Pop culture can greatly influence students’ opinions of STEM. What they see around them every day inevitably affects their interests and impacts their educational and career choices. Movies and television have made science “cool” to students by means of characters like eccentric inventor Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man from the Marvel franchise), or science fiction shows like Doctor Who. Modern culture has especially encouraged girls to get involved, changing the status quo of past decades.
Pop culture has played an integral role in promoting girls’ interest in STEM. Take the popular show, The X-Files, as an example. The show’s female lead, Dana Scully, a medical doctor and scientific skeptic inspired many female viewers to join the male-dominated fields of STEM. Surveys have shown that girls who watched The X-Files growing up were more likely to work in STEM and believed the field to be more important. Since then, pop culture has seen a plethora of female role models foster interest in STEM.
Perhaps a more recent example of a show that promoted girls in STEM was the well-known Mythbusters. The show revolved around solving myths and rumors by using science and engineering. Not only was it a blast to watch—often featuring huge explosions and overall destruction—but it made science fun and opened the eyes of many viewers as to what STEM was capable of. Even though the program’s two main hosts were men, one member of the team, Kari Byron, showed that using science to find answers and bust myths wasn’t just for the guys. Byron and Scully are only two examples of the broad shift that is taking pop culture by storm. As time goes on, interest in STEM is becoming more and more commonplace.
Why teach using pop culture? Not only has STEM’s appearance in pop culture encouraged students to pursue the field, but using pop culture in the STEM classroom can help promote a higher level of engagement. Although modern culture is moving towards a positive view of STEM, there are still many myths and negative connotations that go along with an interest in science. Showing pop culture in the classroom—such as discussing how the physics of Fast and Furious are often wrong—can help encourage students to look past these myths and view STEM as something that can be truly fun, interesting, and beneficial to society.
If you’re finding pop culture references to STEM aren’t resonating with your students right away, here are some tips to get them there faster:
Hopefully, the positive shift in our culture towards STEM acceptance will continue, showing students just how cool science can be and allowing them to be fearless in pursuing their interests. For more STEM articles subscribe to our blog!