Peering into Drugs and Science 
Peering into Drugs and Science 
A Public Service Announcement


Peering into Drugs and Science 

We know that peer relationships can be key influencers in an individual’s decision to use drugs. People are more likely to use drugs and alcohol if someone close to them, like a friend or sibling, is already using or has access to them. Conversely, logic tells us, people are more likely not to use drugs if their peers can effectively convince them of the personal, scientific, and societal dangers. In this challenge, you have been hired to create a Public Service Announcement, designed to target your peer group, about the health and societal impacts of a particular drug of abuse (of your choice).

STEAM Challenge 

Public Service Announcement (PSA): Peering into Drugs and Science

Submission Due Date: April 1, 2022 

Designed for (Middle and) High School Students

Table of Contents

·      The Challenge

·      Assumptions and Logistics

·      Process

·      Meridian Support Resources

·      Presentation of Learning

·      Evaluation Rubric

·      Essential Questions

·      Student Proficiencies

·      Curricular Correlations – National Health and NGSS

Range of Activities

·      Research on General and Specific Physical, Mental and Social Effects of Substance Abuse amongst Teens

·      Investigation of Solutions and Strategies to Counter Substance Abuse Issues

·      Creative Brainstorming

·      Persuasive Storytelling

·      Script Writing

·      Digital Literacy Skills – Video – Pre-production, Production and Post-production

·      Human Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills

The Challenge

We know that peer relationships can be key influencers in an individual’s decision to use drugs. People are more likely to use drugs and alcohol if someone close to them, like a friend or sibling, is already using or has access to them. Someone like YOU—a trusted and knowledgeable friend, can influence healthy behaviors within your friend group. You are the credible source who can help others understand the important facts about drug abuse and misuse by focusing your research on the facts most impactful to you.

In this challenge, you have been hired to create a Public Service Announcement about the health-related impacts of a particular drug of abuse. Your 60-90 second PSA must contain four touch points:

  • A brief preface of the detrimental role that the drug of abuse is currently playing in teen culture in your region and, if desired, nationally.
  • Investigation and articulation of why someone would choose to use this particular substance. This part should act as an introduction and should not take up more than a quarter of the available time.
  • A thorough summary of both the direct and indirect health effects the substance has on the user’s body and those around them. This should consider both mental and physical health, and show understanding of long-term and short-term health.
  • The PSA should include a slogan or tag line to help viewers remember the core health message you aim to disseminate.

Deliverables include:

  • PSA (this is the only Meridian Stories deliverable)
  • Message Outline (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Shooting Script (at teacher’s discretion)

 Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame – We recommend that this digital storytelling project takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length – All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.

Slate – All digital storytelling projects must begin with a slate that provides:

  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use or reference it for educational purposes only, in any and all media; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.

Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).

Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the digital storytelling project.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the digital storytelling project. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues.

Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Resources Center section of the site for guidance.

Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the digital story you are trying to tell.

Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.


Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.

During Phase I, student teams will:

  • Begin your investigation of the question: What is substance abuse and misuse?
  • Gather recent data on drug abuse in the United States within your age group. Did you find anything that surprised you? Is there information you think should be more widely known?
  • To the extent possible, explore how these issues are being manifested in your community – local, statewide, or regional.
  • Choose (or your teacher chooses for you) a single drug of abuse in which to research in detail.
  • Begin to research the specific drug. Look to uncover information that you would want to know concerning it’s health effects if you were in proximity to said drug. Here are some questions and ideas to consider:
  • What is the foundational understanding of substance abuse and misuse in teen culture you want your friends to know about?
  • What are some of the risks and health effects that individuals may encounter in substance use and abuse? What is the likelihood of these health externalities?
  • What is the word on the street? What is the cultural buzz around your select drug of abuse? How does your research resonate or differ with conversations that are happening around this substance?
  • What are some preventative strategies available to combat the problem? In other words, how can you position the negative impact of your drug of abuse as more powerful than the appeal of said drug?
  • Complete any remaining research work for your PSA. At this point in time, agree on a) the key health message that you want to communicate to your audience; and b) the points you will be presenting in support of that key message. Remember that your PSA is targeting your peers: if the message isn’t genuinely compelling to you, it probably won’t be to your target audience either.
  • Teacher’s Option: Message Outline – Teacher may require teams to present an outline of the most salient features of their research, around which the PSA will be based.

