Centre of Talented Youth of Ireland Summer School

Centre for Talented Youth in Ireland

Teaching Children and Young Adults about Short Fiction through SFP

Summer School in Tralee – July 2016

Organised by the ‘Centre of Talented Youth of Ireland’ (in conjunction with Dublin City University)

Course Designer and Presenter: Jennifer O’Connor (University of Ireland, Galway)

Background

There is no doubt that children between the ages of eight and eleven harbour considerable imaginative skill as this creative writing course that was run in Tralee, Ireland demonstrated. As a motivational focus the attendees, for part of this course, students were introduced to a form of creative writing that is called Science Fiction Prototyping, a methodology that uses fictional stories as a means to motivate thinking and work towards creating a better future. Using fiction to influence the development of future products or lifestyles is called futurecasting, which was the primary instrument, employed in this section of the course. Stories can take many forms ranging from fictions comprising many pages to those consisting of just a few words called micro or flash fictions. The work described here employed this latter style of writing, which when connected to science fiction are  called microSFPs.

The Class

The summer school was organised by the Centre of Talented Youth of Ireland (CTYI) in conjunction with Dublin City University. The class in question held ten students of mixed ages and with an eclectic variety of interests.  Most Science Fiction Prototyping, such as WU’s Imagination Workshops activities employ brainstorming for generating ideas that become the focal point of the supporting fiction. In the case of this class, being as it was composed of aspiring writers, we chose to explore the use of freewriting as a means of encouraging and capturing imaginative thoughts. Freewriting is the writing method which involves no pre-considered thought and allows ideas to become concrete sentences without the fear of judgement or correction, criteria that are shared with brainstorming methods. After twenty minutes of quiet and contemplative freewriting, each member of the class was asked to present a chosen invention.

CTY Class Picture

Some of the children attending the Tralee CTY Summer School (July 2016)

The Ideas

The ideas given varied dramatically and covered nearly all bases of human interaction with the world from economical to agricultural. Such ideas included; a mechanical robot designed to aid the herding of cattle and sheep by use of sonic sounding in order to alert the cattle more directly, a thermometer stick used for hospital patients which, when placed under the tongue, alerts hospital staff of the bacteria present in the salvia and the possible related illness, and an x-ray machine that combined both bone density and molecular make-up to showcase one’s vitamin and mineral deficiencies in a time efficient manner.

Creating SFPs

In keeping with the principles of SFP, where ideas for new products, services and schemes are inserted into realsitic but fictional worlds to be tested,, the children were asked to take their previously thought-of invention and add a character and setting in order to form a short story. No limitations were placed on the children and many of the younger children used themselves as characters in order to avoid being overwhelmed with the task on hand. The children were given thirty minutes of assisted writing time, whereby the instructor went from one child to another in order to help their piece of writing develop into the idea the child wanted to express.

Refelctions

The final results of this exercise were astonishing. The children showed no hesitation in creating futuristic societies with much improved aspects of our world. As many as half of the children wrote stories outlining a future with a positive change.  However, several children (predominantly the older children) created situations where society has taken a stark turn for the worse. The benefits of these particular stories was the technology used to salvage the society. The benefits of teaching SFPs to children are vast and include the direct and obvious advantage of utilising a child’s natural creative instincts. If the weeks teaching with CTYI are a gauge for the positivity of the world’s future technology industry; the world can be confident in its security and safety as it rests in distinctly intelligent and creative hands.  A fuller account of this class will appear as a paper in TIE’17.

Bio – Jennifer O’Connor

Jeniffer O'Connor Jennifer O’Connor is an Irish-based fiction writer and author with a love for future-thinking, creative thoughts and language acquisition. She is a Young Adult Fiction enthusiast with a penchant for imagining future scenarios. Currently Jennifer is is completing a Bachelor of Arts with Creative Writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Outside of her university studies Jennifer is serving as a creative-writing advisor to the Creative Science Foundation and has spoken at a number of their events. She is the author of the ‘Pain Gods‘ and designer of the ‘”O’Connor SFP Template” which serves as a simple introduction to writing Science Fiction Prototypes (SFPs) for people that are new to this genre of writing.