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ASU celebrates Frankenstein's 200th birthday with writing dare.
The tale of Frankenstein combines entertainment with serious ethical inquiry.
June 16, 2016

Frankenstein writing contest seeks to reanimate the conversation of science and responsibility

Two hundred years ago, in the early morning hours of June 16, Mary Shelley found herself possessed by a waking dream in which she “saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life …”

Born of a nightmare, the story of Frankenstein is one of the most enduring cautionary tales regarding scientific creation and moral responsibility. As the story goes, a young Shelley conceived of the idea after a group of fellow writers dared each other to write the best scary story during the inclement summerThe year 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer as the world was locked in a cold, volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. In 1816, when Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley (her soon-to-be husband) visited Lord Byron at Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the weather did not allow for outdoor activities, so the group spent time reading each other ghost stories indoors. of 1816 on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Now, Arizona State University, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Chabot Space and Science Center, and Creative Nonfiction magazine are daring amateur and professional writers to do the same. The Frankenstein Bicentennial Dare competition hopes to inspire new stories that reflect on questions of science, technology, ethics, creativity and responsibility.

The competition is part of the larger Frankenstein Bicentennial Project, launched by co-directors David GustonDavid Guston is the founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. and Ed FinnEd Finn is the founding director of ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination. He is also an assistant professor with a joint appointment in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts/Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering) and the Department of English (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). in 2013 to position ASU as a hub for the seminal novel’s global bicentennial celebration.

“From the very beginning [‘Frankenstein’] found a happy home onstage and, later, on celluloid, television and video — not to mention breakfast cereal, Halloween costumes, political cartoons and more,” said Guston.

“The novel itself grapples with issues — already apparent to Mary at the cusp of our scientific age but appearing again in each generation of knowledge-based technology, from galvanism forward to synthetic biology and artificial intelligence — related to the nature of creativity and responsibility.

“This theme, of course, applies to the earliest myths about the creation of human beings in many religions, but Mary’s story, dense with conflicting norms and changing paradigms, emerged as a modern myth suitable for retelling and reconfiguring.”

The Frankenstein Bicentennial Dare will be separated into two categories. The first, presented by ASU, NaNoWriMo and Chabot, invites participants to write short, scary tales about unexpected consequences and unintended monstrosities — though monsters are not always evil, and things that begin innocently enough, like a song, can be misappropriated and wrought into something monstrous. Winners of the short-fiction contest will receive personal feedback from Hugo and Sturgeon Award-winning science fiction and fantasy author Elizabeth Bear, as well as a curated selection of classic and contemporary science fiction books. Submissions will be accepted through July 31.

The second, a long-form nonfiction competition presented by ASU and Creative Nonfiction magazine, asks authors to document true stories about the evolving relationships between humanity and technology for a chance to win a $10,000 grand prize or one of two $2,500 runner-up prizes. Winners will be announced in mid-2017, and winning essays will be included in an upcoming issue of the magazine. Submissions will be accepted through March 20, 2017.

Center for Science and the Imagination editor and program manager Joey Eschrich hopes the wide reach of ASU and the various partners involved will ensure the greatest amount of public engagement possible.

Science advancements and writing have a long history together.

“As long as people have tried to create new knowledge (aka ‘science’) there has been someone else there to write about it,” said ASU English professor Cajsa Baldini, the advantages of which include “the benefit of combining entertainment and the engagement of the individual imagination with serious ethical inquiry.”

Submissions for the Frankenstein Bicentennial Dare are being accepted now. Full details, contest rules and guidelines for entries can be found at

“I hope that we identify some really insightful, inspirational and creative approaches to understanding how we might — and how we should — engage with science and technology,” said Guston, “and, in the words of one scholar, learn to love the monsters that we create.”


Top image by Nina Miller, Center for Science and the Imagination graphic designer

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ASU workshop gives teachers lesson in effective argument-writing.
June 17, 2016

Phoenix area teachers convene at ASU for summer argument-writing institute, learn techniques to take back to classroom

Some of the most significant turning points in history began with a compelling argument.

Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five theses.”

Clearly the ability to express one’s opinion in a thoughtful, well-constructed manner is a powerful thing. That fact that has been further proven by a recent National Writing Project (NWP) study that found introducing argumentative writing curriculum into schools improved teaching results.

So for two weeks in June, 22 middle and high school teachers from throughout the greater Phoenix area convened at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus for the Central Arizona Writing Project 2016 Invitational Summer Institute to focus on improving their argument-writing teaching skills.

Supported by a NWP College Ready Writers Program grant, the institute is unique because it allows local teachers to experiment with a research-based teaching model while collaborating with ASU professors, past and present doctoral students, and each other.

“They get to come here to participate in workshops and work together as a professional community of writers,” said Jessica Early, co-director of the program with Christina Saidy. Both Early and Saidy are also ASU English professors.

During a workshop led by Saidy on June 16, teachers huddled together in small groups, listening to what each had written for a hypothetical podcast. Afterward, they took a few minutes to write letters to one another detailing what they liked and what needed work. Then they read their letters aloud, listened, took notes and asked for clarification.

In effect, they were demoing a lesson they could incorporate in their own classrooms.

teachers conversing during a workshop

Compadre Academy English teacher Cindy Glick (right, listening to feedback about her podcast script June 16) said the methods she has learned at the CAWP summer institute help to make argument writing “more interesting" and "more relevant” for students. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


When they went home after the workshop, their “homework” was to rewrite and record the podcast based on the feedback they received.

“This thing we’re doing right now — this peer editing — is something I adopted from a previous class I took with Dr. Saidy that I have my students do now. And it’s revolutionized the way they edit and revise their work,” said Tricia Parker, who has taught 10th- and 11th-grade English at local schools.

That may be because the way students have been “peer editing” each other’s work isn’t nearly as effective. As Saidy explained to the class, “This is something that has been documented in schools. Students aren’t really reading each other’s writing.”

Instead, they’re simply filling out checklists — not expressing what they like or don’t like, not asking how they can improve, not having an actual, engaging conversation about their writing.

Cindy Glick, who teaches English and creative writing at Compadre Academy in Tempe, said the methods she has learned in the workshops help to make argumentative writing “more interesting, more attainable and more relevant” for her high school students.

According to Mesa Westwood High School 10th-grade English teacher Katie Garza, the workshop content is relevant for teachers, too.

“Everything we do in here as writers, as teachers of writers, is something we can do in the classroom with our kids,” said Garza. “Every single thing.”

That being the goal, a part of the day is set aside solely for the teachers to prepare lesson plans and units for the upcoming school year based on the day’s exercises.

And they aren’t just taking lessons from a single source; they’re learning from each other.

Steven Arenas, who participated in the institute last year as part of the requirements for his master’s in English education at ASU, now teaches at Alhambra High School in Phoenix. He came back to participate in the institute again this year, this time as a facilitator.

“My favorite part has been breaking up into groups and being able to listen to other teachers present their demo lesson and how they teach writing in their classrooms,” he said. “So I get to learn more and steal some ideas for them.”

As the institute came to a close, many of the teachers were looking ahead to the upcoming school year with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the experience.

“It’s been really helpful building these argument units that we’re going to take back to our classes this fall,” said Anthony Colaya, who teaches English at Dobson High School in Mesa, “and it’s been great being a part of this community of teachers working together.”