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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Bill Kuhl's picture

This was a comment I received on another forum that I found amusing:

Say what you want about "Mythbusters" but it got my teenage son interested in actually doing something with his hands other than twisting the screws on a video game. Yes we had to call the fire department once and the police showed up a couple of times but I think the show helped him realize that the real world is every bit as interesting as fantasy. Now he's on his way to a degree in mechanical engineering. If there's a god may he bless Jamie and Adam and the whole crew.

Betty Ray's picture
Betty Ray
Senior Editor at Large

I love all these stories about Mythbusters, and how teachers and students are using it. It's piquing my curiosity on a larger question. What do you folks think of this idea of challenge-based education. which is - in a sense - a type of "edutainment." Apple cites TV shows like Mythbusters and Project Runway, where a team is given a challenge and limited time and resources and must come up with the most creative/effective etc solution. I love the comment that you pulled, Bill, from the parent who's son went into mechanical engineering because of the show. It does seem like these types of shows can demonstrate real-world insights into a field. But I'm sure it can also be somewhat distorted for the small screen. What are the merits - and pitfalls - of challenge-based education?

Bill Kuhl's picture

I was thinking about what can be learned from all of this, how could lessons be created from this type of scenario. Blame seems to be going around to everyone. The concept of "lean manufacturing" was brought up, using one supplier for a part that is used in many models. If the part is perfect, this should save costs in many ways, but if there is a problem, the problem is spread through all the units that use that part. It might be interesting to try to come up with lists of positives and negatives to new manufacturing methods.

Bill Kuhl

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

As I said above, I'm a big fan of CBL, but, as you suggest, Betty, I've noticed a number of pitfalls. The first one's a bit humourous - kids want to see things blow up, and there are real limits as to what you can blow up in schools!

Equally, I worry that some subjects might suffer from a CBL approach - the humanities, and especially subjects like history, might really struggle to generate the same kind of interest, although, I imagine, there might be ways around that.

The real thing that I've noticed about CBL work is that preparation time and cost increase a great deal. I mean, if you are building planes, like in Bill's example, or creating experiments like I mentioned, then you need to be well prepared - and that takes time and costs money.

Having said that, it's really no excuse if you're a committed teacher!

Bill Kuhl's picture

Time is a big factor but I have been trying to come up with cheap projects from materials that are cheap or normally thrown away. My Foam Jet II glider is made of foam plates and foam meat tray material with a small amount of cardboard from a milk carton. Water rockets can be built from mainly recycleable materials also.

Foam Jet II article, plan, and link to video:

Bill Kuhl

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

Thanks Bill. I'll definitely be using some of those ideas!

Alison Bryant's picture

I am interested in using Mythbusters to show how the scientific method is not just a list of steps, rather that it is applied to everyday questions and problems. It becomes a way of thinking. Any suggestions on which episode to use and is there a way to view it online?

John Shelton's picture

I can't help you with specific episodes, but I can tell you that if you have Netflix, you can watch many episodes of Mythbusters online. Hulu/the Discovery channel website doesn't have full episodes, but they have lots of clips which might do the trick. Another similar resource that might be useful for Science PBL is MAKE Magazine and its spin-off TV show on PBS. You can watch full episodes of the show at

KellyAnn Bonnell's picture
KellyAnn Bonnell
STEAM Integration Manager


You'd be surprised how effective CBL can be used in arts and humanities when the projects are developed effectively. In 2007, I was part of a team that developed a collaboration between a local high school in AZ and a local arts organization. The foundation of the project was a musical theatre production called "The Christmas Schooner". This was an arts and humanities project because the musical was based on an actual piece of American history. We engaged the entire high school in the experience at different levels.

We put Career Trades students as interns to work in the theatre, helping them to meet real world standards in their content areas. We placed Fashion design students in the costume shop, building trades students in the scene shop, etc. We then worked with teachers in all content areas to integrate the production in real ways into their classrooms. Math students helped the set crew build a scale model of the actual christmas schooner from history. We also provided math teachers with materials on dead reckoning and vectoring. History classes studied the historical context of the play becoming dramaturgs for the production. Medical sciences students did medical models of diseases that would have existed during that period of history. English classes studied the play. Early childhood teaching students planned lessons about boats and christmas trees.

The video production students documented the project, marketing students where charged with the special duty of planning and marketing a fund raiser for the final dress rehearsal of the show. And culinary arts students were engaged in catering the event. The entire school came away with an understanding of a little known piece of history and many had never seen a live theatre production. They met academic learning goals and standards in each content area while achieving this project.

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