Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Doctor Who as lesson plan

I've gotten several kids hooked on the new Doctor Who. One is a sharp kid who I can loan my disks and gets most of the references. The other two are waiting for me when I get home so they can come see new episodes. These two went to DC public schools and can't finish reading the opening scroll to Star Wars before it vanishes.

I try to help them understand the references as best I can. It really makes good jumping off points for lesson plans.

One of the first lessons was what a Police Box is and it's historical equivalent here in DC that I mentioned here a couple of weeks back.

One episode features Charles Dickens. The kids knew the name and knew about "A Christmas Carol" but never connected the two.

In one of the early episodes the sun expands and consumes the Earth in about 5 billion years. I was able to give them a brief summary of the life cycles of stars and how in 5-6.5 billion years the sun will expand as the fuel runs out and consume everything out to Mars. This came back later when the Doctor landed on a planet orbiting a black hole. They remembered where black holes come from.

Yesterday they learned about Shakespeare. They knew the name and recognized a couple of quotes. Then they asked if he was dead. I get that a lot from DC kids. No perspective about time and history. When I reminded them that what they were seeing was based 400 years ago in 1599 they knew he was good and dead. They also learned about several words that Shakespeare created.

Another particularly dim local kid can tell me the year that George Washington was born but then asks if I know him. Not "did I know him" but "DO I know him".

Also yesterday was an episode in New York during the Great Depression. I paused several times to explain what points of the story were true. Yes, the economy was so bad in the US that there were Hoovervilles (and what those were) and people were willing to do smelly, filthy work for a dollar a day. Yes, that's when the Empire State Building was built. Luckily they'd seen the Daleks before and I didn't need to explain that they weren't real.

But there were other points that I had to explain weren't real. I can kind of understand why. I mean if black holes are real why aren't sonic screwdrivers. Yes, Earth formed as bits of dust and rock collected and were pulled together into a large mass. No, the space craft of a bunch of giant spider aliens hiding from the Time Lords wasn't what pulled all that dust and rock together in the first place.

They learned about London and the Blitz during WWII. They've learned about Queen Elizabeth and all the attempts on her life. They learned about Madame De Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, King of France.

Plus, I leave the closed captioning on all the time in the hopes that they'll sink in a bit better.

I did the same thing when I loaned them "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" a couple of months ago. They'd heard of a bit more than half the people in the movie but still missed some of the gags like Sigmund Freud and his corndog.
I just realized, I never told them that Bill and Ted's time traveling phone booth was a spoof on Doctor Who's time traveling Police Box.

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