Posts Tagged ‘critical thinking’
Posted by mattusmaximus on November 21, 2012
This past Carl Sagan Day celebration in Chicago was a wonderful experience: the room was packed, the speakers were quite inspiring, and I left the evening with my enthusiasm for science and reason elevated! The audio of the entire event was recorded, and I wanted to share that with you below. Enjoy
“We wait for light, but behold darkness.” Isaiah 59:9
“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Adage
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, advocacy, annual, astronomy, Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan day, celebration, Chicago, Cosmos, critical thinking, day, DePaul University, event, party, physics, popular, public, science, secular, Secular Student Alliance, secularism, skeptic, SSA | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 7, 2012
In the next few weeks, supporters of science and secularism will be celebrating the 78th anniversary of the birth of Carl Sagan, scientist, astronomer, skeptic, and popular advocate for science and critical thinking. For many of us who are in our 30s and 40s, we were inspired to become interested in science as a direct result of Carl Sagan’s public advocacy of science (most especially through his ground-breaking book and TV-series Cosmos). In honor of Carl Sagan and his accomplishments, as well as a way of promoting the public acceptance of science, we in the Chicago area will celebrate Carl Sagan Day on Thursday, Nov. 1st – look here for more information!
**Aside: To find a Carl Sagan Day event in your area, just use Google. If there isn’t one, consider holding your own
Carl Sagan at The Planetary Society in 1980. Image source
You’re invited to Chicago’s Carl Sagan Day 2012! Chicago’s secular community is gathering once again to celebrate the life and legacy of the great science popularizer, the beauty of discovery, and the fun of exploration. The event will be held in Schmitt Academic Center Room 161, on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The building is handicapable accessible, and accommodation can be provided upon request. …
Apple pie (made from scratch, of course) and cosmos will be served.
Speakers: “Carl Sagan’s Life and Legacy” Dr. Peter Vandervoort, Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and a former colleague of Carl Sagan
[Topic Undetermined] Dr. Angela Olinto, Chair of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Chicago
“Citizen Science” Dr. Bernhard Beck-Winchantz, Associate Professor of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Studies Department at DePaul University
Emcee: Matt Lowry High School Physics Teacher, writer at The Skeptical Teacher.
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: 2012, advocacy, annual, astronomy, Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan day, celebration, Chicago, Cosmos, critical thinking, day, DePaul University, event, party, physics, popular, public, science, secular, secularism, skeptic | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2012
So there’s this nutjob… err, I mean law enforcement officer… named Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona who has apparently taken it upon himself to “prove” that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen (a conspiracy theory known as “birtherism“). This has consisted of basically engaging in rampant conspiracy mongering that President Obama’s birth certificate (which you can see here) is a forgery, despite the fact that it has been certified as authentic repeatedly. Well, in their quest to pursue their bigoted… err, I mean intense and serious… investigation of the citizenship of the POTUS, they have hit a new low.
And here it is:
The Globe Magazine… that bastion of journalistic excellence. *Sigh* ‘Nuff said.
Posted in conspiracy theories, politics | Tagged: Arizona, AZ, barack obama, bigotry, birth certificate, birther, birtherism, citizenship, cold case, conspiracy, conspiracy theories, court, critical thinking, forgery, government, Hawaii, investigation, Joe Arpaio, judiciary, long form, magazine, Manchurian candidate, Obama, politics, posse, president, pseudoscience, sheriff, Supreme Court, The Globe, United States, white house | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2012
This past September I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and I participated in many events and interviews, etc. However, in my role as both a skeptic and a teacher, one of the most fruitful things I did was to participate in the Skeptrack discussion of how to approach the question of debunking in the context of education. The panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect. The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture. Below is the video footage of the discussion; I hope you find it useful…
Image and video footage courtesy of the fine folks at Skeptrack.org
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: Barbara Drescher, beliefs, Brian Hart, bunk, critical thinking, D.J. Grothe, DC, debunking, discussion, DJ, Dragon Con, Dragon*Con, education, educator, footage, Grothe, inquiry, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Kylie Sturgess, Matt Lowry, method, panel, podcast, school, skeptic, Skeptic Magazine, Skeptic's Society, Skepticality, skepticism, Skeptrack, student, teacher, teaching, video | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2012
I recently wrote another guest post for the James Randi Educational Foundation over at the Swift blog, and I just wanted to share it here as well. I hope you find it thought-provoking…
Anyone who knows me knows that I have no children of my own, and in all honesty I try to avoid little kids when I can. However, there is one thing I find really endearing about kids, especially the younger ones: their unbridled curiosity and willingness to ask questions.
