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Take a lesson from sci-fi films

dumping the class in front of a DVD is usually seen as the recourse of the tired, lazy or hungover teacher. But Malcolm Wicks, the new science minister, says Doctor Who and Star Wars could teach children more about science than "boring books".

Luckily for him, his advice coincides with research from Debra McGregor, assistant professor at Central Connecticut State university, whose experience teaching in English comprehensives has led her to the same conclusion. She singled out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as demonstrating scientific enquiry, or Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones as discussing the possible consequences of genetic engineering. She said: "Contemporary novels and movies can be used to provoke students to think about scientific concepts and scientific procedures that underpin enquiry skills," she said. "Using popular, contemporary movies - not documentaries or factual science programmes - to engage and motivate students to think about science can be very beneficial."

Mr Wicks said: "If you start a lesson with chemical formulae you will lose 90 per cent of the class.

"If you start with something interesting or important, like something they read in the paper or saw on television, they will remain interested.

"Take R2-D2 from the Stars Wars films, for example. We are already doing that kind of stuff in robotics."

Movie messages

The Day after Tomorrow (2004): A climatologist tries to figure out a way to save the world from abrupt global warming. Simulation of effects of climate change, though the timescale is very short.

Finding Nemo (2003): A father-son underwater adventure featuring Nemo, a boy clownfish, stolen from his coral reef home. Enhances the natural interest that children have in ocean life, coral reefs and marine biology.

A Bug's Life (1998): A misfit ant looks for warriors to save his colony from grasshoppers. Looks at an ant's physical characteristics and social interactions.

Contact (1997): Dr Ellie Arroway, after years of searching, finds conclusive radio proof of intelligent aliens. Examines the philosophy of science.

Outbreak (1995): A deadly virus is transmitted from an African host animal to the United States and threatens to cause a pandemic. Engages children in the study of viruses, introducing some of the ways they travel from an animal host.

Source: Debra McGregor, www.teachwithmovies.com

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