During Phase II, student teams will:

  • Focus now on the societal context for using your select drug of abuse. How are these substances portrayed in the media? What do you know to be the appeal of your select substance? What are the economics around this drug of abuse? Are there discussions around these topics that have been impactful for you? If so, what made these instances memorable? Write down notes about how and why this drug is appealing to youth your age so that you can use this information as part of your creative work.
  • Spend time watching PSA’s to gain an understanding of how advertisers present information through the use of facts, data, and lived experiences to help speak to their audiences. An excellent place to find some of the country’s best PSA’s is at the Ad Council. Screen these ads and take notes. What, in your view, makes a PSA successful? We recommend making a list of tools used – music, graphics, interviews, scare tactics, questions, etc. – that you think are effective at communicating their messages. Then decide which tools you may want to adapt for your own PSA.
  • Keep in mind the following: PSAs are generally designed to increase knowledge about a topic in order to open the door to changing an attitude about that topic. And attitude changes can lead to behavior change.
  • Based on the above research that includes a) the science behind your drug of abuse; b) the societal use and appeal of your drug of abuse; and c) the ways in which PSAs can impact attitudinal change, outline the format of your PSA. Will you have actors? Or will this be image and text based? Will you include interviews? There are many options.
  • Your team should now have: a) the key points that need to be communicated about a specific substance and its related health risks; and b) a creative approach to visually communicating your ideas, that lead up to a final message.
  • Formulate a tagline or slogan. See some famous taglines below for inspiration:
        • This is your brain on drugs
        • Crack Is Whack
        • Say Nope to Dope
        • Drugs: You Use, You Loose
        • Hugs Not Drugs
        • Hang Tough, Don’t Puff
  • Draft the script. In drafting the script, keep these three questions in mind:
    1. What are the risks and negative side effects associated with the specific substance you have chosen to investigate?
    2. Why is it important to know about the health risks associated with substance abuse and misuse?
    3. What knowledge do your friends need that can be used as a prevention tool against this substance?
  • Discuss and map out the imagery needed to tell your story.

During Phase III, student teams will:

  • Pre-produce the PSA:
    • Scout locations for shooting (if this is being shot on location);
    • Research, as necessary, the still images that you will integrate into your PSA;
    • Create costumes, props and other set pieces, as needed;
    • Prepare the logistics for the actual shooting of the PSA; and
    • Rehearse the scenes that will comprise the PSA.
    • Finalize the script
      • Teacher’s Option: Shooting Script – Teachers may require that teams hand in their Shooting Script for feedback and revision.
  • Shoot the PSA
  • Record the voice-over or narration, as necessary.
  • Edit the video, adding stills and graphics as desired.
  • Post-produce the video, adding music and sound effects as desired.

Meridian Support Resources

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams.

1.    Meridian Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three-to-four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative professionals who offer important advice, specifically for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Media Resource Collection – These are short documents that offer student teams a few key tips in the areas of creativity and production.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Challenge include:

Meridian Innovators and Artists Media Resource Collection
On Non Fiction – Margaret Heffernan

On Producing – Tom Pierce

On Editing – Tom Pierce

On Sound Design – Chris Watkinson

“Creating a Commercial/PSA”

“On the Doctrine of Fair Use”

“Conducting an Interview”

“Producing: Time Management”


Presentation of Learning

Meridian Stories is a proud partner of the non-profit Share Your Learning, which is spearheading the movement of over five million students to publicly share their work as a meaningful part of their educational experience.

The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These short digital stories provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills.

