May 15, 2023

Student creativity through Sciku (science haiku)

Posted by Laura Guertin

Haiku have a presence in the science world. And this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about science-themed haiku. From the IPCC report done entirely in haiku, to scientists tweeting about their AGU Fall Meeting abstract submissions (see Science haiku to communicate research and more) and even The Flame Challenge (The Science Haiku Challenge from The Flame Challenge), haiku are a welcomed form of communicating science.

In 2020, I wrote a blog post to Celebrate International Haiku Poetry Day with The Sciku Project. I have always enjoyed reading the sciku authored by scientists across STEM fields, but I had never thought of integrating haiku-writing with my introductory-level geoscience courses – until this past semester.

Photo of book cover Engaging IdeasIn the Spring 2023 semester, I was selected to participate in a Writing in Integrative Studies/Writing Across the Curriculum Faculty Training Program at my institution. For six weeks, myself and other colleagues from across the Penn State campuses completed reading and writing assignments in our course management system Canvas and attended three discussion group sessions in Zoom. Our textbook for the course was Bean & Melzer’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. I highly recommend this book, no matter which discipline you teach, to learn more about designing and assessing writing assignments for students. There were so many ideas presented throughout the text, including having students write haiku.

And so I ended up circling back around to the idea of having students write science-themed haiku. I already had a short writing assignment in my syllabus for the final week of the semester in my asynchronous/online course on climate and energy. This introductory-level course is designed for non-STEM majors, and from the weekly entries in the learning journals students were keeping, I could tell the course content was weighing heavily on them emotionally (for example, their expressions of frustration towards the future and lack of actions/policies), despite my efforts each week to discussion solutions to our global challenges. So I decided to lighten the mood at the end by challenging students to write their own “sciku” and share with other students on Canvas discussion boards.

I had determined by the mid-point of the semester that I was going to have our own sciku project within our course for the last assignment. I met with each student mid-semester for one-on-one Zoom meetings to check in with them, and I provided a general overview of this project. Almost all of the students (60 students enrolled) knew what a haiku was. The majority of students said they hadn’t written a haiku since elementary school but were looking forward to this project.

And this haiku-writing project is different than what they did in elementary school! Students aren’t writing just 17 syllables but also a description to fully explain the work/idea they are writing about. This is the template used by The Sciku Project and I appreciate how this provides additional background context and supporting information.

At the end of this blog post I provide the general instructions I gave students and prompts for responding to the sciku of their peers (the students were already divided up into discussion boards for assignments earlier in the semester). I don’t provide any of the student submissions here (respecting FERPA and student privacy), but I have to say I was completely amazed with their creativity, their passion, and the clear investment of themselves in writing the haiku and supporting description. Not only could I tell that they enjoyed writing and reading the sciku, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading their submissions and was uplifted by their connection to the course material.

Although I like to use creative approaches to science communication (such as my science quilts), I have not brought the arts/humanities into my STEM courses as much as I could. After this assignment, now I realize that I should, and I look forward to using more creative writing approaches in my courses.

Thank you to The Sciku Project for the work that you do and this inspiration!



Assignment: The Science Haiku Project for EARTH 104N (Climate and Energy)

As I mentioned during our one-on-one Zoom meetings at the mid-semester point, we are going to be creative in our last week together and support each other through some climate-and-energy-themed haiku (in other words, a Sciku!). This week, instead of posting in a Learning Journal, you will post on discussion boards and connect with each other. Note that the class is divided into teams/discussion boards to share postings with.

PART A – open Sunday through Wednesday

  • Review the topics we covered this semester relating to climate and energy. Select a topic that resonated with you the most, or the topic you most enjoyed learning about, or the topic that was the most surprising, or the topic you think others should know about, etc. – in other words, select a climate/energy topic to start with.
  • Next, write a haiku about that topic. We are following the 5-7-5 format. Learn more about what is a science haiku. Here are some sciku writing tips.
  • Provide a 300-500 word description that explains your topic (since 17 syllabus won’t be enough to fully explain the science). Include links to one-to-two articles from reliable sources where you have researched/located some of the information contained in your sciku.
  • Make sure you have a title for your sciku!
  • Then, in the discussion board, post your title, the sciku, and the description below it (like what you see on the Sciku Project website). Cite the source(s) you used in APA format.
  • Note that you must post your sciku first – then, you will be able to go back in and have access to your peers’ haikus to comment.

PART B – open through Saturday

  • In the same discussion board, after you post your original sciku and description, you will see and can respond to the haiku of two other team members. You should comment not only on their topic selection and their haiku, but importantly, the science description that supports it (meaning, is there enough for you to understand, is there anything you can suggest to expand upon the description to help others, perhaps suggest where they can share their haiku, etc.).