Science at the movies

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Science at the movies

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The story

A story making its way around the web at the moment is that NASA has compiled a list of the best and worst science movies ever made.  There is, however, some debate over the authenticity of this story and many people are upset about news websites jumping on the bandwagon and reporting this story without first checking out the primary source.

Well, just for the record.  I do not know if the story is true or not and I don’t really care.  It just gives me a really good excuse to talk about how you can use movies in the science classroom.  How’s that for top class investigative journalism?*

So, here is the list:

Worst sci-fi movies
1.    2012 (2009)
2.    The Core (2003)
3.    Armageddon (1998)
4.    Volcano (1997)
5.    Chain Reaction (1996)
6.    The 6th Day (2000)
7.    What the #$*! Do We Know? (2004)

Most realistic films
1.    Gattaca (1997)
2.    Contact (1997)
3.    Metropolis (1927)
4.    The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
5.    Woman in the Moon (1929)
6.    The Thing from Another World (1951)
7.    Jurassic Park (1993)

Teaching ideas

Sometimes a clip from a movie is a great way of engaging a class and inspiring discussion.  Here of some of the movies I have used:

Gattaca – An excellent film about a possible future world where designer babies are the norm and anyone who has not been genetically engineered is seen as a member of a new underclass.  I have used clips from the start in KS4 lessons about genetic engineering in order to show students what it may be used for in the future.  The clips are useful as a platform to discuss the ethics invloved.  Also be sure to ask the students the significance of the name of the movie (answers on a postcard in the comments section below please!)

Contact – The first few minutes of the movie show a journey away from Earth, through our Solar System and galaxy.  The graphics are amazing enough but what really makes this come alive is the soundtrack, which starts off with modern music, through to the first radio transmissions and then into an eerie silence depicting how far our radio waves have travelled into space.  This clip would make a great addition to a lesson space or EM waves.

The second clip I use shows the main character detecting an alien signal for the first time and can be used when teaching about the search for extraterrestrial life. It is truly exciting and I have had the unruliest of classes sitting on the edges of their seats in anticipation of what the message will be.  (unfortunately this bit is missing from the clip I found in the weblinks below so you will just have to buy the DVD to find out what it is!).

Jurrasic park – I have used the cartoon from the film where Mr DNA explains how the dinosaurs were created in KS3 classes when teaching about cloning.  Students can go on the debate whether scientists should try and use this technique to clone extinct animals like the woolly mammoth.  What would be the purpose?  Would the animal be able to survive in an environment that has changed since its extinction?

Other films that I have used in lessons include:

Outbreak – to show the different ways a virus can be transmitted.

Supersize me – The opening is great forthe start of a lesson on the health risks of eating too much fast food.

It’s not just the ‘good’ movies that are useful.  Why not show the students a clip which has very obvious scientific inaccuracies in it and let them pull it apart?

Have you used movies in the classroom?  Please post a comment below to share your ideas.


Gattaca clip

Contact – opening clip

Contact – where SETI intercept a message

Supersize me opening

*Disclaimer:  I have never, and will never, claim to be a journalist.