English and Science – The Benefits of an Unlikely Partnership

English and Science

This is currently my second year co-teaching an Environmental Science/English combo. course. It’s been a wonderfully exciting and challenging adventure that’s stretched me to think about teaching, literature, writing, and science in an entirely different way. 

Here are a few of my favorite things about co-teaching with science:

(1) Science impacts literature: I’ve been aware for a long time that scientific discoveries often spark new perspectives in literature and culture, but it wasn’t until I started co-teaching with a science teacher that I truly got to explore what the impact of scientific theories, trends, and phenomena have had on literature. When I first read Brave New World in high school, I remember observing the philosophical venture into pain with knowledge vs. ignorant bliss,  but I have no memory of identifying the Malthusian undertones that are so present throughout the text and Huxley’s commentary on them. When I read Handmaid’s Tale for the first time, I was ignorant of how much of her social commentary also dealt with ideas about Global Warming, toxic waste, and pollution.

Many times, literature reflects our concerns, fears, and beliefs, and science often impacts those things significantly.

(2) On the flip side, literature (and just writing in general) impacts the way we view science: Last year, when my co-teacher and I were brainstorming possible connections between English and climate change, I spent a lot of time looking at post-apocalyptic literature. Most dystopian novels – including Hunger Games, Brave New Word, Handmaid’s Tale, and even The Giver – deal with the idea of environmental catastrophe (usually due to human decisions) leading to the rise of a dystopian society. The way that society treat the world around it impacts the way society treats people. This sort of social commentary sparks change in the way we deal with environmental issues as nations, communities, and individuals. I love exploring the way that one impacts the other.

Even when we’re not necessarily studying literature in my class, we explore the ways that we can use writing to impact our environment. My students have written research papers about the environmental impact of both climate change and the energy sources we, as a nation, choose to use. They’ve written persuasive letters to inform people about environmental issues present in their county. They’ve written poetry in order to expand on their knowledge of geology. It’s exciting to see my students being impacted by literature, but it’s even better to see them impacting others with their own forms of literature and writing.

(3) Pairing English and Science allows students to see the real-world connections to both content areas: This has already been briefly addressed in my two previous points, but pairing English and Science together has led to my students exploring on their own how they can impact their society through persuasive writing. It’s allowed them to see that scientific discoveries impact our culture and the way society reacts to issues. It puts all of their learning in context and gives them a purpose for each task they complete.

(4) Beyond that, it’s given me a greater appreciation of the world we live in. Working so closely with science teachers and looking at literature from a scientific perspective, gives you a new appreciation for the way the world works and the ways that people take care of it. It’s been very eye opening to see how much we can take for granted and to learn to move beyond that.

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