OLU: Cool Teacher’s Guide to Pop Culture in the Classroom

by Staff Writers

When you see a Lady Gaga music video, do you think of it as a teachable material for your classroom? Probably not. But for some visionary teachers, pop culture is a useful tool that can help get students interested and engaged in learning, and even offer resources for better understanding classroom material.

Why Teach Pop Culture?

Pop culture offers an opportunity for educators to meet students where they are. Students spend much of their time interacting with popular culture, and using it as an educational tool allows teachers to make that time more productive. A 2010 Kaiser Family Institute reportindicates that youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend approximately 7.5 hours per day, seven days per week using media, including TV, music, video games, and books. That’s up to 53 hours every week that could potentially be directed into learning.

Meeting students where their interests lie allows educators to better communicate with their pupils. Students who aren’t interested in discussing historical details are likely to open up quickly when you mention a popular YouTube video or sports team. Although bringing popular culture into the classroom isn’t always directly related to learning, it does allow teachers to capture the attention of students who would otherwise not be interested.

“Let them tell you about their world and you’ll have a much easier time telling them about yours,” says history professor Clay Morgan. “Effective teaching hinges upon communication, and you can’t communicate without entering into the world of those you wish to reach.”

Thanks to popular shows like Sesame Street, students today are now used to learning through “edutainment.” In fact, PBS reports that there are more than 74 million “graduates” ofSesame Street in the United States alone. Learning through entertainment is nothing new to the current generation of students, so it feels natural for them to experience learning through pop culture in the classroom. They may not even know that it’s happening. “Students go home laughing about the TV we discussed and often fail to realize that we conducted a sociological study,” Morgan says. “That’s edutainment.”

Pop culture consumers, including students, are interested in learning about science and history through media. You only need to look at box office hits to understand that students can appreciate edutainment. Titanic is the second-highest grossing movie of all time. The movie may not have followed complete historical accuracy, but this does show that the interest is there for educators to capitalize upon.

Pop culture outside the classroom inspires learning as well. It’s important to note that although students are spending nearly 53 hours every week enjoying some sort of media, time spent reading books and other printed media is included in that figure. Overall interaction with media is on the rise, and that includes reading. In fact, time spent reading books has increased over the past 10 years. Students are connecting with media, no doubt, but educators can influence and steer at least some of that connection into media that offers educational value.

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