America’s Tsunami: Are We Next? (2005) is an in-depth documentary investigating the causes and human impact of the December 26, 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed over 250,000 people. The accompanying video guide contains 46 questions. They are predominantly higher order thinking questions, but there are some basic questions thrown into the mix. This documentary conceptually explores the scientific underpinnings that lead up to the tsunami, the massive destruction and impact it caused, and how the findings from this tsunami could impact future preparation plans.
This documentary is best suited for the following high school classes: geology, ecology, environmental science, and oceanography. Scientific concepts mentioned include plate tectonics, water displacement, natural disasters, wave dynamics, wave propagation, fault lines, seismic activity, deep ocean exploration, and the Cascadia fault line. There are some graphic images of dead bodies shown, so please address this with the students first. Nothing too graphic, but a word of warning none the less.
Blue Planet (1990) is an ecological documentary filmed originally in IMAX. It was filmed using footage from the space shuttle flights, which lends to an inclusive view of humanity’s impact on the planet. It is interesting how we view the planet a single unified organism when our perspective changes to that from space. The documentary does not get very technical as to the scientific explanations for human induced climate change, but it does present the concepts in an easy to understand manner. This would be a good documentary to show from grades 6 through 9. Higher order thinking questions dominate the guide, but there are some basic fact questions scattered in as well. The best use for this film would be as an introductory explanation to climate change, geography, and how the two relate to the evolution of life on Earth. It also shows the fragility of life and what makes it so special to our planet in the cosmos.
COSMOS Episode 1: Standing Up in the Milky Way (2014) is a remake of the classic Sagan series from the early 80s. The series has been thoroughly refreshed and updated for a new generation of learners, eager to see the Cosmos through fresh eyes. COSMOS is the story of us. It’s about how we got here as explained by the quantitative, unbiased powers of science. In the ship of the imagination, host Neil DeGrasse Tyson explores the fundamental questions humanity has about our evolution, our discoveries, our fate, and the meaning of our place in the universal scheme.
Origins: The Earth Is Born (2004) is a NOVA documentary, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, examining the history of the earth from its infancy up to the present. Even though this is from 2004, the visuals have aged extremely well. The cg is still impressive, even by today’s standards. The clarity of Tyson’s presentation is impeccable, making it easy to understand for the students. For example, Tyson condenses the entire history of the earth into a 24-hour day, giving a timescale the kids can relate to. The documentary gives a scientific explanation for the world we see today. It also helps us see, through the eyes of science, ourselves as a species as well. This documentary would be an excellent showing for the following classes: astronomy, astrophysics, physics, geology, biology, and history. Of the 33 questions on this documentary video guide, the overwhelming majority are higher-order in nature, with only a scattering of lower-level types. The concepts discussed include planet formation, plate tectonics, magnetic fields, solar system formation and dynamics, asteroid impacts, radiocarbon dating, magnetic pole movement, the solar wind, moon origins, chemical analysis of zircons, and spectroscopy.