students understand works of SF


Course Outline

Assignments for Week One (Due 9:00 AM, June 23)


      1. Donald Palumbo: “Science Fiction” (DDLS reserves).
      2. H. G. Wells: War of the Worlds

(if you do not get your textbooks in time, use the online edition at Bartleby.com http://www.bartleby.com/1002/ to get your reading done by the assigned date


        1. John J. Pierce: “The Prophet Wells ” (DDLS reserves).
        2. Brian Aldiss: “H. G. Wells” (DDLS reserves).

Heads-up: On July 7 you will turn in an annotated bibliography of books, articles, and other resources that you intend to use in researching your topic. Use MLA style documentation, and for each item, explain how you think it will contribute to your research project. Correspond with Prof. Brians now to negotiate your topic and begin searching for sources right away.

Course Work

Assignments for Week Two (due 9:00 AM, June 30)

        1. Sign up for research topic.
        2. Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles
        3. Gary K. Wolfe: “The Frontier Myth in Ray Bradbury” (DDLS online reserves)
        4. Walter M. Miller: A Canticle for Leibowitz
        5. Paul Brians “The Long-Term Effects of Nuclear War,” in Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction.
        6. Brooks Landon: Science Fiction After 1900, Chapters One and Two

Course Work:

      1. Contributions to online discussion of both The Martian Chronicles and A Canticle for Leibowitz, including responses to related study guides and supplementary readings.
      2. Contribution to online discussion of assigned chapters in Landon.

Assignments for Week Three (due 9:00 AM, July 7)

    1. Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris
    2. Study Guide for Solaris
    3. Istvan Scicsery-Ronay, Jr.: “The Book Is the Alien: On Certain and Uncertain Readings of Lem’s Solaris (DDLS Reserves)”
    4. Brooks Landon: Science Fiction Since 1900: Chapter 3
  • Read Veronica Hollinger’s “Contemporary Trends in Science Fiction Criticism, 1980-1999.” Course Work
    1. Post annotated bibliography for research paper in “My DDP”.
    2. Contribute to discussion of Lem’s Solaris.
    3. Contribute to discussion of Brooks Landon’s book, Chapter 3.
    4. In the threaded discussion called “Science Fiction Criticism” identify two or three of the critical works that Hollinger discusses which interest you and briefly explain why.

    Assignments for Week Four (due 9:00 AM, July 14)

    1. Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner
    2. Landon, Chapter 4
    3. William M. Kolb: “Blade Runner: Film Notes” (in DDLS reserves)


    1. After reading the novel view Blade Runner the film, preferably the director’s cut, using the Kolb article to guide your note-taking.

    Course Work

    1. Contribute to discussion of Blade Runner including comparison of the book with the film.
    2. Contribute to the discussion of Landon, Chapter 4.

    Assignments for Week Five (due 9:00 AM, July 21)

    1. Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed
    2. Study Guide for Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed
    3. Ursula LeGuin: “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown” (DDLS reserves)
    4. Tom Moylan: “Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed” (DDLS reserves)

    Course Work

    1. Contribute to discussion of The Dispossessed following the guidelines in the syllabus for online discussion.

    Assignments for Week Six (due 9:00 AM, July 28)

    1. The selected stories from the Norton Book of Science Fiction which are discussed in the study guide.
    2. The study guide for the Norton Book of Science Fiction

    Course Work

    1. Submit research paper.
    2. Contribute to discussion of short stories and respond to the contributions of others.

    Assignments for Week Seven (due 9:00 AM, August 4)

    1. William Gibson’s Neuromancer
    2. Study guide for Neuromancer
    3. Landon: Science Fiction After 1900, Chapter 5
    4. Lance Olsen: “Who Was that Man?” (DDLS reserves)
    5. Nicola Nixon: “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” (DDLS reserves)

    Course work

    1. Contribute to discussion of Neuromancer and cyberpunk
    2. Continue to revise your research paper, corresponding with the professor about what you are doing.

