Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Teaching Star Trek

I had the pleasure of teaching a course on Star Trek to give or take 13 kids this past week at the Cumberland County College’s Summer Kids Camp. For how all that came about see this:, it’s got all the gory details.

There were adventures and misadventures, crafts and conversational Klingon, some young fans and some kids who were just signed into the class because it was open. At the class’s heart; however, was Star Trek and, therefore, hope – and YES I am aware how cheesy that sounds. As I said on the first day of class, standing in the glow of a PowerPoint presentation, “Star Trek is a lot of things, science, history, technology, sociology, exploration; but at it’s core is hope; hope that we don’t destroy ourselves, hope that we learn to live together as a people, hope that we can live in an age of exploration where people Boldly Go into that great and final frontier. I was hired to teach Star Trek and that’s exactly what I did. Of course, when one is hired to teach such a class it really is a history of the future and the history’s future is being written right now and in the last 43 years of history. This is how I approached this class. Case in point; the words, “To boldly go where no man has gone before,” were lifted from a brochure that President Kennedy’s office prepared for congress to make the case for going to the moon. How did we get to the moon? It was through hard work and determination – the Saturn 5 rocket and the Eagle Lander. How was it possible to understand how the rocket would take the men to the moon? The scientists involved with launching such a (dare I say) enterprise had to have a firm knowledge of mathematics, physics, and science; they must have understood Newton’s three laws of motion, Copernicus and Galileo’s controversial heliocentric theories. No doubt the men, not only on the moon 40 years ago, but the scientists who helped put them there had some inkling of an idea who those men were.

After the Star Trek class so did my kids.

But what about now - the Space Shuttle program is ending in 2010, what’s going to replace it? Well if Sir Richard Branson has his way anyone will be able to go into space as long as they can afford a ticket ($200,000). As I am typing this he is building the worlds first consumer oriented spaceport. The V.S.S. Enterprise (Virgin Space Ship) from Virgin Galactic is reportedly 60% completed. Branson based his design off of the X-Prize winning Space Ship One which now hangs in between the X-1 (the plane that first broke the sound barrier) and The Spirit of St. Louis (the first plane to cross the Atlantic ocean) at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Of course NASA has plans too. The Ares program will replace the Space Shuttle in 2020. The Ares rocket will be able to put payloads into orbit such as the new Orion Spacecraft, which has been designed to be a big part in our return to the moon and for our first trip to Mars.

Any parent who asks their child what they did in the class can point to these two very real programs that will take place in the very near future – in their lifetimes and say that they heard it first in Star Trek class.

“Yeah, but did you cover anything Star Trek related?” you may ask.

Have you not been listening? We are outlining the history of the future here! Of course we covered Star Trek but you must understand that Star Trek is based on the world we know – the world in which we live. We are just pre-warp drive society... for now. Other things covered in the class were our solar system & galaxy; how long a year is on Mercury as opposed to right here on Earth, robotics & androids (such as Mr. Data), conversational Klingon (such as Hab SoSlI' Quch! “Your mother has a smooth forehead!”), and just where each of the student’s would sit on the bridge of the Enterprise. We were going to cover dangerous alien species such as targhs, tribbles, & Ceti-eels and have a guest speaker but the guest speaker from an organization that will remain nameless (who is not the SPCA or any of the local zoos) never showed. I choose to believe the no call no show was due to a miscommunication just one or two levels above the woman who told me she would come if it was cleared with her supervisor (whom I also spoke with). Another possibility is that this organization heard that they would be presenting to a Star Trek class and failed to see any connection with what they do. I had an alternate lesson just in case; just in case happened so Plan B went into effect. The kids now know more about robots in today’s world than they do about dangerous animals.

Such is life.

The class was a blast. Still I was surprised at how many non Star Trek fans I had in the class. In my naivety I assumed that I would have a class full of Trekkies; this was not the case and the majority of my kids were just signed in because there was something open. Even though this was the case I think that they enjoyed it too. In my adventures this past week I have discovered a new respect for the profession of teaching. Seriously. It takes a LOT of work to feel comfortable teaching on any topic with any degree of legitimacy. Star Trek I knew I could handle; the science behind it was another story. I stayed up a lot of nights perfecting my PowerPoint presentations and the You Tube animations to back them up.

I hope that the kids had a good time. I think that they did. The last day we checked out an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, “Hide and Q”, talked about the Ares program and had the Massive Multiplayer Trivia Challenge and it was fantastic. I laughed so hard that I still grin just thinking about it.

It they will have me back at the Cumberland County College’s Summer Kid’s Camp, I would gladly, NAY – Boldly Go! What can I say? It was a hoot.

Live long and prosper, Gentle Reader.


mommanator said...

I can't beleive you taught that class! I would have loved
to be there! I bet you had
a blast and I bet you were a great teacher(of your favorite topic)

Evil Chicken said...

Yeah, me neither!

It was fun. : )