Back-to-School Video Pick of the Decade: The October Sky
By Bob Pearlman
Most movies about school
are rarely about learning. From Blackboard Jungle to Clueless to
Carrie, Hollywood's school films usually tell the story of teen
sex or violence. When they do focus on learning, as in Stand and
Deliver (Jaime Escalante) to Lean on Me (Joe Clark) to Mr. Holland's
Opus, it's rarely about the kids and their learning but instead
about the hero teachers and principals who inspired them. October
Sky, a film that came out this year and is now in the video stores,
changes the subject in two ways. First, it tells the story about
the kids, and second, it tells a real-life story of how kids learn
best, through real-life projects inspired by what author and subject
Homer Hickam Jr. calls "passion, planning, and perseverance".
These are Kids who Know and Do!
October Sky is the true
story of four Coalwood, West Virginia, high school students who,
inspired by the site of Sputnik crossing the West Virginia sky in
October, 1997, set out to build a rocket. Through trial and error
and multiple mishaps and setbacks, they eventually launch a rocket
4 miles into the sky and present their project successfully at the
National Science Fair. Along the way, they corral adult help and
mentors throughout the community to help them learn, design, and
forge the rocket, the combustion, and the instruments needed to
This is the decade's
(millennium's) great Back-to-School Movie. It is the story not just
of real-ife learning, but of real learning through project-based
learning. If you're a teacher, administrator, or other educator,
see it now to inspire a great year. Then show it to your kids, and
tell your colleagues about it.
And if you want to learn
more about the Rocket Boys, read "The Rocket Boys" by
Homer Hickam, Jr. (Delacorte Press, 1998). You can also go on Hickam's
web site. I highly recommend reading his 1999
West Virginia University Commencement Speech to learn more about
Hickam's educational philosophy.
Recommendation from Keith Jaeger, National Universty, of a great
teaching lesson at http://www.teachwithmovies.org/guides/october-sky.html
to go along with the movie.