Man of Steel: Kryptonian Evolution

In this lesson, students watch the movie Man of Steel and critically think about how the Kryptonian method of reproduction affects natural selection and evolution.


Adding It Up: How To Budget A Hollywood Film To Make A Profit

Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One was one of the highest grossing films of 2014, earning $713 million worldwide with a production budget of approx. $125 million.
You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky.
We know that big blockbuster films can make millions — sometimes billions — of dollars at the box office. But what you might not know is how much they cost to make, and how much they depend on huge global sales to make back all of the money they require not only to make the films (the actors, the creative professionals and crew behind-the-scenes, and the special effects, to name only a few) but to market them as well. In fact, just the marketing campaigns for major blockbusters can add tens of millions of dollars to the total budget to get the films talked-about and, hopefully, seen.

That means that you need to make careful calculations about how to spend money, even though at hundreds of millions of dollars, budgets can seem just about endless for major blockbusters. “A-list” acting and creative teams responsible for the production and post-production (including things like special effects and editing) are expensive, and after budgets and marketing costs are added up, even hundreds of millions in box office revenue may not be considered a true “hit.”

To be really successful, you need to have a high margin of profit — that means that just making a lot of money isn’t enough. You need to make a lot of money in comparison to your total budget, and that’s where things get tricky. The more big name actors, heart-pounding action, special effects, and other explosive, eye-catching aspects you have, the higher the budget, and the more you’ll need to make back later.

Paranormal Activity (2007), the most profitable movie of all time grossed nearly $200 million with from a shoestring budget of just $15,000. What percentage did they return on their investment?

That’s one reason why big-budget blockbusters tend to revolve around globally famous characters (like superheroes), big action sequences, and animation. All of these techniques are easy to alter and export from one country to the next by changing the language or inserting country-specific scenes (like these different references used in Captain America 2: Winter Soldier that appeal to different countries’ cultural events).

Do you have what it takes to plan a blockbuster that won’t make you go bust?


The Science of Daredevil: 5 Scientific Explanations for Daredevil’s Abilities

While he can no longer see, the radioactive exposure heightens his remaining senses beyond normal human ability and gives him a type of radar or sonar which acts as his vision. There is another theory that the toxic waste didn’t enhance his senses at all, and his abilities are just a natural response to the loss of one of his 5 key senses.  

The Man Without Fear:

Daredevil is a comic book superhero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett for Marvel comics.  He first appeared in 1964.  Living in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from an oncoming vehicle. While he can no longer see, the radioactive exposure heightens his remaining senses beyond normal human ability and gives him a type of radar or sonar which acts as his vision. There is another theory that the toxic waste didn’t enhance his senses at all, and his abilities are just a natural response to the loss of one of his 5 key senses.  He fights crime in the streets, seemingly fearless in the face of his visual limits. He’s a master martial artist, trained from his youth, and is a genius lawyer to boot. Here are 5 very real scientific explanations for Daredevil’s not so super-human powers.

1. Blindness Hacks your Visual Cortex:

Daredevil’s powers and abilities include a radar sense, similar to echolocation and sonar, and sensitive touch, hearing, and balance. You are born with a Visual Cortex – the part of your brain that processes all of the visual information you take in.  If you are born blind, or become blind, your brain’s visual cortex will actually rewire itself to make use of the visual processing center in different ways – otherwise known as cross-modal neuroplasticity.  This means that the brain uses the other senses more efficiently, increasing their performance. This rewiring can also lead to acquiring synesthesia – where input from one sense triggers another sense automatically – like hearing a color, or tasting a sound.

2. Radar Sense:  

Daredevil’s “radar” has been very inconsistent over the years within the comic, with many different renditions and qualities being noted. Sometimes he sees extreme details and other times he sees basic outlines and shapes. Sometimes its linked to his sense of hearing like a form of echolocation.  In Daredevil #167 it is described like that of a bat.  It says “he emits probing, high frequency waves.” Waves which break against any solid object and breaking send back signals only audible to Daredevil.  From these signals, his brain forms silhouette images of everything around him.  In this manner he “sees” in every direction.