    Assignments for Week Eight (due 9:00 AM, August 11)

    1. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
    2. Study Guide for The Handmaid’s Tale
    3. Raffaella Baccolini: “Gender and Genre in the Feminist Critical Dystopias of Katharine Burdekin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler” (DDLS reserves)
    4. Joanna Russ: “The Image of Women in Science Fiction” (DDLS reserves)

    Course Work

    1. Contribute to discussion of The Handmaid’s Tale, drawing on the study guide and the Russ article
    2. Submit final draft of research paper



Note: Editions of SF read may vary; any edition will do.

Brooks Landon: Science Fiction After 1900: From Steam Man to the Stars. New York: Twayne, 1997.

H. G. Wells: War of the Worlds

Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles

Walter M. Miller: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Stanislaw Lem: Solaris

Philip K. Dick: Blade Runner

Ursula LeGuin: The Dispossessed

Ursula LeGuin & Brian Attebury, eds.: The Norton Book of Science Fiction.

William Gibson: Neuromancer

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale


Course Work and Grading

Written assignments

Readings and Discussion (50%)

Contributions to the online threaded discussions will be judged by the following criteria:

      1. They must be made in a timely fashion.
      2. They must demonstrate a careful and thoughtful reading of the assigned writings, including the study guides and supplementary critical and historical material.
      3. When discussing fiction, they must attempt to answer at least some of the questions in the related study guide (but please don’t write answers to all the study questions; leave some room for other students to contribute).
      4. For each assignment each student is also expected to respond to one or more of the points raised by another student, saying more than “I agree” or “I disagree.” Offer examples, additional arguments, counter-arguments, comparisons, related ideas, do comparisons.
      5. Contributions should not read like book reviews giving purely personal reactions; they should focus on what you have learned or think you can teach others about these texts.
      6. Try to think of ways you could use what you have studied for this assignment in the classroom and sketch out possible approaches for teaching.
      7. Posts should act as the opening comments in an ongoing discussion, not seeking to close off debate with the last word, but inviting responses. It is perfectly legitimate to ask questions or ask for clarification of points you don’t understand.
      8. Contributions should whenever possible bring in useful comparative material from other readings, films, discussions with students, etc.

Responses to other students’ posts in the online threaded discussions will be judged by the following criteria:

      1. Students are expected to take part continuously in discussion by making responses over the course of a week, not logging in just once a week to do everything at once. The due dates are final deadlines, but students are encouraged whenever possible to do their work earlier so that others have plenty of time to respond.
      2. You must go beyond merely agreeing or disagreeing to make substantial points.
      3. You must express yourself in civil language, avoiding insults and dismissiveness.
      4. Your posts should contribute to ongoing discussion, helping to develop ideas and themes raised in the original posts. Whenever possible try to tie together different viewpoints or make comparisons.
      5. Responses should not be made constantly to the same individual or small group. Try to spread responses around. If challenging or difficult posts have been made, try to respond to them rather than choosing easier ones.

Research paper (50%)
Research projects will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

      1. Topics should be chosen from the list provided by the professor, or developed in correspondence with him.
      2. The choice of topic must be made by the end of the second week of the course and research must proceed in a timely manner.
      3. Students must continually correspond with the professor about their research, trying out ideas, asking questions, etc.
      4. WSU library resources must be used; papers may not draw solely on Web resources. Students must display knowledge of the major SF research sources highlighted in the course bibliography.
      5. Papers must display an ability to draw on scholarly sources to prepare to teach the fiction being studied.
      6. Papers must be written in standard formal English. For writing tips, see Paul Brians’ Web publication Common Errors in English.
      7. For citations of sources, use MLA style as explained on the Purdue University OWL pages.
      8. The final grade will depend heavily on the extent to which the final draft is revised and improved in response to comments by the professor and other class members.

Tips for Collaboration and Netiquette


You are expected to master the basic material covered by the course, be prepared by reading the assigned material (and re-reading material you’ve read before), meet deadlines, actively participate in the Bridge discussion activities, and collaborate with fellow class members to achieve the course objectives. Appropriate professional behavior demonstrating respect for classmates and instructors is expected. Questions of academic dishonesty will be dealt with in accordance the Washington State University Academic Integrity Standards and Procedures.

Late Policy

Since your interaction with your classmates is crucial to this class, any posts made after one week beyond the initial due date for an activity will not be counted for grading purposes.