Updated On: June 5, 2020

Back to the Future

Art & Design

Cultural Literacy

Children & Teenagers
Teach: Stephen Spielberg, the producer for Back to the Future, is one of the most popular directors and producers in film history. Paraphrased from Wikipedia: “He directed Jaws (1975),… considered the first summer blockbuster. His subsequent releases focused typically on science fiction/adventure films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993),… as well as serious films like The Color Purple (1985), Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993), Amistad (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), Lincoln (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015), and The Post (2017). He has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice. Some of his movies are also among the highest-grossing films, while his total work makes him the highest-grossing film director in history. His net worth is estimated to be more than $3 billion.”

Design

Children & Teenagers
Research & Discuss: You see in the beginning of the movie how much of a brilliant, but quirky, engineer and inventor Dr. Emmett Brown is. He obviously knows a lot about science and engineering, but almost all of his inventions would be utterly impossible to sell to people. His work is ugly, glitchy, and unusable. Contrast this with Steve Jobs and the origins of Apple. Research Steve Jobs if you haven’t already. What about Steve Jobs’ principles laid the foundations for Apple to one day become the first company to be valued at over $1 trillion?

Family Connections

Children & Teenagers
Write a Short Story: Switch out Marty McFly for you! Write a short story about going back in time to when your own parents met, how you changed history, and needed to find a new way to get your parents to fall in love with each other so that you can still exist. Talk to your parents about the story of their falling in love and courtship.

Language & Thinking

Literary Devices

Children & Teenagers
Reflect & Discuss: An effective way authors reinforce the plot lines and messages of their stories is to tie multiple examples of a theme into them as they can. One of the major themes of Back to the Future is time. Count all the ways the theme of time was reinforced in the movie and question how much added meaning they gave the story.

Speaking & Listening

Children & Teenagers
Reflect & Discuss: If you could go back in time to change a historical event, what would it be? How would the world be different? What negative consequences do you think might have come about due to the change that you made in the world’s timeline? After further thinking about it, do you still feel good about changing that part of world history? Do you think Dr. Brown made the right point when he told Marty to leave history to take its natural course?

Writing Fiction

Children & Teenagers
Write a Short Story: Choose any period of history that you want to and write a story about how your entrance into the era changed the course of history and your efforts to set it back as closely to how it was supposed to.

Play

All Ages
Play: After getting acquainted with the song in the movie, have a blast-from-the-past 80s dance party listening to Back In Time by Huey Lewis & The News.

Science

Atmospheric Science

Children & Teenagers
Teach: Marty and Dr. Brown needed to jumpstart the flex capacitor in the time machine by making contact with the wire at 88mph at the same time as the bolt of lightning sent energy through it. Since the flex capacitor required 1.21 gigawatts to start (causing Dr. Brown to freak out), the movie is right that a lightning bolt has more than enough energy to do so – a bolt of lightning contains five gigajoules of energy. A joule is the amount of power to produce one watt in one second and a gigajoule is a billion watts per second. Five gigjoules is about the equivalent of power produced by 145 liters (about a barrel) of petrol. The part about this point in the plot that is less easy to believe is that Dr. Brown could successfully calculate Marty’s drive toward the wire, because a lightning bolt lasts only ten microseconds (ten millionths of a second).

Biology & Human Body

Children & Teenagers
Watch: You see several characters in their younger years and older years. What is it about the human body that explains why people age? To get an overview of the science behind aging, here is an AsapScience video on the subject.

Social Sciences

Philosophy & Logic

Children & Teenagers
Read & Discuss: The Scientific American makes a point that all time travel fiction is nonsense. Read the article and discuss the points.

Psychology

Children & Teenagers
Teach & Watch: Dr. Brown tells Marty that his mother fell in love with his father due to a psychological phenomenon called the “Florence Nightingale Effect” where a nurse is more likely to fall in love with someone who she is medically treating. Florence Nightingale can be given more credit than anyone else for the nursing profession as we know it today. She drastically reduced death rates by the practices she introduced to the profession. Here is a short History channel video about her. It was her deep concern for patients that caused this phenomenon to be named after her. 

Values

Life Lessons

Children & Teenagers
Teach: When Marty’s dad, George, gets bossed around in the diner by Biff to do his homework, the future mayor Goldie Wilson tells George that he needs to stand up for himself or else he will always be taken advantage of. You see from the beginning of the movie how much truth there is in what he was saying. This is why we all need to know how to stand up to bullies.

How else might important subject matter be learned from this interest topic? Comment below! Half-baked ideas are more than welcome, too.