et al., 1984, 1988; Salomon, 1977), but it seems to have had little influence on subsequent research. Additional analysis of the watching and listening practices of groups and social networks may offer useful insights into programming features.


Most of the broadcast media discussed thus far are deliberately designed for science education. However, science and scientists also appear in popular television programs, films, and other entertainment media. Representations of science in the popular media have rarely been studied in the context of learning, yet it seems obvious that most Americans are more familiar with fictional scientists like Dr. Frankenstein or the medical staff of ER than recent Nobel laureates (Gerbner, 1987; Weingart and Pansegrau, 2003). As in the case of print media, most studies have focused on the production and content of entertainment films and television (Kirby, 2003a, 2003b). In general, these studies have found no single dominant image of scientists ranging from bumbling buffoons and nerdy social misfits to evil geniuses and high-minded saviors of humanity (Hendershot, 1997; Jones, 1997, 2001; Kirshner, 2001; Sobchak, 2004; Vieth, 2001).

Popular films are occasionally used in formal educational settings to illustrate scientific and mathematical concepts (Strand 2). In these cases, educators rely on familiar movies to provide context and motivation for problem solving (Strand 1). For example, the Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (CTGV) used the opening 12 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark to engage students in mathematics learning (Bransford, Franks, Vye, and Sherwood, 1989). In that scene, the main character, Indiana Jones, is in a jungle trying to retrieve a valuable statue. Students watched the scene and were asked to plan a return trip to the jungle to look for artifacts that Indiana had left behind. They used approximate measurements from the film (e.g., Indiana Jones’ height) to make calculations (e.g., the relative width of a pit that needed to be crossed) about the return trip. Although the film lacks explicit instructional sequences, mathematical data could be drawn from it to provide students with problem-solving opportunities.

Popular films have also been used to complement science education and support student understanding of scientific concepts (Strand 2). The University of Central Florida’s Physics in Film course is designed to give nonscience undergraduate students an engaging introduction to the physical sciences (Efthimiou and Llewellyn, 2006, 2007). For example, one scene from the film Armageddon involves using a nuclear bomb to split an asteroid into two pieces, hence saving the planet from destruction. The scene is used to introduce such concepts as mass, conservation of momentum, energy, and deflection. In the end, students work through the physics to discover that the film’s outcome, two smaller asteroids being deflected away from Earth, is

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