Popular Culture in the Classroom
From the wide range of materials teachers can use in the classroom, popular culture is one of the best sources. They appear to public attention as the indication of the rapid growth of the society. Many of the pop culture icons are mostly well-known, regionally and internationally. Students enjoy working with pop culture that they are familiar with. Some of them think that such materials are less intimidating than heavy textbooks. With appropriate use and organized application, the pop icons can be remarkable teaching tools in the classroom. Reading sources and mass produced resources are widely available in all seasons, giving teachers plentiful options.
Despite the ‘pop’ reputation, the community does not need to worry that these materials would wreck the traditional schooling rules. Modern people are quite erudite to recognize popular culture items more than just as second-class articles. In fact, the culture symbols were excellently created as the output of knowledgeable way of thinking; many of them were even carefully crafted to suffice the grown-up market, and they look just exactly like scholarly products.
Working on the same subject of learning, teachers and students often see the problem from different point-of-views. Within less supportive environment and lack of background information, students do not always grab what the teacher aims, lose their motivation, and finally fail to accomplish the objectives. The tense is even higher for some subjects that are considered complicated, such as literature and mathematics, even if it is only the murky presumption.
As students have different learning styles, it is teacher’s job to provide variety of materials that facilitate them to choose which one works best to understand the lesson better and faster. Popular culture offers loads of facts to fulfill this idea.
Popular Culture in Language (Literacy) Class
Popular culture is a great literary resource for young and adult learners. With apposite selection of the pieces, they accommodate the students’ learning process. Students can use their knowledge of these pop items, to analyze and expose their outlook of the articles. Finally it would help them to develop their literacy skills, just like the way their seniors did in conservative-classic-schoolbook-reading class. Teachers can make use of the hit list of popular books, music, films, sports and many other current issues that flutter over the students’ lunch table.
With the great charm of entertainment of the pop movies and toys, teachers can always invite students to enjoy their learning in a low barrier. Students can experience less threatening atmosphere, and it is possible to create this friendly learning situation anywhere; it doesn’t have to be in school for all time. This means, the continual use of pop culture resources would gradually develop student’s affection to learning activities, since students would discover a new chance and technique to express their thoughts. They are free to use their imagination and achieved reading, listening, and other literacy skills. Hence, the learning process would be threatening no more.
As an example, a research was done on using Teletubbies and Batman as the teacher’s tool to teach literacy in young learners’ class (Marsh, 2000). The two popular children movies were useful to motivate six- and seven-year-old student groups. In literature lessons, teacher can introduce reading and writing skills practices, once the popular example does its job to rouse students’ attention to the session.
Marsh (2000) placed Batman in her children class for researching the motivational potential of the fiction to the young learners. Along with a reproduction of Batman cave, she placed assortment of reading materials depicting the hero’s life, consisting of robes, boards, comics, pictures and computer. In a role-play, the children showed positive attitude toward the given literatures. They went into Batman’s world, and recreated what the pictures and stories had shown them into their own buildings of stories and drawings. The qualitative research had successfully shown the effect of pop culture to trigger the eagerness around the student. It even worked for reluctant students that previously withdrew from conventional assessment like reading, in ordinary class.
Children also become a target of the changing cultural trend each time, and it seems that children can adapt well to the situation. Thanks to the evolving fashion, teachers have rich entries from movies, song (may include the young adult category), children fiction and non-fiction books, and popular cartoon items following the hit shows on television (instead, or supplementary to, the classic ones).
Children have a lot of time adapting to the real world by first trying to build their own world with their toys. Some children, especially the kinesthetic learners learn best when they touch, examine, or even knock their toys down. The teacher’s part is to assimilate some outside information on how technical things work with the toys (for example, batteries give them power to run, some dolls’ microchips record their voice to imitate, or plastic skins do not bath well in hot shower); that young learners can exercise to draw conclusions on simple scientific facts.
Similarly to the Batman research, the Teletubbies research was also conducted to find out how the popular series enhanced the toddlers’ motivation to participate in classroom activities, on following instructions. The children’s motivation throve after they knew they had to create Tubby custard. Following instruction was no problem, as long as they knew they would get the cake done. The movie provided them the basic environment, a familiar imaginary land, where they could work with their imagination. They might realize that without learning the language their Tubby project wouldn’t work.
