TV SHOWS such as The Simpsons and Star Trek could be the best way of teaching science to children, Scottish researchers have claimed.
Examples from comedy and drama shows are being used in classrooms to demonstrate how issues such as recycling, solar power and DNA tests relate to real life.
Researchers at the Institute for Science Education in Scotland say children learn more effectively when they see the practical application of paternity tests and fingerprinting on Eastenders and The Bill.
The shows are used to encourage discussion of topical science issues among pupils during the first two years at secondary school. The project, backed by the Wellcome Trust charity, is being piloted in five Scottish schools but it is hoped dozens more will use it by the time it ends in October 2005.
Project leader Dr Fiona Scott said: "The Simpsons has been used quite a lot. I think the people that write it are quite scientifically minded and understand quite a few of the issues. One episode describes an environmental problem when Homer falls out with the rubbish collection people and the waste piles up in their home. There is a lot more science on television than you realise.
"We are encouraging teachers to look at things that have been on TV relatively recently, so they could be using Casualty or The Bill, which are on every week and frequently touch on topical issues."
At Kirkland High School in Methil, Fife, pupils have been learning about science using the BBC children’s programme, Cavegirl - a prehistoric drama. Principal science teacher Martin Cunningham said it had helped demonstrate the scientific principles involved in javelin throwing and the insulation value of fur clothes.
By the end of next year, Scott’s team of teachers, scientists and TV producers hope to have identified the most useful drama programmes for teaching science. They also aim to produce teaching packs for other schools to try out the idea.