Learning With Star Trek – Where No One Has Gone Before
Are you a Star Trek fan, or do you have one on your hands? We love watching the various TV series and movies (although some are better than others) and learning with Star Trek. This is a great time to add Star Trek to your geek schooling day, since the series has rebooted into new movies over the past several years. Here are all sorts of ways for turning a love of Star Trek into a learning experience. Pull some of them together for a unit study, or pepper your curriculum with Star Trek viewings and activities. (Please note that many of these books and episode suggestions are more suitable for middle school or high school students – use your own discretion).
- From computers and androids to phasers and cloaking devices, sometimes Star Trek gets the Science right, and sometimes they don’t. NASA shares The Science of Star Trek.
- Watch the Star Trek (2009) movie and then read the “Bad Astronomy” review of the science of the movie.
- What’s scientifically possible and what’s not in the Star Trek universe? Live Science shares Reality Check: The Science of Star Trek.
- It turns out that Warp Drive is Not Impossible, according to Space.com.
- Time Travel often occurs in the Star Trek universe. Scientists say You Can’t Travel Back in Time, at least for now.
- NASA Scientist and consultant on the Star Trek films, delves into the science of Star Trek in Star Trek: Science Logs.
- Want to delve deeply into the physics of the Star Trek universe and the real world of physics? Check out a great book, The Physics of Star Trek.
- Are you studying biology in your homeschool? Include the book, To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek, written by a Harvard neurologist, in your studies. The author also wrote an epilogue to her book on her blog when the 2009 movie came out that is worth reading.
Episodes & Movies
To explore environmental science in the Star Trek universe, view:
- Star Trek: TNG Season 5, Episode 25 “The Inner Light”, a fantastic episode where Picard experiences a lifetime first-hand on a now long-dead planet with a dying sun.
- Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country. The Enterprise has to travel back in time to when humpback whales were not extinct, so they can save their present from destruction due to a mysterious probe.
To explore Genetic engineering in the Star Trek universe (and the resulting ethical dilemmas):
- In Star Trek: TOS, Season 1, Episode 22, “Space Seed”, the crew come across Khan, a genetically engineered world conqueror and his compatriots from Earth’s past.
- In Star Trek: DS9, it is revealed that Dr. Bashir is genetically engineered himself in Season 5, Episode 16, “Dr Bashir, I Presume” and he later works with some genetically engineered misfits in Season 6, Episode 9 “Statistical Probabilities”.
- In Star Trek: TNG, Season 2, Episode 18 “Up the Long Ladder” DNA is forcibly taken from members of the crew so clones can be created by a dying community of cloned people. And in Season 2, Episode 7 “Unnatural Selection”, genetically engineered children cause those in contact with them to rapidly age and die.
You can’t get more foreign than an out of this world language. Klingon is a fully formed language and many people across the world have learned to speak it fluently.
- Start with some Klingon phrases and more at the Klingon Language Institute.
- Or pick up the book, How to Speak Klingon: Essential Phrases for the Intergalactic Traveler.
Many Star Trek episodes and movies cover various periods of history and historical characters. Here are some fun ones to watch in your homeschool:
Star Trek: The Original Series has Ancient Greek content:
- Season 2, Episode 2 “Who Mourns for Adonais?” – a powerful being claims to be the Greek god Apollo and demands worship.
- Season 3, Episode 10 “Plato’s Stepchildren” – the Enterprise meets people who have adopted classical Greek culture and call themselves “Platonions” in honour of Ancient Greek philosopher Plato.
In Star Trek: The Original Series, the Enterprise crew encounters a planet that looks a lot like Ancient Rome in Season 2, Episode 25 “Bread and Circuses”.
Leonardo da Vinci
In Star Trek: Voyager, Janeway’s da Vinci holodeck program is featured on Season 4, Episode 11: “Concerning Flight”.
The Old West
Star Trek: TOS Season 3, Episode 11, “Spectre of the Gun,” includes a recreation of the historic 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral.
