Hollywood paper

What it is: a 5-page paper taking apart the fictional portrayal of a volcano or earthquake within a movie / TV show / cartoon.

Where I've used this: I assigned the first version of this paper when I taught Volcanoes & Civilization (a 6-week intro class) in Spring 2008.   I've also used this in a physical geology class (Fall 2008).   I revised the requirements to also include earthquakes when I designed a writing-intensive intro Earthquakes & Volcanoes class, which I taught Fall 2009 and Spring 2010.

My goals for the paper:
  • have students apply the knowledge they've learned over the course of the semester to distinguish between what Hollywood was trying to do and what is geologically reasonable
  • make students more aware of the fact that how science is used in the movies is frequently skewed
  • improve student's writing skills
Requirements for the paper:
  • each student has to pick a movie / TV show / cartoon that contains a volcanic eruption (or an earthquake in later revisions)
  • only one student per movie / TV show / cartoon -- there are plenty out there, so this doesn't cause issue
    • the first few times I used this assignment, I didn't have a list of "suggestions" and I kept having to come up with ideas for the last few students to search out
    • the last time I taught the class, I posted a "suggested" list and added the clause that student's who chose a movie / TV show / cartoon not on the list would get extra credit on their final paper (B- to B worth)
    • I'll post my list of volcano and earthquake movies that student's have used to so -- if you have ones to add, please comment on my blog
    • I've done this assignment with 90 students at a time, so the list is not short
  • the eruption (or earthquake) doesn't have to be long -- I've had students write very good papers on 1-2 minutes worth of view time
  • the student has to show a physical copy or send the instructor a link to the chosen movie / TV show / cartoon several weeks in advance of the 1st draft due -- I learned this after the first round when several students still hadn't received a copy of their choice a day before the 1st draft was due
  • what's required within the paper:
    • Title & student's name
    • Intro paragraph with a strong thesis statement at the end
    • "Data" or "what's actually portrayed"
      • type of volcanism / earthquake represented by the film / show
      • cause of the volcanism / seismicity according to the writers
      • hazards that the characters within the film / show face due to the volcano / earthquake
      • human vs. volcano / earthquake interactions (e.g. shoddy building doesn't fall down due to shaking, huge chasms open & swallow samurai, concrete barriers divert lava flow, Jeep drives over lava flow)
    • "Interpretation" or "how did the writers do scientifically?"
      • does that type of volcanism / earthquake make sense for the geographical location they chose?  (e.g. plate tectonic setting)
      • is the cause for the volcanism / earthquake reasonable?
      • are the hazards correctly portrayed? (e.g. people were running around without any trouble breathing in the ash cloud; characters could walk in a straight line while the Love waves were passing by)
      • are the human vs. volcano / earthquake interactions believable?
    • conclusion paragraph that restates the thesis statement at the beginning
    • references
      • at least 2+ non-internet sources (textbooks are fine)
      • in APA format
      • should also be referenced within the text
    • time specific references within the "data" section as to when events occurred
      • e.g. Dane drove over the lava flow in his Jeep (15.34).
      • this is so the instructor can find the appropriate points in the film without too much issue
    • typed, double-spaced, 12-pt font
The grading rubric is here.

last revision: 4. February 2011