LIGHTS! CAMERA! ...FICTION?: USING HOLLYWOOD FILMS TO TEACH EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE IN AN UNDERGRADUATE SCIENCE-IN-CONTEXT COURSE
Films were used to direct the introductory geology course, with topics including planetary geology (Armageddon), Earth structure (The Core,), earthquakes (10.5, Earthquake!), volcanoes (Dante’s Peak, Volcano), energy resources (There Will Be Blood), paleontology (Jurassic Park), and climate change (The Day After Tomorrow). Films were accompanied by lectures and discussions about the myths and mistakes, as well as cinematographic techniques and stereotypes about science and scientists.
Assessment was based on active participation, problem sets, and essays. Students in small groups participated in directed post-film discussions and jigsaw-type activities. In the problem sets, students used math-based reasoning to examine inconsistencies in the films via Fermi (or “back of the envelope”) calculations. Reflective essays highlighted synthesis of the science and the films. For example, students were asked to compare three reviews of The Day After Tomorrow which strongly reflected the author’s tone but with the author’s identifying information removed.
Preliminary data show that the majority of students’ perceptions of their scientific knowledge increased from “average” to “above average” and a decrease in students’ perception of the accuracy (from 38.8% to 23.9% accurate) of the science in Hollywood films. Course evaluations also reflected student willingness to take additional science courses and to disseminate the information learned in this course about Earth and environmental science.