3. Human Echolocation is Real:

Human echolocation has been known and formally studied since at least the 1950s.  It is the ability of humans to detect objects in their environment by sensing echoes from those objects. By actively creating sounds – for example, by tapping their canes, lightly stomping their foot, snapping their fingers, or making clicking noises with their mouths – people trained to orient by echolocation can interpret the sound waves reflected by nearby objects, accurately identifying their location and size. This ability is used by some blind people for acoustic wayfinding, or navigating within their environment using auditory rather than visual cues. It is similar in principle to active sonar and to animal echolocation, which is employed by bats, dolphins and toothed whales to find prey.

4. Our Perception of Reality:

We might assume how we perceive the world through our eyes and ears and other senses is the only objective reality, but that’s not really true.  Your senses actually limit your perception of reality.  Our eyes can detect only a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Our ears have a very finite set of frequencies it can pick up, and our sense of smell is extremely limited compared to other animals, like dogs, for example.  So perhaps by removing one sense, the other senses get center stage in our brains, enabling them to acquire more input, and ultimately sense reality differently than others.

5. Realities of Radioactive Substances:

Matt Murdock lost his vision because of an accident involving a radioactive substance.  A radioactive substance is unstable and produces dangerous kinds of radiation. It is unstable because the strong nuclear force that holds the nucleus of the atom together is not balanced with the electric force that wants to push it apart.  Radioactive substances actual effect on humans are much more dire than that proposed in the Marvel Universe.  The degree of damage to the human body depends on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body, the type of radiation, the route of exposure and the length of time a person is exposed.  Exposure to very large doses of radiation may cause death within a few days or months. Exposure to lower doses of radiation may lead to an increased risk of cancer, cataracts or decreased fertility.  Regardless of the effects of radiation and the magical effects of radioactive substances in fictional stories, the brain is a master at adapting to sensory changes.  Being blind doesn’t mean you are truly unable to “see” your surroundings.

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Marvel Civil War: Whose Side Are You On?

The first promo art of Captain America 3: Civil War was just released. With the latest chapter Avengers: Age of Ultron upon us, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will carefully start to shift the story towards one of the greatest conflicts in comic book history, Marvel’s Civil War. In a sure sign that comics were getting awesome again, Marvel built in a story arc where the Avengers fought each other. This has happened before in comics, usually because one superhero gets mind-controlled by a villain. In the Marvel Civil War, though, the Avengers were instead fighting because they had different interpretations of rights. Both sides’ views were supportable by some interpretations of the Constitution. But would either have stood up in court? If the Avengers had taken their differences to court, instead of to the streets, which way would it have gone?

Which side are you on? Try the quiz below to find out!

The Plot of the War The Marvel Civil War was told in seven comics, released from 2006-2007. It takes place after most mutants have been killed, or have fled in secret to Xavier’s school. Having dealt with mutants, the United States government turned their attention to superheroes. The government wasn’t a big fan of superpowers. Untrained superheroes kept stepping up to villains in crowded areas, getting themselves and others killed. In one case, a couple of new superheroes tried to fight Nitro in a mall, leading to the deaths of over 600 people. In addition, superheroes, especially the Avengers, were also interfering in politics. Nick Fury was fired because he led a coup against one of the United States’ allies (in fairness, that ally was an evil cyborg). Finally, the government decided to act. Congress passed the Superhero Registration Act, forcing all superheroes to take off the masks, register their abilities, and work for federal law enforcement. They hired Tony Stark (Iron Man) to help enforce  the law. Captain America violently resisted. Both sides escalated in force.

The Arguments
The pro-registration arguments, supported by Tony Stark and Mr. Fantastic, include:

Superheroes cannot veto a Congressional decision
Regulation of use of powers will be required by law
The government may restrict the rights of some to protect the rights of many

The anti-registration arguments, supported by Captain America, include:

Privacy protects superheroes and superheroes have a right to it
The majority should not legislate against minority rights
The government should not restrict rights in the present because of possible events in the future.

Do either of these arguments carry legal weight? This lesson below explores the legal precedents at play.


X-Men: Are Mutants Already Among Us?


Evolution: The World Is Always Changing

The world is always changing, and all of us with it, some of the latest and greatest scientific discovery has been in the field of genetics and evolution. Since Charles Darwin’s first postulations of evolution through his studies of the adaptations of finches and other animals of the Galapagos Islands to the scientific ‘miracles’ happening in labs today like growing human ears on mice, the field has been met with hesitation and hostility. The study of evolution is truly groundbreaking and revolutionary in our own understanding of life itself.