For international exposure, popular culture also has a sharp end to break the cultural barrier between the learners and the foreign language they are studying. Brooks (1994) showed the use of manga, a current trend of Japanese illustration, which made flourishing comics, computer games or image collection software, to help illuminating culture talk in the class.
One way to use manga is by presenting the translation version into a literature class. For example, Mangajin monthly that was translated into English and Japanese language depicted Japanese culture, which would help studying culture and Japanese language for English-speaking students. The others were in the form of comics that include both versions of language in the book (English and Japanese), for example The Teenage Tokyo comic by Boston Children’s Museum (Brooks, 1994).
For foreign learners, a book in double-language presentation is an alternative to an original or translated edition. The stories are fun and it is easier to refer sentences in both languages than to have a dictionary in hand each time. After they build the interest, the learners hopefully will find the supplementary materials by themselves for self-study. As the topic and presentations are interesting, the language would be the other interest, the next one to master, not only for school, but also for curiosity and enjoyment.
Meanwhile, the manga illustration is easy to understand. The figures are brilliant and instantly capture consumers’ attention. Not just in its origin, manga also has gained international acknowledgement. Although basically the illustration was used to demonstrate Japanese culture, in its development, the Japanese writers and illustrators draw manga for western stories and aim them for international marketplaces.
As somehow the illustrations are “associated with entertainment, not with textbooks” (Brooks, 1994, par. 5), manga can integrate well in any type of subjects, such as social, politics, economics, science, or literatures. Teacher can use them as intermediary between the subject and the learners, in direct or implicit teaching technique. For example, manga caricature had been used to teach about the heating issue of U.S.-Japan relationship.
If popular culture is commonly seen as degrading materials (comics and mass paperback ghost stories were taken away from kids’ reading list), it may be necessary to have a second look at them. The pop readings work to embellish the learners’ reading environment, before they have to cope up with advanced passages and various types of readings. In here, teacher can see the benefit of students’ “out-of school literacy experiences” contribute to their performance in the classroom (Marsh, 2000).
Popular Culture in Science Class
Apart from formulaic issues students have to deal with, natural science always has interesting facts and figures to add to one’s knowledge every day. However, some teachers and students often take up classroom practices from the wrong start.
While crammed with valuable and scientific information, some textbooks do not always present themselves graciously to the readers (Kelsky, 2002, par. 8). Some conventional lectures also introduce them to students as the beneficial handbook, but only as a matter of lists of information, without presenting proper and obvious relations of the facts to the magical use of science in human life. As the result, there were many students complaining about long, sleepy, boring, science classes, while in the other night, they watched meteor rains with jaws fall, ignorant of what the figure was, without even remembering that the phenomenon was explained in full sessions in class a week before.
2002 study from Pew Internet and American Life organization (Pew Internet, 2002) showed that about 86% of U.S. college students turn to the Net for their academic and social life. 80% of the students reckon that the Internet had changed their academic life and 60% thanked the Net for their social life improvement.
The Internet is a new phenomenon, booming to change everyone-in-every-continent’s life. The use of the Internet has been increasing rapidly in the last decade, not only in the adult communities, but also children and juveniles.
With many educational organizations going online, teachers can benefit the convenience of online communities, to encourage the students to tuck some ‘science’ and ‘learning’, while they are surfing their favorite sites and saving gossips.
Curry, D.L. (2003) recorded some museums that provide online tours and interactive rooms where students can communicate online and participate in virtual workshops. The American Museum of National History, for example, is full of colorful pictures and animation in scientific categories. Children visitors can always send messages and share their thoughts, even interacting with expert hosts from the museum.
The Photography Museum, San Francisco’s Exploratorium and Smithsonian Online also provide online image resources on researches and common earth and life science. In this case, students can enjoy online research, as an alternative to long, somewhat dusty, library scrutiny. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History also provides abundant resources and pictures of scientific stuffs from amphibian to vertebrae paleontology, as well as links to teacher’s resources, student’s activities and offline tour programs. However, if the class lacks of time, as the alternative to virtual museum, teacher can explore educational software with students on their computer or assign the students to log in to the sites at home and do their research to finish a take-home task..
This method naturally requires serious supports from the school (or the community foundation), to provide adequate computer hardware and software, along with teacher training to function the facilities.
Many students find logging on to the Internet is easy and amusing. They are loaded with curiosity and amazed with their easiness of exploring the world in their fingertips. Instead of cramming into their book as solely source, they can follow the links to relate factual numbers and formulas directly to the earth phenomenon and living things to see the whole existence of the scientific subject. Visual learners and busy people apparently would enjoy this method.
Popular Culture in Mathematics Class
Although mathematics is the strong basic of many applied science fields, many students do not welcome their math lessons well. In fact, there is still a great need of improvement in delivering mathematic lessons in class. Modern teachers understand that math always has an alarming effect to a great number of students in various levels of education; hence the teachers endlessly research on alternative ways to make the lessons enjoyable, so that students would get the most from the lessons.
Nooriafshar, M. (2002) thought that it is important for teachers to “maximize the enjoyment from learning, minimize the general fear associated with a mathematical topic, maximize students’ perception of the practical uses of the topic, and minimize the distance between theory and practice.”
From his study he found out that student’s reluctance toward mathematics might start in the “first half of the lectures” and lasted until the end of the semester. From 40% students who didn’t enjoy mathematics, more than 50% preferred graphics and more than 40% preferred the teacher to give plenty of verbal explanations.
The study revealed that multimedia system gave a big help to teaching and learning process. First, to create a pleasant environment, far before students had to deal with numbers, the multimedia provided an interactive atmosphere and colorful, animated graphics that the students were able to manipulate. Although packing the similar basic materials, the multimedia system allowed the students to do the programming simulations and quizzes in fresh approach.
In Dynamic Programming subject, he tried to apply animated computer program and “general-purpose approach,” a simplified programming deduction using daily examples like comparing prices in different shops while shopping, to encourage students to work on the topic without feeling distressed on the numeric operations. Dynamic Programming deals with multistage formulas to create chronological steps “to solve mathematical programming problems.” Students learned every step to decision-making process, and the learning process was quite interactive using the animation option. Before he used the general-purpose approach, only 65% of the students did the Dynamic Programming examination well (p. 4), and he managed to increase it to 95% level.
Burghes, D. And Galbraith, P. (2000) also offered an alternative to use the national UK lottery as popular culture inclusion in common mathematic class. This is a prominent event that many people would care to spend their money and build much curiosity. About 50 million pound spent every week. There are also similar lotteries with slightly different application in other countries.
The national lottery drawing in the UK taught the applicable use of combination and would be appropriate to use as a teaching material. Six from 49 numbers were chosen. In this case, students learned how to use combinations in drawing lotteries. Ticket buyers could count how big their possibility to hit the jackpot or subsequent prizes. Student learned the procedures of lottery drawing and hopefully they would find the link and practical use of their combination formulas to apply in actual situation. As the example covered national attention, it is possible to use the illustration for national curriculum (Burghes, D. And Galbraith, P. 2000. p.6).
The most useful feature of popular culture is the ability it has to create friendly atmosphere to students apart from the facts that they still have to deal with the standard content of the curriculum. By using popular instances, students can build awareness towards the applicable pointers of their study subjects faster than when they have to digest the textbook materials in advance of their class.
Kelsky (2002) recognized the shift in students’ response when in practice she pitched questions regarding pop series such as Seinfeld and Star Trek The Next Generation, and drew a line from the shows’ popularity to the values they bore with the particular chapter the class was discussing. The learners showed great enthusiasm and enjoyed the conversation on examples the lecturer gave, regarding TV series they loved to see. It was simply because the students might have understood the background information and built mental rapport with the given issues.
Kelsky thought that one example taken from something close to the students’ life gave sufficient draw to their attention. In fact that was what they really needed, compared to one sophisticated example of case they never heard before (par. 6).
