I was a not so old science student myself when the very first Star Wars movie arrived on the scene. I was old enough to appreciate how very different and tech savvy it was and I was young enough to get caught up in the excitement of the story. I was a fan all the way. And I still am.

I have also been made aware over the years mostly by well-meaning female colleagues that the original Star Wars movies promoted sexist stereotypes. Remember, Princess Leia in that outfit and the chain around her neck resting beside the corpulent Jabba the Hut? What post-pubescent boy could forget!

One fellow science teacher told me she was going to pass on seeing the new Star Wars movie. 
"Why?" I asked aghast at the idea.
"I just think they're boring," she replied, "And undoubtably, still perpetuating those stereotypes. I'm sure the women will be scantily clad at some point."
"Don't you want to give it a chance?"
"You go see it and let me know."
So I did. I saw it...three times. It was great. 

Star Wars Feminized
I happily reported back to my friend  that, not only were there are no scantily clad females, the main character is a young woman who is more than capable of taking care of herself. Furthermore, Princess Leia is now a general. 


"We'll see," she said, remaining doubtful. 

There are two more movies in this time round to come. Not knowing anything about them, I went searching for details.

The Next Star Wars Trilogy 
This next trilogy will cover Chapters 7, 8 and 9 with the most recent chapter The Force Awakens having the only known title so far. The Force Awakens begins about 30 years after the last movie ended. Leia and Hans won't see 65 again and are not together, having endured a somewhat tumultuous relationship. Luke disappeared many years ago after a scandalous betrayal by one of his Jedi students. The conflict between good and evil continues as the Rebellion and the Empire continue to duke it out to see who will ultimately control the universe. I won't spoil it for you by saying anymore. If you want a more in depth synopsis, go to this link on Wikipedia.


Why I think It Is Important to Embrace It
Let's face it: this is your student's Star Wars; this is the trilogy they will grow up with. There are two more movies to come in this trilogy which will reportedly take up to nine years to film, produce and get into the theaters. It is here to stay for the next decade. Your students will be playing with the toys, reading the spinoff books and re-watching the films as soon as they are out on DVD or Netflix. So, if you are lukewarm about all of it, please rethink that position. Get onboard...the teachable moments from this are just too numerous to pass up, especially if you are a science teacher.

 
 
We who teach in the international community must understand the urgent need to encourage our female students in their pursuit of STEM courses. Females in math and science should not be labeled as "nerds" or seen as less feminine. 
In 2014, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) published an extensive report titled "Why So Few?". One recommendation from that report was startling in its simplicity. That fact stated that "Girls who take calculus in high school are three times more likely than girls who do not to major in a scientific or engineering field in college." You can read the report here.

With that in mind and the subject at hand, which is the showing of films in classrooms in order to engage our students in learning, I recommend the following math films:

Stand and Deliver (1988) The story of teacher Jaime Escalante who endeavors to have all of his students take AP calculus by their senior year of high school.

Good Will Hunting (1997)  The story of a young man working at MIT as a janitor who is actually a gifted mathematician. A psychologist played by the late Robin Williams helps him navigate his way in order to fulfill his purpose. (This one is rated R, so you will probably need to use clips only, or get special permission.)

Fermats Room (2007) Four mathematicians are locked in a room that is shrinking and will continue to do so unless they solve several mathematical puzzles. 

Breaking The Code (1996)  The first movie about Alan Turing, the great mind who broke the Enigma Code. 

Now, I must admit, that these films feature male protagonists. I base my choice of the best movies about math on the quality of the math, not on the gender of the protagonist. Unfortunately, the few movies about women mathematicians are either too gory and sensationalistic or too preoccupied


 
 
Dirty Jobs is a great American TV show. I like it and show it to my students. On those days when physical education is out of the question due to scheduling conflicts or inclement weather, I like to pull out an episode and show it to the class. We then have a great discussion about the dirty job featured in that episode. Most dirty jobs are important jobs and our society relies on having people whole are willing and able to perform these tasks. 
Below is an eposode I liked to use when I was teaching in the Middle East. In this episode, the host Mike Rowe, learns how to climb a palm tree and pollenate it so it will produce a plentiful crop. Most of the students I taught were from Europe or America or from a well-to-do local family. They are used to have servants and workers who do everything for the family. I want them to see that all jobs, no matter how trivial they may seem, like tree care, or how dirty they are, have worth. 
 
 
Visuals are a necessary tool for the ESL teacher. They show concepts that may be difficult to explain. I like to use whole films whenever possible. In particular, I like films like Driving Miss Daisy. Miss Daisy is a great tool for:
  • highlighting American accents
  • understanding segregation in America
  • showing bigotry

Its a great story. Miss Daisy (played by Jessica Tandy) is in her 80s and struggling to drive without incident. So her son takes away her car and hires a chauffeur and limo to transport her wherever she needs to go. She is stubborn and independent and, at first, she refuses to use the limo and driver. She relents finally and over the next 25 years, she and her driver (Morgan Freeman) develop an enduring relationship. The limo driver's patience and devotion to her finally wear down Miss Daisy's bigotry and disdain and they become friends. 
 
 
Mars is in the news as of late. Mars One is the name of the project to put a human colony on the Red Planet by 2025. Individuals are being recruited now to be the first colonists. Some of your students may be part of this group. You never know.

Space travel and science fiction engage youth and can be used to explore physics and aerodynamics, as well as, such diverse subjects as life support systems and all there inherent machinery. Here are some of the best PG films out there to pique your students' interest and to use as a springboard in your classroom discussions.

  • Mission To Mars (2000) - The best science discussion will come out of a scene when the hull of the space ship is damaged and the crew must perform repairs. 
  • John Carter (2012) - This is science fiction based on the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It's entertaining and will provide good material for students to analyse and say "why that couldn't have happened like that". For instance, John Carter finds he can breathe the air on Mars (hardly). He also finds he can bounce really high and leap great distances (why?)
  • The Martian (2015) - slated for release this October. This would be a great field trip to the movies for your class. I suspect the science in this one will be far truer than any we've seen so far. 

 

Contributors

01/09/2015

 
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I am: Mr. Waters
I teach: Science Grades 10-12 and ESL support
Favorite Quote: "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." - Albert Einstein

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I am: Ms. Elena
I teach: Upper Level English Grammar & Literature; ESL
Favorite Quote: "But, for my own part, it was Greek to me." from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

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I am: Mrs. Maldonado
I teach: Lower and Upper School ESL
Favorite Quote: "School systems should base their curriculum not on the idea of separate subjects, but on the much more fertile idea of disciplines... which makes possible a fluid and dynamic curriculum that is interdisciplinary." - Sir Ken Robinson


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I am: Dr. Benjamin
I teach: High School Math; ESL Math support
Favorite Quote: We may always depend on it that algebra, which cannot be translated into good English and sound common sense, is bad algebra. - William Kingdon Clifford


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I am: Ms. Janns
I teach: Upper School P.E.; ESL Tutor 
Favorite Quote: "All we are is candles in the wind." 
- Sir Elton John

 

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