Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Movies I Like to Show

Posted on: June 6, 2008

October SkyI have several movies that I show throughout the year. The first one is called “October Sky.” I show this while we are studying Newton’s Laws. The movie is about a group of students living in a coal mining town in West Virginia. They decide to build a rocket in response to the launch of Sputnik. The students go through quite a lot to launch their rockets and they go on to win the national science fair. This is a true story; the author, Homer Hickam, went on to work for NASA. It’s a very inspiring story, and it leads into our building and launching of model rockets. If you don’t own this movie and you teach physics, get on eBay right this second.

Apollo 13I save “Apollo 13” for the three days right before a big vacation break, usually Christmas. You could build an entire course around this movie, but I use it as a rebuttal to all those who say the moon landings were faked. Yes, I get that every year and I battle it head on. I watched the landings in the sixties and seventies, I remember them very clearly even though I was a kid at the time.   The movie isn’t just good science, it’s a great movie.  There isn’t a dry eye in the classroom when this movie ends. Make sure you leave time to show the behind the scenes material. They talk about going up in the vomit comet, getting permission from NASA to build a set inside the plane and filming scene after scene in free fall. That’s why the movie is so realistic, kudos to Ron Howard.

Contact with Jodie FosterK-Pax with Kevin SpaceyThe next two movies I trade off, more for me than for them, although I showed them both last year. This year I did a unit on astronomy and only had time for one of them. Both are great for inspiring discussion on life outside of Earth, the speed of light, and the scope of space. This year I showed “Contact” with Jodie Foster. The other movie is “K-Pax.” Most of my students haven’t seen either of these, so it’s really my call. I actually like “K-Pax” better, but “Contact” has a little more science that I can teach around.

Real GeniusI picked up “Real Genius” this week, it was on sale at Borders. I’m not sure where to fit it in, maybe just as an emergency lesson plan. It’s rated PG, but it has a few jokes that I’m not thrilled with.  Not that the seniors haven’t heard or said a whole lot worse. It’s actually very funny, but loaded with enough real science to justify consideration. Those airborne lasers are no longer science fiction.  There’s enough cool and wow to make the kids ask if those things are real.  I figure if they are asking questions, I’m half-way there.


4 Responses to "Movies I Like to Show"

Homer Hickham wrote “Rocket Boys” – book that October Sky is based on…great book and movie is as faithful to book as a movie can be! Recommend book highly!

I use October Sky as a lunchtime or afterschool activity with free pizza as a kickoff to promote the regional science fair. It gets kids interested and then they take it from there….

this Eye crying movie is AWSOME!!!!!I love this movie!

I show “Real Genius” every year the night before the AP exam. I like it because the movie doesn’t just have smart characters; it revels in their intelligence — and there is no hint that being smart in science makes you less interesting or less “human”. The heroes win by being smart; the antagonists are generally smart, too. Intelligence is viewed as more than just useful.

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