What is a meme and how can you use it in your classroom?
Astronomy meme using the Big Bang Theory
A meme is a viral image relating to a simple idea that spreads rapidly through the internet due to social sharing. Usually funny, the central quality of a meme is that people identify quickly with the meme's background image and the phrasing. As the viral image becomes instantly recognisable, people begin to make their own captions across the image to make the image meaning apply to their own ideas. Students love it and the internet is filled with memes as a result. This means as a teacher you can use this engagement as a tool to quickly convey a message to your class in a format that students will recognise and appreciate.
A great example of science memes being used in the classroom is that of Grumpy Cat and Chemistry Cat.
Chemistry cat meme
Grumpy cat visits the chemistry classroom
In the above you can see that the hugely popular Grumpy Cat was spliced into the Chemistry cat meme. In both cases, the meaning is grasped straight away and it provides a talking point for students around the labelling of chemical elements. So, what other science memes are out there? Plenty! Below are a few for the general science lab...
One does not simply forget meme for labs
Morpheus meme on lab instructions
Batman and Robin lab safety meme
Of course you could have standard posters on your wall but where would be the fun in that? As a teacher you want to be constantly using strategies that engage and inform students and the best way to achieve this is to communicate in a way that they care about.
So, how do create a science meme yourself?
There are a variety of meme creating websites that will let you overlay a small sentence over a thought provoking picture. Below are a few websites to get you started:
It's really quite easy! I created the meme above, created a free account and saved the image on the computer in roughly 1 minute using Image Chef. The other sites seem fairly easy to use too. Not feeling creative? You can find science memes easily if you trawl through Pinterest or simply use Google with a good search term. The only downside of this is that you might find that you spend a lot of time searching for the appropriate image & caption combination, in fact it can almost feel like you're Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Because of this, I recommend that you spend that time making your own memes and saving them to your computer for later use (it's not that hard once you try it!).
Attribute the creators!
If you do use someone else's meme or cartoon, make sure that you give acknowledgement of the people who created it. Someone has spent time putting together the meme and so it's only fair that you reference what they did. If you're placing the image on your classroom blog, you should link to the original page where you found it and make a note of the website and creator. In fact, you should do this with any content that you find on the internet as in most jurisdictions failure to do this actually amounts to copyright infringement and the last thing you need is an issue like that when you're just trying to teach students! Let's be honest, I know that many readers often skip this step but we're aiming for best practice here and besides which, it's simply a nice thing to do! As a side note; if you're unsure of whether you can use an image, why not contact the creator and ask? More often than not the creator would be more than happy for you to use the image and will simply ask for a link back to their site... which isn't a big price to pay!
Have fun with it!
Once you get into the swing of it you'll find that creating science memes becomes just another part of your skill set as a teacher. You might find that projecting a science meme on your interactive whiteboard that works in combination with some experiment stimulus materials at the front of the room could be a powerful way of gaining students attention. You could also have a competition for students on who can create the best caption to a meme and showcase that with a science project or simply summarise a learning topic succinctly. It's just up to your imagination and the time you've got in your classroom to make it happen. Just be sure to use images that convey meaning without being insulting - unfortunately there are images out there that are quite derogatory to the person in the image which is sadly the reality of what can go viral on the internet. Once you set up some ground rules though you'll find that this could be a bit of fun and maybe the kids will learn a thing or two in the process!
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