In Purdue University, popular culture was also used to teach leadership principles. The associate dean created a program that instructed the students to watch the “Survivor” show, assuming that they would learn how a man should make tough decision and picture how a real leader should be like. He thought that it was best for students to see how leadership took place in life incidence, rather than merely reading theoretical explanations from the textbooks (Flora, 2002).
School and national board may need to pay serious attention on this issue. Official boards need to pass on the subject to national curriculum development as inputs to provide teachers with new resources, and new approach to help them to achieve their teaching objectives quicker than the one-way-speech approach.
According to Laws and Hastings (2002) report, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded around $140 million by 2003 for science and mathematics teaching reform, such as building school computer network and buying educational software. The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) was one major source for the grants, and had helped undergraduate education with material supplies, software, and opened up the networking community with many independent scientific projects like EarthMath, BioQUEST, and the Middle Atlantic Discovery Chemistry Project, and Workshop Physics. The projects relate one science to another, mathematics to global warming, chemistry to computing; therefore students experience the forest as well as they see the tree. Students would not be trapped in one small room of scientific talk, instead they would be able to pitch it to other direction that has links to what they learn in school.
University of high school can adapt smaller projects that barely cost thousands of dollars and still get the best to exercise students’ vision, for example creating their own publication. Internal fund would suffice this type. This use of pop style gives students room for creativity and innovation to learn deeply their subjects of interest. Students can create something new based on their lessons, for example writing about controversies on their favorite WWF Smackdown or Pokemon series. They open up to detect social issues related to the subject they are studying and picture the future use of their science and language.
In University of California for example, students run The Adams Avenue Newspaper Project. The students develop their own sensitivity to discus and make reports about their community as journalists. They interviewed sources from local media, get the neighborhood’s words, and design their own paper. As young players were behind the wheel, they love to cover hot topics taken from magazines, TV and the Internet, about computer games or even violence (Amster, 2000, pars. 3-4)
In this case, students learn actively not only about what they have inside their mind, but also what happen around them. It is important to carry out simple but effective program that enable students to make decisions and respond actively to what they learn.
Amster, S. (2000). Shakespeare vs. Teletubbies: Is There a Role for Pop Culture in the Classroom? Adams 5th Publication July/August 2000. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Harvard Education Letter Research Online. Web site: http://www.adams5th.com/journalism.htm
Brooks, E. (1994). Japanese Popular Culture in the Classroom. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from National Clearinghouse for U.S.-Japan Studies Indiana University. Web site: http://www.indiana.edu/~japan/digest3.html
Burghes, D. And Galbraith, P. 2000. Teaching Mathematics Through National Lotteries. International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching University of Exeter. Web site: http://www.ex.ac.uk/cimt/ijmtl/ijnatlot.pdf
Curry, D.L. (2003) Taking Trips to Museums Online. In The Digital Classroom Questions and Answers. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Creative Classroom Online. Web site: http://www.creativeclassroom.org/ma03tech/qanda.html
Flora, G. March 21, 2002. Purdue Students Learn Leadership Skills From Pop Culture Programs. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Purdue University. Web site: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/UNS/html3month/020321.Malavenda.class.html
Kelsky, K. (2002). Clicking With Large Classes. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Teaching Effectiveness Program Academic Learning Services University of Oregon. Web site: http://tep.uoregon.edu/resources/spotlight/clicking.html
Laws, P.W. And Hastings, N.B. (2002). Reforming Science and Mathematics Teaching: FIPSE as A Catalyst For Change. Change Magazine. Sep-Oct. 2002.
Marsh, J. (2000). Popular Culture in The Classroom. Literacy Today no. 24. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from The National Literacy Trust. Web site: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/Pubs/marsh.html
Nooriafshar, M. (2002) The Use Of Innovative Teaching Methods For “Maximizing” The Enjoyment From Learning Mathematical Concepts. International Journal for Mathematics Teaching and Learning. Retrieved Mar. 25, 2003 from Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching University of Exeter. Web site: http://www.ex.ac.uk/cimt/ijmtl/nooriafsharm1.pdf
Pew Internet and American Life. (2002). Majority of U.S. College Students On The Net. Retrieved Mar 25, 2003 from Pew Internet Organization. Web site: http://www.pewinternet.org/releases/release.asp?id=50
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