Going to the Moon: Science Fiction v. Science History

by Tim Bailey

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were developed to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical and literary significance. Through a step-by-step process, students will acquire the skills to analyze any primary or secondary source material.

Overview

Over the course of four lessons the students will explore humanity’s quest to travel to the moon. They will analyze and write about President Kennedy’s speech from 1962 that urged a commitment by the United States to be the first country to reach the moon. The students will then compare and contrast two different accounts of traveling to the moon. The first is a series of excerpts from H. G. Wells’s classic story from 1901, The First Men in the Moon, and the second is an abridged account of the first lunar landing as presented in the New York Times the day after the historic event in 1969. Students will use textual evidence from the fiction and non-fiction accounts, as well as video sources, to draw their conclusions and write an essay.

Lesson 1

Objective

The students will analyze President Kennedy’s speech, presented to them in both video and written formats, and determine the issues being raised in this speech. Kennedy asked the nation for support in an effort to propel the United States to be the first nation to reach the moon. Student understanding of the speech will be determined during classroom discussion and by examining the graphic organizer completed by the students.

Introduction

In September 1962 the United States was losing the space race to the Soviet Union. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union had successfully put Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into orbit. The United States followed suit on January 31, 1958, with the launch of the satellite Explorer I. Next, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space on April 12, 1961; American astronaut Alan Shepherd became the second man in space a month later. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced to a joint session of Congress his intention to put an American astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade. This time, Kennedy vowed, America would beat the Soviet Union in the space race. And although the technology for reaching the moon did not even exist yet, Kennedy took his case for a moon landing to the American people in a speech given at Rice University in Texas on September 12, 1962.

Materials

Procedures

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lessons individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Have the students watch the video of Kennedy’s speech. A link is provided in the Materials list.
  3. Hand out the abridged copy of the speech. Make certain that students understand that the original text has been edited for this lesson. Explain the purpose and use of ellipses.
  4. Depending on the reading level of the students, the teacher can either let the students read the speech for themselves or “share read” it with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  5. Students will look at the questions asked in the graphic organizer and answer first using evidence taken directly from the text and then restating each answer in their own words.
  6. Students can brainstorm as partners or small groups but must complete their own organizer in order to complete the assignment. Remember to emphasize that they are to first use Kennedy’s words to express what is important in the text and then summarize what the author means in the student’s own words.
  7. Class discussion: Have groups or individual students share their answers and compare with other groups’ work.

Lesson 2

Objective

The students will read excerpts from H. G. Wells’s classic science-fiction novel The First Men in the Moon, written in 1901, in which he describes building a spacecraft and then traveling to and landing on the moon. They will analyze the text, not for its scientific validity according to a twenty-first-century point of view, but to examine how Wells describes what he thought space travel and a moon landing would be like using only his imagination and the limited science of his time. Student understanding of the text will be determined during classroom discussion and by examining the organizer completed by the students.

Introduction

First Men in the Moon was written by noted science-fiction author H. G. Wells and published in 1901. It is the story of an English businessman who becomes interested in the work of an eccentric physicist named Dr. Cavor. Professor Cavor has created a substance, which he calls “cavorite,” that blocks the effects of gravity. The professor builds a spherical spacecraft, using cavorite’s unique properties to fly to the moon. The release of this book as well as Jules Verne’s earlier work From the Earth to the Moon inspired one of the earliest films ever made, La voyage dans la lune, in 1902. The selections that the students will read in this lesson are from the first third of The First Men in the Moon and address the creation of the spacecraft as well as descriptions of both the voyage to the moon and the lunar landing.

Materials

Procedures

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lessons individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. Students will watch the two video clips (links are provided above). Use these clips to discuss the perception of space travel at the turn of the twentieth century.
  3. Hand out the abridged selections from The First Men in the Moon. The students can either read it themselves or it can be share read by the class.
  4. Hand out the Graphic Organizer: The First Men in the Moon. Students will look at the selections taken from the novel and choose key words from each selection. They will put the key words into the box on the right. They will use these key words and their own words to answer the question in each box of the organizer.
  5. Students can brainstorm as partners or small groups but must complete their own organizer in order to complete the assignment. Remember to emphasize that they are to first use Kennedy’s words to express what is important in the text and then summarize what the author means in the student’s own words.
  6. Class discussion: Have groups or individual students share their answers and summaries and compare with other groups’ work.

Lesson 3

Objective

The students will analyze two different primary sources describing the lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. They will compare a video of the lunar landing and first moon walk with a New York Times article written the day after those historic events.

Introduction

“Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” With these words two American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, made the dream of sending a man to the moon a reality. Six hours later Mission Commander Neil Armstrong immortalized the following words as he became the first human to step onto the surface of the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” After billions of dollars and nearly a decade devoted to reaching the moon before the Soviet Union, America had won this important lap of the space race and the ongoing Cold War.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the graphic organizer portion of the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students. However, each student is responsible for writing his or her own essay.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. The students will watch the video of the moon landing and then complete the first section of the Graphic Organizer.
  3. Students will now read the New York Times article “Men Walk on Moon” and complete the second section of the Graphic Organizer. Depending on the reading level of the students, the teacher can either let the students read the article for themselves or “share read” it with the students.
  4. Class discussion: Students will now compare with other students what they found to be the most important parts of both the video broadcast and the newspaper article describing the event.

Lesson 4

Objective

The students will compare and contrast a science-fiction account of traveling to the moon, as imagined by H. G. Wells in his novel The First Men in the Moon, with the reality of landing on the lunar surface in 1969 as described in a newspaper article written the day after the event. The students will analyze the similarities and the differences between the novel, written nearly seventy years before the actual landing took place, and the primary source document from the New York Times. The students will then write a short essay closely examining those similarities and differences.

Introduction

Science-fiction writer H. G. Wells used his imagination and an understanding of the science of his time to describe what space travel and the surface of the moon might be like. Nearly seventy years later, the actual moon landing by Apollo 11 confirmed and dispelled many of those imaginings.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the graphic organizer portion of the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students. However, each student is responsible for writing his or her own essay.

  1. Discuss the information in the introduction.
  2. The students should have the two completed assignments from lessons 2 and 3. They will be referencing them to fill out today’s Graphic Organizer.
  3. The students will complete the Graphic Organizer: Compare and Contrast. Students should use exact wording from the two texts, both The First Men in the Moon and the New York Times article, as they draw their comparisons. This will give them better textual evidence when they write their essays.
  4. Each student will write an essay that answers the question, “How accurate was H. G. Wells in his vision of space travel and a lunar landing?” The students must use textual evidence from both the novel and the newspaper article to make their arguments.

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Discussion

I really like using the Rice University speech in class. This adds a new dimension and depth to the Space Race unit. I think it will work really well.


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