According to Share Your Learning, Presentations of Learning (POL) promote…

  • Student Ownership, Responsibility & Engagement. POLs can serve as a powerful rite of passage at the end of [a project]. By reflecting on their growth over time in relation to academic and character goals, grounded in evidence from their work, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Just as an artist wants their portfolio to represent their best work, POLs encourage students to care deeply about the work they will share.
  • Community Pride & Involvement. When peers, teachers and community members come together to engage with student work and provide authentic feedback, they become invested in students’ growth and serve as active contributors to the school community.
  • Equity. POLs ensure that all students are seen and provide insight into what learning experiences students find most meaningful and relevant to their lives.

Meridian Stories’ own research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for one additional reason:  Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s.

It is with this in mind that we you encourage you to plan an event – it could be just an end-of-the-week class or an event where parents, teachers and student peers are invited – to allow the students to showcase their Meridian Stories projects. For more free resources that will support this planning, visit Share Your Learning. 

Evaluation Rubric Peering into Drugs and Science – PSA


Criteria 1 – 10
Communication about Scientific Content The scientific information presented about the drug of abuse is thorough and relevant
Communication about Societal Impact The presentation of the societal impact is thorough, thoughtful, and well-articulated


The messaging – including the slogan/tagline – creatively and powerfully communicates the content



Criteria 1 – 10
Scripting The script clearly conveys the content in an engaging and compelling narrative
Narrative Format – Public Service Announcement The PSA shows a thoughtful and strategic understanding of how to effect attitude change
Target Audience The PSA in its tone, voice and imagery, is clearly designed with your target audience of peers in mind


Criteria 1 – 10
Mixed Visual Media The use of new and existing video, stills, graphics and/or text is engaging, visually interesting, and reinforces the content
Editing The digital story is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging viewing experience
Sound and Music The selective use of sound effects and music enhances the PSA’s effectiveness

HUMAN SKILLS COMMAND (for teachers only)

Criteria 1 – 10
Collaborative Thinking The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project

Essential Questions

  1. What is the range and impact of substance abuse amongst youth, locally and societally?
  2. What are the scientific and societal characteristics of the drug you chose to research?
  3. What are some of the short-term health risks from using this drug? What are some of the long-term health risks? How can these risks be mitigated?
  4. What are effective strategies for communicating complex information in a simplified form, to an audience of your peers?
  5. How has incorporating scientific and societal research into the production of a video that is intended to educate and persuade, changed your understanding of the science and the societal impact?
  6. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media – exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills – deepened the overall educational experience?
  7. How has working on a team – practicing one’s collaborative skills – changed the learning experience?

Student Proficiencies

  1. The student will gain a more thoughtful scientific and societal understanding of the range and impact of substance abuse amongst teens.
  2. The student will have a thorough understanding of the fundamental health risks surrounding a specific drug of abuse.
  3. The student will exercise the role of a health advocate by adapting knowledge into actionable behavior.
  4. The student will understand more about the scientific content and the societal context by approaching it through a media production designed to educate the audience.
  5. The student will know the basic constructs of using video media in effectively communicate content, character, and story.
  6. The student will utilize key Human Skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating STEAM content into a new narrative format.
  7. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important Human Skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.

Curricular Correlations

The Peering into Drugs and Science Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that have been articulated by the National Health Education Standards and the NGSS.

Below please find the standards that are addressed, either wholly or in part.

National Health Education Standards

  • The student will comprehend concepts related to health promotion and disease prevention to enhance health.
  • The student will be able to analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors.
  • The student will demonstrate the ability to access valid information, products, and services to enhance health.
  • The student will be able to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to use decision-making skills to enhance health.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks.
  • The student will gain the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

High School

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

Middle School

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Science knowledge is based upon logical and conceptual connections between evidence and explanations (MS-PS3-4),(MS-PS3-5)
  • Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information in written text with that contained in media and visual displays to clarify claims and findings. (MS-PS4-3)
  • Conduct an investigation to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of an investigation. (MS-LS1-1)



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