5 Ways Star Trek Can Make You A Better Teacher

Star Trek lives in my classroom. Actually, Star Trek should live in other classrooms, as well. I mean, like other teachers,…

John K Kirk



Star Trek lives in my classroom.

Actually, Star Trek should live in other classrooms, as well. I mean, like other teachers, I’m constantly looking for new ways of introducing curriculum-based subject material to my students that will keep their focus as well as illustrating the concepts I want to teach. As a lover of all things Trek, it’s a natural inclination for me to fall back on the world that Gene Roddenberry created. You put the two together and BAM: Instant synergy.

There are a great number of moments from Star Trek that can be used to introduce academic subjects and create those ideal teaching moments that every teacher is looking for, whether it’s a conversation starter or the framework for a summative assignment. I’m only going to look at five, but before you dismiss this as a mere justification of things geek, remember that this is the show that predicted personal hand-held communication, the tablet, and miniaturized computing. There has got to be something worth learning from this franchise if we just look at things a little closer.

So let’s break it down by subject.


5. English

Darmok Star Trek

Specifically speaking, let’s talk literary devices. Just this month, in English, I taught my class about literary devices and I needed to illustrate the concept of metaphor. You remember the definition of a metaphor, right? A direct comparison of two unlike things? The Enterprise’s phaser-fire was a bolt of divine vengeance as it sliced through the Klingon D7 Battle-cruiser’s hull? You like that one?

Yeah, I just ripped that one off Star Trek. That’s what I do. John Kirk: teacher in the School of Geek.

But there was a great Star Trek: The Next Generation (STTNG) episode called “Darmok” that saw the entire episode rest upon the whole concept of metaphor as the basis for another race’s method of communicating. When Captain Picard and the Tamarian captain, Dathon, face a stalking monster together, Dathon tries to make Picard see this as a story from his planet’s folklore that they are repeating. Picard finally realizes that Dathon’s people communicate via the relating of these stories and their relevance to the current context. They communicate in metaphor, like my students should be able to do.

That’s a pretty cool concept. I mean, poetry elevates language to different modes of understanding, but try relating that to 14-year olds. This episode not only provides a demonstration of how metaphor works, but it does so in a practical and entertaining manner.

Also, the run-time on the episode is about 46 minutes long; just perfect for a period of watching and a follow-up period of discussion next day. Whoo hoo. Now my students understand metaphor and I. Am. A. God. Of. English.

How about this one for literature? “Who Mourns for Adonis” in the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series (STTOS) is about an alien being that once lived on Earth a few thousand years in the past, who, along with his companions, thought to be gods by the ancient Greeks. The crew of the USS Enterprise encounter Apollo on his “retirement” planetoid as he waits for his children to come home.

In order to understand this episode, it helps if students have a working knowledge of classic Greek mythology. Apollo mentions his family – the other gods in the pantheon in addition to a little bit of classical civilization. This is an exciting conversation starter in beginning for any unit on Mythology.