Star WarsTM is the movie that proved science fiction could be a blockbuster. Within the Star Wars fandom, May Fourth is celebrated as “Star Wars Day.” The date was chosen because of the pun on the famous catchphrase “May the force be with you.” Even though it is not an official holiday, fans across the world take the opportunity to celebrate—for example the astronauts on the International Space Station have even watched the movie from orbit!
Whether your students are huge fans, or have yet to see a single episode, May 4th is a good opportunity to connect your students to some real-world science and technology that isn’t far removed from the futuristic storylines found in this iconic series.
We have curated the following lesson plans, videos and more from PBS LearningMedia for those inspired (Jedi) instructors out there. And remember… Teach. Or teach not. There is no try.
A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…
We live in the Milky Way galaxy, which is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the known Universe. As this signature opening to Star WarsTM hints at, the farther we look out into space, the further back in time we are seeing—when the universe was much younger and the galaxies were still forming. Explore the size and structure of our own universe, and the many kinds of galaxies within, with these resources.
- Tour of the Universe (video, 6-12)
- NOVA’s Modeling Galaxies (video, 6-12)
- Tour of the Galaxy (media gallery, 3-5)
- How to find a Galaxy (video, 9-12)
- To Scale: The Solar System (video, 6-8); pairs well with Map a Model Solar System (interactive, 6-8)
- How Big is Our Universe? (interactive, 9-12)
- Galaxies: Crash Course (video, 9-12)
- NOVA’s Observing the Center of the Milky Way (media gallery, 9-12)
Use the force!
A core idea in the Star WarsTM universe is the Force, described as, “an energy field created by all living things. It…binds the galaxy together.” Ok, as a physics teacher I will tell you that that last one is actually gravity (or duct tape if you are an engineer). Explore the forces of our own universe with these lesson plans and the most popular interactive on PBS LearningMedia (listed first).
9. Energy in a Roller Coaster Ride (interactive, 3-12)
10. Ruff Ruffman Sports Science (collection, K-2)
11. Gravity and Falling Objects (Lesson Plan, 3-5)
12. Exoplanets through Kepler’s Laws (Lesson Plan, 9-12)
13. The Art of Forces and Motion (lesson plan, 4-12)
14. Invisible Force Challenge (teacher guide and media, 3-8)
So maybe hyperdrive isn’t possible…yet. However, this hasn’t stopped us from thinking big and traveling far! These short videos explain some of the possibilities, dangers, and triumphs of space travel.
15. Living and Working in Space (resource collection)
16. Engineering Design for Space (collection, 9-12)
17. Voyager: Humanity’s Farthest Journey (video, 6-12)
18. Speeding Up Space Travel (video, 6-12)
19. Meteoroids Endanger Spacecraft (video, 6-12)
Finding life on other planets isn’t as simple as crash landing on a planet or flying into a giant space slug burrowed into an asteroid (fun fact, the one in The Empire Strikes BackTM is called an Exogorth). And even if we haven’t (yet) discovered life beyond Earth, there are still some pretty strange creatures in our own planet to delve into!
20. Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Are We Alone? (video, 3-12)
21. The Cephalopod Brain (video, 6-12)
22. NOVA’s Finding Life Beyond Earth (collection, 6-12)
23. Hunt for Alien Earths | Detecting Life on Other Planets (video, 6-12)
24. Extreme Living (lesson plan, 1-6)
Droids, Robots and Artificial Intelligence
R2D2 and C-3PO were just two of the many Star WarsTM robots that possessed various degrees of artificial intelligence (and a sense of humor). Kids of all ages are fascinated with robots, and these resources examine the reality of robots today—including a video clip that features a scientist who was inspired by Star Wars!TM
25. Rise of the Robots (video, 6-12)
26. What is a Robot? (lesson plan, 3-5)
27. Making a Humanoid Robot (video, 6-12)
28. Scientist Profile: Robotic Life Scientist (video, 4-6)
29. Smartest Machine on Earth (full-length NOVA episode)
From the hot sands of Tatooine to the icy world of Hoth, the settings of Star WarsTM offered widely imaginative moons and planets. These videos explore some of the strange places are we finding in our Solar System, like Saturn’s “Hoth-like” moon, Enceladus, and the exoplanets beyond.
30. How to Discover a New Planet (video, 6-12)
31. Exoplanets (video, 9-12)
32. Life on Enceladus? (video, 6-12)
33. Soaring Over Mars (video, 6-12)
Epic Space Battles and Cybernetics
From lightsabers to the prosthetics needed to fix people after a (fictional) fight, there was plenty of action throughout this series. Some of the ways that we are healing people today might already seem like science fiction, as these videos show.
34. The Physics of Space Battles | It’s Okay to be Smart (video, 6-12)
35. Mind Controlled Robotic Arm (video, 6-12)
36. Bioengineering Body Parts (video, 9-12)
The “Kessel Run” and Black Holes
Han Solo’s classic boast about his ship, the Millenium Falcon, making the “Kessel Run in 10 Parsecs” has caused much debate, with even Neil DeGrasse Tyson weighing in. The solution? Turn it into a dangerous route through a path of black holes.
37. Black Hole Apocalypse: Stellar Life Cycles (video, 9-12)
38. Black Hole Apocalypse: Gravity and Spacetime (video, 9-12)
38. Black Holes: Objects of Attraction (video, 9-12)
39. Black Holes: Crash Course Astronomy (video, 9-12)
40. NOVA Black Holes App Educator Guide (app and teacher guide, 6-12)
We will leave you with this blog from NASA about some of the connections between the science and technology of our own space agency, and a galaxy far far away.
May the Fourth Be With You.
*Updated May 1, 2019
Rachel Connolly is the Director of STEM Education for WGBH and PBS LearningMedia. After teaching high school physics in NYC, she moved into teacher professional development and educational programming at the American Museum of Natural History. Her work with the Hayden Planetarium sparked a love of data visualization that led to her graduate work at Teachers College Columbia University. Her work focuses on designing media-integrated educational experiences that leverage emerging formats of scientific data for innovative instruction. You can see her on PBS LearningMedia talking about the Solar System, or follow her at @rachelbconnolly.
Brooke Kinney is the STEM Digital Learning Assistant for WGBH and PBS LearningMedia. A recent graduate from the George Washington University with a Bachelors in Environmental Studies, she moved to Boston to pursue science communication with WGBH.