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Using Zombies to Teach STEM

Zombies are a popular genre of entertainment, but who knew they could also make excellent teaching tools? Education News recently shared that the companies Texas Instruments (TI) and The Science & Entertainment Exchange (part of the National Academy of Sciences, or NAS) have collaborated to come up with a program that teachers can use to teach students about disease epidemiology through “zombie science.” Dubbed the “STEM Behind Hollywood Program,” students in middle and high school classrooms across the nation will soon have access to these new zombie-themed materials. Of particular importance is that students will learn how they can use math and science to combat diseases, hopefully inspiring more students to pursue future STEM careers.

Hollywood and STEM

In a press release, Texas Instruments announced that zombies will be one of a group of popular subjects that will be used to teach STEM. With the support and advocacy of neuroscientist and actress Mayim Bialik and the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange program, TI will release additional materials that employ superheroes, “true crime” and science fiction to engage students in STEM lessons. Teachers can access the programs at the STEM Behind Hollywood website and students and teachers can download activities directly to TI-NspireTM CX graphing calculators and iPads. According to TI President Melendy Lovett, “We are helping teachers draw young people into STEM by showing the ‘cool factor’ of real-life science and math behind the magic they see in movies and on TV. We are very excited to work with The Science & Entertainment Exchange and our STEM education brand ambassador Mayim Bialik on this initiative to capture students’ imaginations and cultivate a lifelong interest in STEM subjects and careers.”

Much brainpower went into the development of the programs, with assistance from Bialik herself and scientists who act as consultants on television shows and films to ensure scientific accuracy. In the first zombie-themed activity, students investigate what would cause and contribute to a “zombie pandemic.” Students even study zombie brains to better understand how a brain works. While a “zombie pandemic” is not meant to be taken seriously, Dr. Steven C. Schlozman, a major contributor to the program and Harvard professor, feels that the walking dead have much to offer to budding scientists. He stated, “It’s important to know zombies aren’t real but that doesn’t mean we can’t think out loud in the classroom about what makes them sick and have teachable moments with students on epidemiology and neurology. This first activity takes scary, real-life scenarios like avian flu or Ebola outbreaks and turns it into something we can talk about and have some fun with, while still learning and exploring some very serious science concepts.”

More Zombie Resources

Zombies can also be used to enhance geography lessons, according to the website Gamification. David Hunter, a middle school geography teacher in Bellevue, Washington, was concerned that students were not retaining much from their social studies classes. As a result, he created his own zombie-centric curriculum entitled “Zombie Based Learning: Geography Lessons Set in a Zombie Apocalypse.” He replaced burdensome textbooks with graphic novels and incorporated gaming into his lessons. The lessons are easy to implement, interactive and the graphic novel Dead Reckon helps students understand geography concepts such as “community planning, migration patterns and physical systems such as landforms and climate.” His curriculum is quickly gaining traction across the country and the National Council of Geographic Education praised the materials as being the best geography lessons they have ever encountered. When asked about the allure of his zombie-based curriculum, Hunter said, “People ask, ‘do you think it’s the zombies that make it exciting?’ I think the thing that makes it exciting are people thinking how you could learn something that wasn’t extremely boring. How you could learn and actually enjoy [the material], and have it be memorable.”

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