This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for Smasher, by Scott Bly. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
- Dystopian adventure story with classic sci-fi elements – e.g. time travel, an evil genius plotting to take over the world
- Opportunities to help gifted students reflect on their (and society’s) use of technology
- Interesting philosophical and ethical issues – including explorations of various concepts of power and change; the debate over free will; and consumerism
- Social-emotional topics related to bullying, collaboration, remaining true to one’s beliefs, and demonstrating – or hiding – one’s abilities
- Engaging, challenging interdisciplinary connections in robotics, astrophysics, bioengineering, history, and mythology
About the Book
He’s not quite sure how, but the word “survival” has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning for twelve-year-old Charles. One day, he is pinned to the ground with a frog stuffed in his mouth, trying to outwit three (very heavy!) bullies. The next day, he finds himself following a mysterious girl named Geneva through a Resonant Gap, hurtling through space and time to a city half-a-world away and five hundred years into the future! The fate of the entire human race is at stake, and, apparently, everything depends on Charles.
According to Geneva, Charles is the one person who may be able to stand up to Gramercy Foxx, a filthy rich, ultra-powerful, and incredibly evil businessman poised to brainwash all of humankind by deploying a combination biological–computer virus. Only Geneva, who recently escaped from one of his experimental labs, sees Foxx for the monster he really is, but she isn’t strong enough to stop him alone. Although Charles seems like only a scrawny math nerd on the outside, on the inside he has an incredibly rare ability that no longer exists in the year 2042: He can harness the power of the Hum, the energy source that flows through and between all things. Now Charles has only twenty days to learn everything he can about modern technology so he can help his new friend Geneva infiltrate Foxx’s fortress-like TerraThinc building, deactivate the virus, and restore order to the future. Will they find a way to stop Foxx before it’s too late?
About the Author
First-time author Scott Bly earned a degree in filmmaking from the University of Southern California and went on to make movies, write screenplays, serve as an IT consultant, teach computer courses, and develop educational computer games for kids. A few years ago, while chatting with the vice president of Blue Sky Press (as he was repairing her computer!), he was inspired to channel his love for computing into a time-traveling, technology-driven thriller for middle-grade readers. Today Bly lives in Santa Monica, California, and enjoys traveling around to libraries, bookstores, and schools to visit with his Smasher fans.
Have you taught Smasher ?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- How does life in LAnges 2042 compare to life in 1542 Eamsford? Draw a Venn diagram in your journal to help you visualize the similarities and differences between these two settings. In which place does Charles seem most comfortable? How so?
- When Gramercy Foxx introduces his plans for “The Future” to “twelve of the most influential businesspeople in the world,” they are certainly impressed, but they are also concerned about how this new product will fit into existing society. They urge him to give the marketplace and consumers time to adjust: “We’ll have to prepare for this, Foxx. Change of this nature must be evolutionary, not revolutionary” (29-30). What is the difference between evolutionary and revolutionary change? Is one more preferable than the other? Why? Can you think of a real-world example from history to support your answer?
- According to Geneva, Mr. Foxx is “marketing [The Future] as if it can make your life perfect! But he’s taking away free will. When people look into a computer screen, the system infects them like a virus” (36). Once people are infected by The Future, Mr. Foxx will be able to control their minds and actions. At this point in your study of the novel, it is important to stop and consider just how dangerous The Future is.What exactly is free will?Why is it so important?What would your life be like if you didn’t have it?
- As you may have noticed, several of the characters and places in Smasher have unusual names that seem to give us a hint about their characteristics. For example, what characteristics would you associate with a person who has the name Gramercy Foxx? You might think of the way a fox character is portrayed in traditional fables and myths: a cunning, mischievous, and often dangerous trickster. (If you read A Single Shard with the Book Club, you’ll remember the same idea came up there.) Then you might ask yourself, “Does Mr. Foxx possess similar qualities? How so?” Which other names in this novel have seemingly significant meanings? How so? For a start, consider Jane Virtue, Geneva, LAnges, and InterNext!
- Near the beginning of the novel, Geneva tells Charlie “I’m just a machine pretending to be a real person” (37). However, the longer he knows her, the more Charlie realizes just how human his new friend seems to be even though she is a high-tech robot. In what way(s) does Geneva affect your understanding of what robots are capable of doing and being? How so?
- The closer Mr. Foxx gets to releasing The Future, the more Jane Virtue, John McCallum, and Mr. Ramirez begin to second-guess their allegiance to him. All three have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, but they choose to ignore it. Why do you think Virtue, McCallum, and Ramirez don’t trust their instincts? What do they gain by working for Mr. Foxx? Are these gains worth setting aside their own values and beliefs? Why (or why not)?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
Equipping Robots with Artificial Intelligence
- a review of the history of robots and their evolution over time
- a comparison of utilitarian and humanoid robots and their functions
- an investigation of advances in neural networks that mimic the human brain’s ability to think, learn, and adapt
- an exploration of innovations in bioengineering and robotics, such as the Robobee
- an exploration of how birds’ anatomy helps them overcome the pull of gravity an investigation of how migratory birds’ flight formations conserve energya review of the ways in which humans have studies and attempted to imitate bird flight throughout history
Unravelling the Mysteries of Blackholes
- an introduction to the types and characteristics of black holes
- an exploration of the methods and tools astronomers use to detect black holes
- an in-home experiment to learn how black holes work
- a consideration of the possibilities of time travel using black holes
Real Life During England’s Tudor Era
- a timeline of major historical events during the time period
- an exploration of the Tudor family line and a deeper look at Queen Elizabeth I
- an investigation of children’s lives within the Tudor social structure
- an introduction to William Shakespeare
- a review of popular beliefs and superstitions of the time period
Opening Pandora’s Box… Over and Over Again
- the myth of Pandora
- questions to help students analyze Odilon Redon’s painting Pandora
- an exploration of life in Ancient Greece
- a review of the Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses