Using Pop Culture to Teach Introductory Biology

By Pryor, Gregorys | The American Biology Teacher, September 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Pop Culture to Teach Introductory Biology


Pryor, Gregorys, The American Biology Teacher


Our students are captivated by the characters, storylines, and gossip provided by pop culture (television, movies, magazines, books, sports, music, advertisements, and the Internet). They always seem more engaged when we incorporate examples and analogies from popular culture into our lectures. This seems especially true regarding non-majors biology students--a demographic group most instructors find challenging to teach because many of these students are frustrated and bored with the topic of biology. In accordance with these observations, I believe that pop culture references can be used as an effective pedagogical platform and have the potential to reshape the approach taken by many professors to teach introductory biology.

Why Refer to Pop Culture?

Many students find their first college biology class intimidating, confusing, or boring, and as a result, fail to retain much information or express an educated opinion on these topics. These frustrated students go elsewhere to learn more about the biological topics that interest them. Based on national polls (Media Central, 2000), college students are much more likely to use the Internet to retrieve information than go to the library. Whereas the Internet provides them with megabytes of biological information, it also provides megabytes of misinformation at the click of a button. With this in mind, we should aim to make our college classrooms an engaging, interactive, educational environment for these students. Of course, we should also strive to facilitate their learning, encourage their critical thinking, and improve their communication skills. Pop culture provides an ideal medium with which we can achieve these goals.

In my non-majors biology classes, I make sure I present the same vocabulary, hard facts, and concepts as do the other professors, but I do so via storytelling, role-playing, critique, and farce. At times, my classroom is much like a TV show in itself. (For example, to demonstrate exponential growth in my class, I refer to a classic episode of Star Trek ["The Trouble With Tribbles"] in which scientific Spock calculated the growth rate of fictitious, furry animals called Tribbles that were brought onboard the starship Enterprise. Details of this example can be found in Pryor [2003], and an online version is available at http://acsweb.fmarion.edu/ Pryor/tribbles.htm).

Figure 1. The Evolutionary Fitness Challenge.

In the late 1800s, the catch-phrase of Darwinism, "Survival
of the fittest," was as popular as Paris Hilton's "That's hot!"
and The Donald's "You're fired!" have been in recent years.
The term "fittest," however, has a very different meaning
to an evolutionary biologist than it does to the layperson.
Evolutionary fitness is the reproductive success of an
individual. It can be measured as the number of offspring
produced in an individual's lifetime.

Let's submit some physically-fit action heroes to an
Evolutionary Fitness Challenge. In Table 1, evolutionary fitness
(number of children sired) is compared among various
hunky heroes in Hollywood. Keep in mind that, as a relative
measure of fitness, the average American woman has two
children during her lifetime (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

How Appropriate Is a Pop Culture Approach?

Skeptics of this approach may be critical of the pop culture theme. Many believe that television rots the mind and is a poor substitute for the traditional presentation of biology in their courses. I counter by relating several cases in which non-majors students in my classes changed their major to biology because they became fascinated with the application of biology to their everyday lives. I also point out that some aspects of today's pop culture may become tomorrow's masterpieces, just as many literary, music, and film classics were pop culture phenomena in years past.

Further supporting this approach, a marked contrast exists between the average American's knowledge of pop culture and more academic topics. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Using Pop Culture to Teach Introductory Biology
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.