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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation


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I revisited an article in Popular Mechanics about the popular Discovery Channel show, “Mythbusters”. On occasion I do watch the show and was thinking maybe this show will get people more interested in science. After reading the PM article, it appears that is the case, the show has a huge following with nearly 2 million viewers per episode. The show has been running on cable television for six years but I have only had cable television for a little over a year now, so just started watching this year. Many people point to the positive aspect that the show gets people, particularly kids interested in science, some people counter and say it is mainly about explosions and over glorifies what scientists really do. The main characters of the show; Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage point out that the show was not created with science education in mind, their background are in special-effects. Some teachers use video from Mythbusters' episodes in their science lessons. When the President was speaking at the recent launch of Educate To Innovate program, Adam and Jamie were invited along with prominent scientists. A quote I really liked from the PM article was: “We’ve shown that it’s a lot easier to get hands-on experience than people think,” Jamie says. “You can memorize how to do something, but unless you internalize the information, it’s just a pile of data sitting on a table. Hands-on experience is what allows you to make it part of your brain; it brings that data to life.”

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Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Bill,
I've been a bit of a fan of Mythbusters for a while now, for exactly the reasons you suggest in your post; students are interested, and want to perform experiments of their own after watching segments. The same is true of the UK show 'Brainiac'. My wife, who's a science teacher in high school, is a big fan, and regularly uses excerpts before introducing students to the scientific method.

I've been looking at a pedagogical model developed by Apple called Challenge Based Learning, and funnily enough, one of their examples is Mythbusters. Here's a link:

It's an interesting model, and certainly worth a look.

Bill Kuhl's picture

Keith that was an interesting link. Recently I had helped a science teacher friend with an assignment for his physics students to design a model airplane, build it, and fly it and do calculations. In the past they had all built the same airplane that was given to them. Another time they had designed their own planes but did not have enough information to build a good flying plane. This time they had formulas to work with so the planes were of the proper size for the available power of a rubber motor. This time most planes flew well but it was still more of a challenge then building the plane from a plan. I wrote a short article about this:


Sue Boudreau's picture
Sue Boudreau
Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

We use Mythbusters and other clips of scientists in action to teach and review scientific attitudes and approach to problem solving. We start with the crazy episodes and kids love finding fault with other people's performance. The BS detector means 'bad science' of course :-) And they do a decent job. Kids like pointing out they don't repeat their experiments and don't record much data because it would make boring TV. We also use their agar plate episode "The 5 second rule" to intro the project "Where is the dirtiest place in the school?" also using agar plates and requiring sterile technique. Want more details? Contact me and I'll send you the activity sheets we developed over several years. Sue

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