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Using Star Trek to Enhance Critical Thinking Skills Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #:AELP-WCP007
Submitted by: Brent Muirhead  D.Min., Ph.D.
Email: bmuirhead@email.uophx.edu
School/University/Affiliation: High School History Teacher/Distance Educator Alpharetta, GA Date: May 27, 2000

Grade Level(s): 10, 11, 12


  • Language Arts/Writing (composition)

Duration: Two 45-minute sessions

Description: Popular culture offers a rich assortment of resources for teachers to create interesting and informative writing projects. This lesson will introduce students to the importance of using critical thinking skills when watching television shows. See details by author on use of Star Trek to enhance critical thinking skills.

Goals: Students will:

1.   Understand the importance of using discernment and critical thinking skills when watching television shows.
2.   Identify intellectual bias in today’s television shows.
3.   Enhance their ability to organize their ideas and thoughts into a reflective essay.

Objective(s): Students will:

1. Will discuss the importance of using discernment and reflective thought when watching contemporary television shows.
2. Write a 550-600 word essay on the Star Trek lecture that will address the following issues: discuss the role of human reason in understanding knowledge, the rationale for using vivid/dramatic visual images to promote ideas and discuss some of the unstated assumptions that are found in the Star Trek series and other science fiction shows such as the X-Files.


  • Handout: Using Star Trek to Cultivate Critical Thinking Skills
  • Videos of Star Trek television shows and movies
  • Procedure: 1. Share the handout with the class and allow the students 5-6 minutes to carefully read the handout.

    2. Discuss the handout with the class and relate the importance of using discernment and critical thinking skills when watching the news and television programs.

    3. Share video clips from the Star Trek television series and films.

    4. Share the writing assignment with students by outlining the basic requirements of the paper (see assessment section for grading rubric).

    5. Begin the assignment and help students who struggle with more abstract thought.

    6. Complete the writing assignment after two 45 minute work sessions. Note: some students might need one additional class period to finish their essay.

    Assessment: The writing assignment can be assessed by using a basic grading rubric. Student papers will be evaluated in the following areas:

    1. Paper includes introduction, body, and conclusion.

    2. Writer uses complete sentences, varies sentence length, proper English and correct spelling of terms.

    3. Utilizes ideas and issues from the handout such as the role of human reasoning in learning, the power of images to shape our views and briefly describe some of the underlying messages or assumptions within today’s television shows.

    4. Demonstrates reflective thinking skills in the following areas: formulating appropriate media literacy questions and recognizing how science fiction shows foster unique perspectives on understanding knowledge and reality.

    Useful Internet Resources:
    Just Think Foundation: Media Literacy Education

    Reconsidering Fundamentals of Learning and Teaching: Professional Practice Reshaped Through Critical Reflection

    Adult Learning: An Overview by Stephen Brookfield
    Note: He is a leader in helping teachers teach critical thinking skills.

    Janet M.Gibson’s tutorial on “Inside Star Trek” from Grinnell College.

    Using Star Trek to Enhance Critical Thinking Skills by Dr. Muirhead The television industry is continually promoting their own views of reality that need to be challenged and examined by the American public. Reflective thinking enables people to be thoughtful citizens who resist simplistic answers to complex social problems.

    Guiness (1994) notes that television shows contain four major kinds bias that influence it messages:

    1. It has bias against understanding because it stresses images and emotions but it often lacks context and meaning which creates an illusion of knowledge.
    2. Television conversations have a bias against responsibility by having a rapid approach that packages news into segments of intense images of dramatic events.
    3. Programs have a bias against historical events because news reports are focused on today as being far more important than the past.
    4. Television shows have a bias against rationality because attention is on performance by high profile individuals who prefer drama over reflective thought.

    The popular Star Trek television series can be viewed as an interesting slice of American intellectual history of modern knowledge. My brief lecture will highlight how various cast members represent unique perspectives on understanding knowledge and truth.

    Star Trek
    Spock- completely rational solves problems with reasoning skills and represents the ideal Enlightenment man. Often, he resolves difficult problems for the crew members of the Enterprise.
    Mission Goal- objective knowledge of the entire universe “the final frontier” and humans pursue the goal alone.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Data- replaces Spock and he is an android who works with other crew members to find solutions to their problems.
    Counselor Troy- uses her intuition to perceive human feelings and truthfulness.
    Q- a divine being who is all knowing but morally ambiguous who displays a combination of cynicism, benevolence and self-gratification.
    Mission Goal- to go where no man has gone before and man needs the help of androids and other life forms to discover knowledge. Life is more complicated people because appearances can be deceiving and truth is considered relative and incomplete.

    Observation- the Star Trek series portray an optimistic technological future, but one filled with constant conflicts as the crew travels on their odyssey through space. The show sometimes diminishes the role of human reason and the possibility of objective knowledge. The current Voyager series includes a first officer who is a Native American. He is a spirit guide that utilizes a combination of science and mysticism to help manage crisis situations. Ironically, the greatest threat is not being lost in some distant quadrant of space, but it is the loss of personal inner stability.


    Grenz, S. J. (1995). Star Trek and the Next Generation: Postmodernism and the future of evangelical theology. In D. S. Dockery (Ed. ). The challenge of postmodernism (89-103). Wheaton, ILL: Victor Books.

    Guiness, O. (1994). Fit bodies Fat minds. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

    Richards, T. (1997). The meaning of Star Trek. New York, NY: DoubleDay