Paper No. 14
Presentation Time: 11:35 AM
THE GEOLOGY OF SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: POTENTIAL OF A CARTOON TO ENHANCE STUDENT LEARNING IN THE GEOSCIENCES
The popular Nickelodeon cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants incorporates accurate portrayals of geologic features which can be referenced in the classroom to enhance student learning. The show follows the antics and adventures of a personified sponge and his friends in the shallow-marine setting of the fictional town, Bikini Bottom. The show’s creator, Stephen Hillenburg, has a background in marine science, with a degree in natural-resource planning and interpretation focused on marine resources, and having taught marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute. This background accounts for the accurate portrayals of geologic features in the show. Most geological references occur in episodes from the first three seasons when Hillenburg had the most influence on the show’s content. Many references occur within the background and setting, and often influence the storyline. Previous uses of television shows and movies in geoscience classrooms often point out inaccurate content (e.g., Dante’s Peak, The Core). However, this study serves as an antithesis to those applications by illustrating the potential use of accurate geological references from an unlikely source, a children’s cartoon series. We present examples of accurate portrayals of geologic features and sedimentary environments from SpongeBob SquarePants and compare them to their real-world counterparts. Examples include: bed forms in the show that resemble modern wave ripples and dunes; Bikini Bottom, a carbonate platform; Rock Bottom, an abyssal plain; Jellyfish Fields, a seagrass meadow; Goo Lagoon and Mussel Beach, a subaqueous brine pool; Squidward’s Easter Island moai house, basalt; and SB-129, an early Paleozoic ocean. Many contemporary students grew up watching SpongeBob, however, the show has a broad demographic (for example, 25% of viewers are adults without children) and is viewed by more than fifteen million people each week. Hence, instructors can refer to the program with the confidence that many of their students are familiar with the show. Anecdotal evidence suggests that students are more engaged and likely to learn and retain information when SpongeBob references are used because students can relate to the show through their own experience and its humor.