How to Teach Pop Culture in Your Classroom

Pop culture and education do not have to exist in silos. Feeling limited in your curriculum? The stories that make Facebook headlines can also serve as meaningful teaching tools. Popular television shows, news stories, podcasts and other popular media can be embedded into your current curricula as well as help hone students’ digital literacy skills.

How to Teach TV Shows

One of the main themes of digital literacy is the ethical use of technology — how it impacts us and how we impact technology. Last year’s sleeper hit Mr. Robot is a fictional story that, to some, isn’t all that far-fetched. The rich and complex plot provides ample opportunities for use in various content areas. The script lends inspiration to storytelling units; the plot touches on ethics and morality; and the impressive cinematography provides visual metaphors for media studies. Not to mention the STEM focus of Elliot Anderson’s (Rami Malek) career in cybersecurity.

Similarily, the British anthology series Black Mirror (often compared to Twilight Zone) require the viewer to reflect and discuss the implications technology has (and will have) on our lives. While episodes push high school classroom boundaries, some courses in higher education have jumped on the Black Mirror bandwagon (see “Black Mirror as a Pedagogical Tool in the College Classroom”.) Teaching television programs such as Black MirrorTwilight Zone and Mr. Robot both provide an engaging framework for discussing appropriate use of technology, considering the ethics around digital footprints, and thinking about what the future holds for us.

How to Teach Trending Topics

Another component of digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information for accuracy and authenticity — teaching students how to make sense of the rampant noise on the internet.

Students must learn to not take things at “Facebook value”, but rather evaluate and critically think about what they come across on the internet, no matter who shares it. Facebook feeds are ripe with content for practicing critical thinking, especially when inaccurate or satirical articles, opining them as if they were factually accurate.

Stories from satirical publications like The Onion or The Daily Currant can be mistaken as true if the reader does not know or understand the purpose of the publication. Critical thinking skills are not only imperative for in-class assignments, but also for helping students become digital citizens: informed, active members of today’s society.

Cross-referencing and fact-checking information is necessary to ensure that the information one consumes is true. Citation generator EasyBib has a handy website evaluation tool that allows students to evaluate a website’s purpose, authority, accuracy, currency, and relevancy.

Critically evaluating information for accuracy and authenticity also has a home in recent issues in pop culture. The public’s rection to this summer’s RNC speech plagarism accusations highlighted the importance in knowing the difference between common knowledge, plagarism, and quoting someone. This event provides a great discussion point for your classroom: if students were to compare the two speeches as submitted classroom assignments, what grade would the plagarist receive?

There are several other examples in recent news of incidencts of plagarism and their repercussions:

How to Teach Podcasts

Season 1 of the podcast Serial was a pop culture phenomenon. The 12-part series, a re-examination of a 1999 murder investigation, captivated listeners and propelled public radio podcasts into the mainstream. Critical analysis of the trial and it’s parallels with Hamlet makes Serial an effective way to integrate nonfiction digital audio into the classroom. English teachers have also used Serial as a comparison tool to Romeo and Juliet and as a primary source document.

Students can also think critically about the podcast itself — not just the story — and whether its host had any bias in retelling the complex and riveting story.

Podcasts provide opportunities for students to practice listening skills and learn subject-specific content using technology, but students can also create their own. Many state and national standards encourage the responsible sharing of knowledge with larger audiences — the school, district, or even on the internet. Most mobile devices come with recording apps that let users upload recordings to Google Drive and other cloud platforms to share with classmates. Students can build digital literacy skills by leveraging podcasting and other technology to tell a personal story, answer a prompt based on a current unit, or share an opinion backed up by facts. To take sharing and collaboration global, try the free iOS app Anchor to share students’ podcast stories with a wider audience.

Popular shows, trending topics and viral podcasts are not mutually exclusive to education. These examples are just a handful of many that educators can leverage to incorporate relevant, engaging, and educational content into their curriculum and classrooms.

Here are additional resources for embedding pop culture into your classroom: