Sunday, August 30, 2009

Accepted!!! GSA Here I come

Well I got accepted to GSA this year. Woot Woot. I actually wasn't expecting to get in, so I guess now I need to come up with a presentation. So as promised here is my abstract. The talk is on Sunday morning at 9:20 (I'm like one of the first talks).

From Dinosaurs to Volcanoes: Helping Students Learn from Hollywood's Mistakes

Entertainment is often, if not always to some extent, a significant element of effective education. In courses designed for non-major undergraduate students a significant challenge of teaching is how to get as much important information absorbed by the students in the most effective way. Usually this is accomplished via textbooks and lectures, but there are numerous other, more innovative ideas, that can work just as effectively. One approach is to take the bad geological movies that Hollywood seems so intent on creating and using them as teaching tools to show students what is and what is not possible in the real world of geology.

Since the beginning of the movie age, geology and paleontology have provided popular subject matter for the film industry. As early as 1905, Prehistoric Peeps offered an entertaining depiction of a scientist who dreamed of being chased by dinosaurs. For over a century now, movie directors have produced a plethora of movies in which humans are chased by bizarre prehistoric creatures and many other ways that Mother Nature and the Earth could possibly fight back against its human oppressors, all in an attempt to entertain the scientifically naive public. Although entertainment is the main goal, science education could also be a goal when the films are seen in the proper perspective with a pertinent scientific background. Unfortunately, movie makers will usually forgo any real knowledge of science to produce a “blockbuster”, but even the worst pseudo-scientific movies could be used as a teaching tool by the thoughtful and clever instructor. For example, despite their outlandish plot lines, Dante’s Peak could be used to teach students the actual sequence of a Plinian eruption, and The Day After Tomorrow could be used to teach students about dangerous effects of global warming on the Gulf Stream. The only thing that is needed while viewing the movie is for an experienced science teacher to direct the students’ minds to the appropriate concepts in order to demonstrate what is plausible fact or ridiculous fiction. By setting up a series of incisive research questions highlighting the scientifically accurate parts of the movie, it is possible to use even the least scientifically accurate geological movie as an engaging and effective teaching tool, instead of just a mindless and grossly misleading waste of two hours.

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