Strange Days on Planet Earth


“Strange Days on Planet Earth”, a special miniseries produced by National Geographic for PBS, explains the interconnectedness of natural and made-made systems on earth in an easy to understand way.  It’s formatted a bit like a detective show starting with a problem, like an increase in baboon population in Ghana, and traces it backwards to the root cause, like over fishing in our oceans.  Many global problems are explored.  Ultimately the show provides an excellent explanation of the ripple effect, something that happens in one part of the earth can have severe effects somewhere else entirely.  Two episodes are available on Netflix Streaming and the entire series (two seasons with six total episodes) is available for purchase from PBS online.  There are educational resources available for middle school aged students on the PBS website as well.

The way I envision using this film, though, is with a high school environmental science class, documentary film class, or combination thereof.  I think that by focusing on this film with an older group of students, we can delve deeper into the educational content as well as the communication styles employed by the movie.

This film will be watched as inspiration for a one to two month production project.  Since the film explores a problem and works backward to the cause of the problem, then gives viewers a solution to the problem, this is an excellent opportunity for the students to recreate the template.  They will research a local environmental problem of their choice, becoming an expert in the problem, its cause and steps to overcome said problem, and develop relationships with people working on the solution.  Then they will develop a targeted communication plan including determining their target audience, the format of their film, and writing the script.  Finally, they will create a 3-5 minute documentary which will explain the cause and effects of their chosen problem and present at least one solution.  Expanding the project might include creating other materials to go with the film such as a website, call to action event in cooperation with a non-profit in the area, or a screening of the film for the community.

This project will engage multiple intelligences by having the students involved in every aspect of the production process as well as building skills necessary for effective communication of a problem, good research habits, and technical film skills.

One thought on “Strange Days on Planet Earth

  1. This is an excellent resource to use for an environmental science class, but I would love to do cross-curricular planning wherein students not only determine possible solutions, but debate whether the solutions are state-based or private-based.

    In light of recent weather, students should be ready to discuss who is responsible for correcting the effects of the storm and any human causes behind it.

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