The 1920s & 30s
The 20s and 30s in Star Trek: The Original series:
- Journey to the 1920s in Season 2, Episode 17, “A Piece of the Action,” as the Enterprise encounters a planet full of 1920s gangsters.
- The Season 1, Episode 28, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is set in the 1930s and covers the pacifism movement.
In Star Trek Voyager’s Season 2, Episode 1 “The 37’s,” the crew of Voyager finds Amelia Earhart on a distant planet.
- Star Trek: TNG’s Season 4, Episode 21 “The Drumhead” is a fantastic episode to watch when studying 1950’s McCarthyism, as a “witch hunt” occurs on the Enterprise.
- Star Trek: DS9’s, Season 6, Episode 13 is set in the 1950s. It portrays Sisko as a 1950s Science Fiction writer.
- Studying the 1950-60s civil rights movement? Check out Star Trek: TNG Season 2, Episode “The Measure of a Man,” involving Data’s trial for civil rights.
Literary works and figures abound in the Star Trek universe.
Shakespearean quotes are plentiful in the Star Trek universe, which makes learning with Star Trek easy. Here are some episodes to watch which feature the Bard while you’re studying Shakespeare.
- Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1 Episode 13, “Conscience of the King” – features a travelling group of Shakespearean actors
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Shakespeare is copiously quoted throughout the movie, especially by Klingons
Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- Season 3, Episode 10, “The Defector” – Data as Henry V
- Season 6, Episode 1, “Part 2: Time’s Arrow” – The crew practises A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Season 7, Episode 23, “Emergence” – Data as Prospero in The Tempest
If you want to look at every single reference to Shakespeare ever in the Star Trek universe, Bardfilm is the website to visit!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes
Data has a fascination with the character of Sherlock Holmes. There are two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation which deal heavily with Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters:
- Season 2, Episode 3, “Elementary, Dear Data”
- Season 6, Episode 12, “Ship in a Bottle”
Data and company travel to late 18th century earth and meet Mark Twain, author of Huckleberry Finn in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 26, “Time’s Arrow Part 1” and Season 6, Episode 1, “Time’s Arrow Part 2.” Why not watch as part of your studies of Mark Twain’s works?
The Legend of Robin Hood
A fun episode to watch after reading about the legend of Robin Hood. The all powerful character “Q” sends the crew of the Enterprise to Sherwood Forest in Season 4, Episode 20, “Qpid.”
Sisko is seen as Javert by a character who sees himself as Valjean from Les Miserables in Season 5, Episode 13, “For the Uniform.”
Star Trek: Voyager’s Season 1, Episode 11 “Heroes and Demons” features a Beowulf holonovel.
J.J. Abrams, Director of the 2009 Star Trek movie, says the architecture in his movie was inspired by Finnish-American designer Eero Saarinen. Why not watch the movie and then explore Saarinen’s architecture?
The Star Trek universe dealt with many moral and philosophical issues, right from the beginning. To discuss the topics of euthanasia and suicide, watch these two episodes from Star Trek: TNG:
- Season 5, Episode 16, aptly called “Ethics”. When Worf is seriously injured in an accident, he at first chooses euthanasia, and then decides to undergo experimental surgery instead.
- Season 4, Episode, “Half a Life” in which a scientist whom Luxawna Troi falls in love with is due to commit suicide according to his culture.
For a discussion on reproductive rights and the sanctity of life, watch Season 2, Episode 1, “The Child,” where Deanna decides to keep her (mystically begotten) child, despite the disapproval of her ship mates.
For a discussion on doing the right thing, watch Season 5, Episode 19, “The First Duty.” Wesley decides what to do during the resulting inquiry when his flight team experiences an accident resulting in death.
- To delve into the philosophy, check out Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant, a collection of articles by 21 professional philosophers to explore the human condition in the Star Trek universe.
- Or explore questions about good and evil, right and wrong in the Star Trek universe in the book The Ethics of Star Trek.
Have you ever done some learning with Star Trek in your homeschool? Are there other Star Trek episodes you would recommend for learning? Please let me know in the comments below!
Love Long &