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Lights, Camera, Action: Teaching Students the True Science of Disasters Through Filmmaking


Forget notebooks, pencils and erasers.

For a class at the Elementary Institute of Science, students need a large geological map, aluminum foil, a seismometer app, whipped cream, pie tins and a first-aid kit.

Oh, and fishing lines. 

What are all those disparate items needed for? Why, to make a disaster movie based on real science, of course.

The class, fittingly called “How to Make a Disaster Movie Based on Real Science,” is a joint production of University of California, San Diego Extension, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Elementary Institute of Science, which is an organization in Southeast San Diego dedicated to providing STEM – short for science, technology, engineering and math – education to the community.

Debi Kilb, a project scientist at Scripps who helps oversee the organization’s educational offerings at the Elementary Institute of Science and other locations, said the class is designed to teach students from Gompers Preparatory Academy about the science of disasters in a creative and hands-on way.

“This is about sparking students’ interest and then harnessing their imaginations so they can better understand how science works and impacts their daily lives,” Kilb said.

The five-day class, which ends on Oct. 30, runs for two hours a day, with students spending the first hour learning about why earthquakes occur as well as common misconceptions about them and how best to prepare for one. The second hour is devoted to students translating that knowledge into creating a disaster movie.

Ed Abeyta, assistant dean of community engagement and director of pre-collegiate programs for Extension, said the class is one aspect of a larger partnership between the three organizations’ efforts to deliver on UC San Diego’s Strategic Plan to connect campus to the community and provide educational opportunities to underserved communities, especially in STEM. While this first series of classes was open just to Gompers students, the plan is to offer it again in the future, opening it up to others.

“We know we have a skills gap when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math. We simply have more jobs in those areas than people to fill them. That means we need to start training students today for the jobs of tomorrow,” Abeyta said. “Classes like this one are a tangible way to encourage young people to pursue these interesting and important fields.”

Ida Rose Florez, executive director of the Elementary Institute of Science, said the partnership with UC San Diego Extension and Scripps is playing a vital role in fulfilling her organization’s mission of educating the next generation in STEM.

"We're thrilled to partner with UC San Diego Extension and Scripps and offer students in our community this opportunity to have a great time learning cutting-edge STEM skills from UC San Diego scientists," Florez said.

To find out more about the classes offered through this partnership, call (619) 263-2302 or email