Evolution in The X-Men Series

Evolutionary insights have also inspired astonishing stories like X-Men. The X-Men are children of the atom developed in comics during the 1960s. First titled as “The Mutants” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were advised to rename the comic, as at the time most people didn’t know what a mutant was. The stories of the X-Men showcase the more fantastical possibilities of mutations and delve into the social issues they would face as a new class of life. Inspired by Darwin’s legacy, the X-Men even have a character named after him, whose mutant ability helps him adapt to survive!



Which Superheroes are Mutants?

But what is a mutant? Look no further than the immortal words of Lady Gaga, “Mutants are born that way.” Mutation is part of evolution, the process by which all the creatures in the world today became what they are. Mutations are fundamental changes to a person’s genetic code. The basis in the evolutionary truth of mutation sets X-Men apart as a long standing comic stories. The Avengers aren’t mutants, Tony Stark is a genius but impossibly so and not as a result of a genetic mutation as far as we know. Captain America and the Hulk are not mutants, although their powers do come from the effects of serums and radiation they were born as average (or below average) people. Hawkeye and Black Widow are just regular people and Thor isn’t even human to begin with.


What About Quicksilver?

Quicksilver on the other hand is an interesting case. He has appeared in both The Avengers and X-Men films. Just as he is in comics, in the X-Men films he is a mutant, he was born with the mutant gene which he inherited from his father Magneto. But in Avengers: Age of Ultron, his superspeed like his sister Scarlet Witch’s powers are the result of alien technology and radiation. Because 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and the mutants, in the Marvel CInematic Universe they are known as “miracles” not mutants and Magneto doesn’t even exist. They are technically the same character with the same abilities just with completely different backstories and personalities, and only one of them is a mutant.



Born Not Made

In the X-Men films, all of the mutants are born that way, with their abilities manifesting at birth or near adulthood. The only other way mutations have been shown to occur is through the transference of other mutants, like Rogue, Viper, or Apocalypse. Though many believe her to be mutant, we probably will never know for sure, but either way Lady Gaga is right, mutants are born not made. In this lesson we will look at genetic mutations both fictional and real and try to answer the question – Are there mutants already among us?

It Gets Better: A Film Project

The It Gets Better Project was created in 2010 to show young Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LBGT) the level of happiness and positivity they can reach in their lives- if they can get through their teen years. The creation of this project was inspired due to exorbitant amount students who are taking their own lives because they were bullied and harassed at school. This movement has inspired people worldwide to create videos focusing around the message of It Gets Better- even celebrities and political figures have gotten involved including President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Colin Farrell, and Lady Gaga.

The goal of this lesson is to have the students work together to create their own It Gets Better video.

How to Create a Real World Lightsaber

This lesson explores the physics behind a lightsaber (the weapon of the Jedi in the popular Star Wars movie franchise), how to bend lasers, and how it is possible to craft a lightsaber. This lesson would fit nicely into a physics unit on light and lenses.

Understanding Shakespearean Archetypes through Modern Day Rom-Coms

In this lesson, students will demonstrate their understanding of Shakespearean archetypes by applying them to modern day romantic comedies. They will learn about the traditional five act structure of and commonly used “stock characters” in Shakespeare’s comedies. They will then identify similar plot points and stock characters in a modern romantic comedy.

The Lorax Ecology

Students deepen their understanding of ecological concepts and the effect of human environmental interaction by examining how ecological issues are presented in the movie The Lorax.

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Cartoons Show Their True Colors: Fact Checking Animated Characters in History


There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality.

When we watch a movie like Selma or The Imitation Game that is based on historical events, we often wonder how closely they resemble what really happened. It can be a lot of fun to compare the events of the movies to the historical record and point out when the two don’t match up.

At Buzzfeed, Eugene Yang has applied that same logic to Disney Princesses, digging deep into Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to determine when and where the films’ heroines lived. Unsurprisingly, their lives would’ve been pretty different in reality than they were in the movies: no harem pants for Jasmine, for one thing.


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Yang’s project serves as a reminder of how many animated movies employ historical settings while ignoring actual historical fact. Yet as obviously fictional as most animated films are, they can still influence our perceptions of history—half my elementary school was convinced that Pocahontas and John Smith were romantically involved, when in fact she was just twelve years old when they met.

There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality. The addition of dancing candlesticks and talking parrots is one thing; idealizing the extremely constrained life of a fourteenth century noblewoman is another.