When I teach my classes, I try very hard to make my course intellectually rigorous, intellectually stimulating, and relevant to the students. But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun.
In earlier classes, I have referenced Back to the Future (“you are my density”), Jaws (“you’re going to need a bigger boat” when referencing Megalodon sp.), Star Trek (“space … the final frontier”), and countless song lyrics. The latest was talking about mass wasting – land slides and flows. On a slope, gravity is constantly pulling objects, be they rocks, mobile layers, or sediments, downhill. Of course, we all know what those vectors look like – g pointing straight down, and the vector components pointing toward the surface and down hill, opposed by friction. As the slope steepens and as the materials change or weaken, the resisting forces might be overcome, and when that happens, we get slope failure – mass wasting.
As Radiohead said, “Gravity always wins”.
To a larger point, when teaching science to (by and large) non-scientists – or rather, not-yet scientists – a little bit of levity helps. Droning on about vectors and gravity and friction can put people to sleep. Throwing in a relevant reference or something a bit unexpected, and people pay attention. Talk about things that are relevant to their lives, and people really pay attention. And these things can be done in a way that doesn’t dilute the science. I’m not advocating doing a lecture in emojis or meme-ifying difficult concepts (“LOL-Graphs?”). But taking something from pop culture and using it as leverage to provide better understanding is not necessarily a bad idea, when used judiciously, appropriately, and sparingly. And it can sometimes make students remember something about science long after class is over. And that’s the real goal – yes, I do want them to know what minerals are found in mafic igneous rocks and why oceanic crust is denser than continental crust. But a general sense of science literacy is a part of teaching introductory course. It’s good for students to know how the seasons work, how the oceans and atmosphere are connected, and that we CAN, in fact, explain why the tide goes in and the tide goes out. (Hint: it has to do with the moon. And gravity. Gravity always wins…)