Article Review – Science in movies

The journal article I am referring to is titled “Physics in Movies: Awareness Levels of Teacher Candidates”. It was published in the Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology Education in 2014. Researchers showed two movies – Speed (1994) and Wanted (2008) to six pre-service Physics teachers, before getting them to identify and explain the science-related errors they observed in the shows. Their responses were rated based on 2 components – Awareness status (0 or 1), and Explanation of Awareness (0 to 3). The sum of the scores of both components are recorded as Awareness Level codes.

The researchers wanted to show the usability of non-science fiction movies as an educational tool for Physics. They have succeeded to the extent of developing an instrument that can be used as to quantify awareness levels of students using a simple scale. They were also able to identify a range of mistakes in the movies portraying erroneous “science”, which could be used to test audience’s knowledge of physics.

Use of movies as an educational tool

To use the instrument more effectively in education, I would think that the kind of misconceptions given in the students’ explanations need to be highlighted too, and possibly grouped into categories. It would also have been informative if they had grouped the mistakes they identified under physics concepts. They only made mention of the concepts when discussing the mistakes that students failed to spot. In addition, to better evaluate the use of the two movies for use in education, it would be helpful to indicate the level of depth of the physics concepts they showed/used, i.e. were they are the secondary/Pre-U level?

Practically, it would not be feasible, time-wise, for teachers to go through an entire film with their students just to spot errors in the science. The results from this study might be more usable if key scenes that perpetuate common misconceptions in physics were identified and used in the study.

Awareness levels of pre-service Physics teachers

Since the participants in the study are all high-performing pre-service Physics teachers, it follows that they should demonstrate relatively high levels of awareness. I thought that there should be a measurement of how many “4”s or “3”s they scored. This was however not calculated in the study. An aggregate score for each participants was used instead. This aggregate score could indicate high level of understanding for only a few concepts, and little understanding for others, or an average/insufficient understanding for several concepts.

Were there mistakes about physics concepts that these pre-service teachers really ought to know but they do not? This aspect of the study was not addressed. The researchers do not seem unduly concerned about the scores of the respondents, stating that the scores were high and that the participants were able to critically question the science shown in the movies. The average awareness ratios were 51.5% for the first movie, and 46.7% for the second movie. It is not clear about what percentage is considered “high”. I mean, I would expect more from these high-achieving physics students.

The paper had a surprisingly high number of grammatical errors for a peer-reviewed article, particularly in the Introduction section. This does not leave a good impression on the reader, overall.

On a last note, is it the responsibility of scriptwriters to portray science accurately in films? The authors of the paper seem to think that it is, to the extent of recommending that scriptwriters should consult academia to ensure that they portray scientific realism accurately. I beg to differ. The purpose of movies in general, as defined by production companies, would be of course to make money. And that is done through entertainment, not education. Taking liberties with science concepts is part of the deal in mass entertainment. Perhaps it would be better to view movies as a way to elicit misconceptions from students, rather than a way to educate them about science.

Reference:

Kizilcik, H. S., Damli, V., & Unsal, Y. (2014). Physics in movies: Awareness levels of teacher candidates. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 10(6), 681–690. https://doi.org/10.12973/eurasia.2014.1228a

 

 

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