As a little girl I remember watching movies in which Alexander Graham bell invented the telephone, Frederick Banting raced to find a life-saving treatment for diabetes, and Louis Pasteur fought his colleagues to take his germ theory seriously. These biographical science movies sparked a lifelong interest not only in science, but in the people responsible for scientific innovation. Today there are even more science movies, many with additional resources, that will be sure to inspire your students. The ten films listed in this article are suitable for the classroom and the homeschool setting, and are best for students in the later elementary or middle school years, right up through the end of high school and beyond.
Students who are interested in history and people will appreciate films that gives them a chance to develop a deeper appreciation for who this scientist was as a person. Einstein’s Big Idea looks at a number of scientists who came before Einstein, like Michael Faraday and Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, and shows how their work contributed to the development of the theory of relativity. Similar movies include Galileo’s Battle for the Heavens and Newton’s Dark Secrets. All of these are Nova science movies, and each has a web page of additional learning resources.
Made for the big screen, the movie Creation emphasizes the impact of Darwin’s emerging theory of evolution on his personal and professional life. Darwin’s Brave New World looks at many of these same things, but was created to be a teaching tool as well as a movie. Part of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things it also has a companion web site that allows students and teachers to learn more about Darwin and his fellow scientists.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute films
A series of lectures presented to high school students has been released on DVD and in webcast format, and are available for classroom and homeschool use. For more information on the series, see the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) BioInteractive web site.
Films in this series are a wonderful addition to a homeschool science program in particular, because they take a lecture format that may be somewhat unfamiliar to homeschoolers. For all students they represent a fabulous opportunity to learn from cutting edge scientists, and to see other students in the lecture hall or on the video link asking thoughtful questions about the material that is being presented.
The Meaning of Sex: Genes and Gender explores what really makes us male or female, from a scientific perspective. Vascular Disease and Regeneration looks at whether cardiac tissue could heal without scarring, after a heart attack. Learning from Patients: The Science of Medicine discusses what doctors and research scientists can learn from cancer patients and from people with neurological disorders such as Rett syndrome, a condition similar to autism. 2000 and Beyond: Confronting the Microbe Menace is about infectious diseases and epidemics, while Immunology deals with the immune system. Lesson plans and other educational resources are available for the movies, on HHMI at the web site. There are also a number of virtual labs on the web site that allow students more hands-on experience.
Any one of these science movies is a great way to stir up interest in science or to allow keen students to develop deeper understanding of how scientists work. Many of the selections visited can be viewed online free of charge, and others should be easy to find at your local library. They make a great addition to a school library or science resource collection, and are valuable tools for career or history education, as well as for students who need to do school projects. Check one out today!