On February 4, 2011, a carefully selected group of individuals met in Los Angeles to help us discover how film, television programming, video games, and other entertainment media can be systematically adopted to enhance student learning at the middle school and high school level. The day's program represented a balanced mix of listening, learning, and contributing. We heard from dreamers and doers (which is not to suggest that the two are mutually exclusive) and together we brainstormed ways for improving and deepening science learning using entertainment media. Whether you’re a curriculum developer, education researcher, informal educator, or a classroom teacher… whether you’re a physicist, a mechanical engineer, or an expert in learning and cognition…. whether you’re a producer, developer, designer, director, writer, or executive… your interactions with one another will help us build some principles for creating learning opportunities around entertainment media.
We know from numerous polls that that Americans agree that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are beneficial to society and that research in all of these fields is essential to improving their quality of life. Indeed, high-quality STEM education is essential for a strong science and technology sector. But, the latest education indicators from OECD show that our students ranked 23rd in science - behind countries like Estonia and Slovenia. And we rank even lower in mathematics. That’s the latest bad news confirming that the outlook for America’s competitiveness is, to quote the influential report from the National Academies, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, a Category 5 storm in the making.
On the face of it, there seems to be a disconnect - we, as citizens, value science but at the same time not enough of our kids are seriously interested in pursuing it. We know that this is a complex, systemic issue and that there are no magic bullets for solving the problems. But one way to encourage interest in science is by capitalizing on the pre-existing interest in entertainment. Film, television, and other forms of popular media have the very real potential to engage students in learning about many aspects of STEM and to generally increase their interests in these disciplines as possible career options. This has been demonstrated by the increase in the number of students studying forensic science after exposure to the popular television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. This is genuinely informal education: Learning something about the practice of science and the characteristics of scientists themselves through the lens of entertainment television programming. Despite some of the inaccuracies in this portrayal, it leaves us wondering how formal education can take greater advantage of the ability for film, television, and video games to engage students using entertainment programming as jumping off points for deeper learning or of wholly new content developed by working closely with content creators in the new media world.