Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Introductory Weather and Climate Using Popular Movies

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Teaching Introductory Weather and Climate Using Popular Movies

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Educational and popular films offer useful alternatives to traditional teaching methods when used appropriately. Movies are effective teaching tools partly because they appeal to both visual and auditory learners (Lipiner, 2011). Additionally, movies allow students to experience things they might not otherwise. Films can virtually transport students to faraway places and/or potentially dangerous situations, while never leaving the safe comfort of the classroom. There are major differences, however, between the educational genre of film and motion pictures created purely for entertainment. "Real movies" with famous actors, action, and drama are much more captivating than their instructional counterparts for most students. Recognizing this, some teachers have effectively employed popular media as an integral part of their pedagogical approach.

Popular movies can be valuable teaching tools for a wide variety of nonscience subjects such as language (Wang and Zhang, 2012), vocabulary (Csomay and Petrovic, 2012), culture (Bu, 2012), cross-cultural management (Pandey, 2012), human rights (Banks, 2009), political science (Bostock, 2011), and history (Woelders, 2007). Commonalities appearing in several of these accounts include higher rates of student participation and success. Additionally, the popularity of feature films can improve student attitudes toward a given subject and foster student engagement with content that they find intimidating and/or irrelevant. As a case in point, Hart (2011) says that movies can be used to help nursing students make connections between their career paths and public health concepts, which many nursing students initially think are unrelated to nursing.

Increasingly, films are also being used in the instruction of STEM disciplines. Laursen and Brickley (2011) found that documentary films help students in grades 6-14 learn specific material and better understand the scientific method in general. Others have also found desirable results from incorporating more mainstream media into their instruction. This is not surprising given the popularity of movies and television shows with science and/or science fiction related themes such as Avatar, Star Trek, and Harry Potter to name a few. Dubeck et al. (1995) found that incorporating science fiction films into their introductory-level science courses at Temple University caused many students' attitudes toward science to improve, and watching films enhanced their understanding of science as a process. Their students' reactions to film segments used in class were "consistently positive," and "they (students) clearly were more interested in the film segments than in the traditional demonstrations or lectures" (p. 49). Schock (2012) reports that science fiction films and television shows are being used to teach core engineering topics and engineering ethics at a number of universities including Penn State, Syracuse, Frostburg State, and DeVry-Pomona in California. Films can even be used in math-based courses as Gardner and Davidson (2010) demonstrate how The Three Stooges' films can reduce student anxiety about course content while providing a source of data for applied statistical analysis. Similarly, Alderman and Popke (2002) show how humor in popular media not only enhances the classroom environment, but also increases critical awareness of social and geographical issues.

Not everyone is convinced that using film is an appropriate way to teach students, however. While many educators have found that films can be quite effective in helping students learn (e.g., Arroio, 2010; Axroio and Farias, 2011; Blickenstaff, 2011), others have expressed concern that popular films perpetuate misunderstandings about science by blurring the distinction between fact and fiction (Barnett et al, 2006). Going a step further, Kirby (2003) argues that scientific consultants on fictional films can use that medium to promote their own ideas and skew public perception of scientific debates. …

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