“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

In science, and all content areas, a common hurdle teachers are faced with is finding and correcting preconceptions. I find one of my biggest assets and resources for student engagement in science outside of the classroom is also the bane of my existence: The Discovery Channel.

Don’t get me wrong, there are very few shows on The Discovery Channel that I don’t love, ‘Myth Busters’ is a classic favorite and ‘Curiosity’ has been a recent interest, with many in between.  My problem is not with the content, I am sure I would be amazed by the amount of fact checking and rechecking that goes into the production of shows, on top of the steadfast use of the scientific method.

However, I personally know that if I listen to an hour of information and facts I’m going to remember the big picture, but the small details, not so much.

Students, on the other hand, seem to become instant experts (or at least think they are). They will watch a show on Discovery and something in class will trigger a memory of that show. Leading to the classic line, I’m sure hundreds of teachers have heard, “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

For instance, tons of students love ‘Shark Week’ (as do I). They watch what sounds like hours of the programming and come to class as experts on sharks.

I get lines like:

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and a shark can’t bite with a force of 3000 pounds per square inch”

or

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and sharks have 15 rows of teeth that replace each other when one falls out.”

First of all, this is Great! To have students engaged in science outside of the classroom is excellent. Yet, students use the line ‘I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…’ as a way to make what they are saying instant fact. Yet, I often find the ideas they remember are correct, but the details are off.

For instance, according to The Discovery Channel the record bite strength measured experimentally to date is 42,000 pounds per square inch, a bit more than the student thought, but on the other hand some species of shark do have up to 15 rows of replaceable teeth. Batting .500, not too shabby.

The students’ information gets to the meat of the idea: sharks have powerful jaws; they do have rows of replaceable teeth. But it leaves out important details like: what type of shark, the difference between strength, force and pressure, and did the student remember the numbers, or the science vocabulary correctly.

(Check out these Top 20 Shark Fact videos from The Discovery Channel for more great shark info.)

Oftentimes, we end up fact checking and at times have discovered that students, in fact, had remembered the exact factoid, but we’ve more often found the alternative. The main idea is correct, but the details are off.

Again, I love that students are remembering some of these big picture concepts and making connections in the classroom (I’m a sucker for a good tangent), but when I get “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….” I know that I’m going to have make sure we do some research as a class and make sure students learn and remember the accurate information. Because, for some reason students can remember a miniscule fact, right or wrong, uttered by a peer, for months after, but can forget something I told them a minute ago. Imagine that. Weird.

Discovery, I beg you, don’t stop what you’re doing. You get students excited about science at home! I’ll keep doing my best to make sure the next “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…” gets handle and we learn from it, just like all the rest of them.

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