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Program Design, Development, and Quality

Breakthrough Episode One Recap: Fighting Pandemics

Breakthrough Episode One Recap

Breakthrough is produced by Hollywood power players Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and their Imagine Entertainment company. Each week a different actor or director will delve into real world, human stories that connect the ways that science impacts our lives. The directors include actors like Angela Bassett and Paul Giamatti, Producer/Directors like Ron Howard, Bret Ratner (X-Man) and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind; I, Robot) and Peter Beg (Friday Night Lights).

BOOST Collaborative will be publishing a special series of blogs from November 2 to December 14, highlighting each scientific discovery. The day after each episode’s air date, visit the blog to hear recaps and education connections from specialists reflecting on how each show’s topic relates to STEM. This week, we hear from Bridgett DeSonia and her reflections from Episode One: Fighting Pandemics. You can watch Breakthrough on the National Geographic Channel on Sundays at 9/8c.

If your students had to pick between the lesson you (painstakingly) crafted for tomorrow, or watching this week’s episode of the Walking Dead, which do you predict they would go for?

Be honest. Think it would even require a class vote? It brings me back to year one of teaching and being asked, “Would you buy a ticket to sit in on your own class?” Again, be honest. As much as some of us resist, hoping that the “intrinsic motivation switch” will magically turn on without aid, we are competing with a lot in order to engage our students in the learning process these days.

But those times…they are a-changin’! The conceptual shifts associated with the Next Generation Science Standards will help our students understand the interconnected nature of science and all other subject areas, and will illuminate how science is actually practiced in the real world—NGSS will prepare students to think and operate like actual practitioners of science. Instead of focusing on the what, we’ll be honing in on the how and the why.

But these concepts are not new to good teaching. Want kids to buy in? Make the learning relevant. “Hang it” on their previous knowledge. Connect it to their lives. Guide them to understand how it will benefit them, their families, their community and the world.

But how, you may ask, do you make (let’s just say) x-ray crystallography relevant to a young person? Or protein structure?

Or molecular biology in general, while you’re at it? Here’s how: You have an actual molecular biologist explain—with the aid of simple analogies—how x-ray crystallography and the resulting lab-created 3D protein map is being used to develop quick and affordable diagnostic tests to save people dying of Ebola. And you show the people dying from Ebola. The Walking Dead doesn’t hold a candle to that!

Visually stimulating, with quick and colorful cuts, powerful sound, and a decent degree of blood and gore, the premiere episode of National Geographic Channel’s new television series, BREAKTHROUGH, will certainly keep the attention of your students (and yes, that even includes that overflowing sixth period class buzzing after lunch). This episode, titled “Fighting Pandemics,” showcases an impressive array of concepts typically covered in a high school life science class including, but not limited to: immune response, virology, disease transmission, laboratory technique, modeling and data analysis, protein structure, and vaccination.

Even more powerful is the connection to the “real world.”

Not only is the recent terrifying Ebola outbreak used as a vector to transmit the learning, but the episode serves to highlight dozens of science careers as well as the application of scientists’ work to the health and safety of the world. Scientific method applied to defeating infection, and its further relationship to social justice and global health issues will resonate with many students. As an educator preparing students to enter into scientific fields, I especially appreciate the eloquence of the documentary in its illustration of science, teamwork and collaboration working hand-in-hand.

It is my experience that students want to understand why classroom lessons connect or have value in their lives; young people have an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves and a drive to do good things in this world. “Fighting Pandemics” may provide a forum for teachers to engage students in science as part of the greater human community.

bridgett desoniaBridgett DeSonia is a teacher-on-special assignment in the Grossmont Union High School District in east county, San Diego. After 8 years in the classroom teaching Medical Biology, Human Anatomy and Healthcare Essentials, she is currently the Lead Health Pathways Coordinator for the district, supporting programs that increase student awareness of health and medical careers, improve proficiency in science and strengthen the transition to post-secondary science programs. She enjoys photography, hiking with her husband and her pups, and (as you may have guessed) is a fan of AMC’s the Walking Dead. To learn more about the GUHSD Health Pathways, “like” their Facebook page or email Bridgett at [email protected]

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