Yesterday, Erik sent me a tweet about using disaster movies as paper topics. It was in response to a tweet I had previously sent about Laura’s Glacial Lake Agassiz post, so I don’t think Erik was aware that I have a Hollywood paper assignment that I’ve used several times. But it got me thinking about the assignment and I’ve decided to post it over on my Google site.
I’ve talked before about the fact that I teach at a liberal arts college. In fact, all of my teaching positions have been at small colleges that have a strong emphasis on “writing across the curriculum.” I first came up with the idea for assigning a five-page analysis of a disaster flick when teaching a 6-week introductory Volcanoes & Civilization class. I had been encouraged to go for more qualitative, less quantitative assignments in the class and decided that a paper could serve as the final for the class. The students would have to take what they had learned over the course of the semester and apply the knowledge to deciding what was scientifically “correct” and “questionable” in a volcanic eruption portrayed by a film / TV show / cartoon. The assignment worked well, so when I taught Physical Geology the following semester, I gave them a slightly modified version of the paper. For them, it was a mid-semester project instead of a final substitute, but the students enjoyed the excuse to watch a movie & the papers turned out well.
That same semester I was teaching an intro level class that was not on my top 10 list of classes I ever thought of or wanted to teach. To save myself from having to teach the class over and over again, I proposed a new Earthquakes & Volcanoes class and decided to make it writing intensive to fill a need in the department. The main writing components were weekly news journals and a 5-page disaster movie paper (I expanded it to include earthquakes as well as volcanic eruptions). The paper was given a large role in the class (at least one re-write required; a second re-write was optional) to fulfill the writing enhanced requirements. With 90 students, reading two drafts of the papers was a definite time sink, but I was happy with the end result both semesters I taught the class.
I’ve also posted the list of movies / TV shows / cartoons that students have chosen over the four semesters I’ve used this assignment. The list is definitely not a complete list of volcano & earthquake disaster flicks, but it does have 90+ suggestions due to the size of my classes. If there’s a title you believe I should add or you have a comment about one already on the list, please just leave a comment below.