I think the reason why I like this curious nature in children is pretty simple: to them the world is so new and fresh, everything is wondrous and interesting. In addition, they come at things so much more openly and honestly than most adults, because they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word and have no embarrassment whatsoever about asking direct questions about pretty much anything. To them, no subject is off limits or taboo; they manifest the spirit of free inquiry in its most unblemished sense.
And this sense of free inquiry and curiosity usually comes out in the form of asking question after question on all manner of topics. I think it is most especially interesting when it is related to topics regarding mythology, religion, life, death, the afterlife, etc. And how many times have you been interrogated by a particularly precocious young child, only to be bombarded by more questions once you’ve provided what you thought were adequate answers? I have had this happen to me more times than I can count, both as an educator and an uncle.
Sadly, this wonderful behavior of kids doesn’t often last into their adult years. Somewhere between those wonder-filled years of curiosity and college age, a lot of kids are too often encouraged by the adults around them to specifically not ask questions, especially on certain topics (often on the most important topics). Why this is I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses…
I think part of the problem is that some adults are made quite uncomfortable by the questions that little children can ask, precisely because they tend to break those social taboos which have been conditioned into the adults. Another thing that happens is that some adults tend to discourage children from asking questions because the adults don’t have the answer to the question, or they’re just tired of the kid asking questions, so rather than admit ignorance (or frustration) they tell the child to stop asking questions. And while kids are innately curious, if they get exposed often enough to the adults in their life telling them not to ask such questions, then they’ll eventually start to believe that they shouldn’t be asking such questions. And that’s a sad thing to see.
For example, I witness something along these lines a couple of years ago as I was traveling to Utah with some of my family. One of my nieces, a little girl of six years of age, and I were looking out over the gorgeous scenery of Bryce Canyon, admiring all of the columns, stratigraphy, and erosion patterns within the canyon walls. And, in accordance with that curiosity of young children, my niece asked me where the canyon came from. I proceeded to explain to her about the idea of erosion due to rainfall and the flow of water, pointing out to her some very small rivulets in the dirt off to the side of the trail due to a recent rainstorm. I further explained that given enough time, these erosive processes can eventually produce wondrous geologic structures such as the canyon which stretched out before us.
I eagerly awaited her next question, when something very interesting happened. My little niece’s older sister (a teenager) came along and told her that “God did it, just like we learned in Sunday school and the Bible says in Genesis”. I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from my older niece, seeing as how the members of her immediate family tend to be young-earth creationists who believe the Earth was created in six literal days about 6000-10,000 years ago. But what did surprise me (and delight me greatly) was my younger niece’s response to her older sister’s “explanation”; she looked up at her older sister and, without skipping a beat, simply asked: “Yeah, but how did God do it?” …
Click here to read the rest of the post at Randi.org
Posted in education, free inquiry | Tagged: answers, blog, children, creationism, critical thinking, curiosity, education, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, kids, questions, religion, school, skepticism, Swift, teaching | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2011
Based upon my recent blog post concerning using mythology as a critical thinking tool for children, I was interviewed a few days ago by my skeptical colleague Kylie Sturgess of the Token Skeptic podcast. In the interview we discussed a variety of topics related to this issue, with a touch of fun thrown in for good measure. Check it out!
Posted by Podblack on Sunday, December 25, 2011 · Leave a Comment
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 27:59 — 25.6MB) | Embed
Recently Matt Lowry wrote a blog-post on Using Mythology as a Critical Thinking Tool: The Lesson of Santa for Kids – just as Tim Minchin wrote a piece for the New Statesman about his own efforts to balance a pro-naturalistic worldview and living a life unencumbered by superstition, while raising kids and encouraging a love of fiction.
Matt Lowry is best known as the Skeptical Teacher - a high school physics teacher, plus a part-time physics and astronomy college professor, contributor to the James Randi Educational Foundation Education Advisory Group and awesome presenter for kids’ shows at Dragon*Con.
For this interview we talk about all of these things (and whether Santa might actually be a Time Lord with a sleigh made out of quantum-something-or-other).
During the discussion, we also talk about Barbara Drescher’s blog-post at the JREF Swift: An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus. Here’s another great link to the Physics of Santa!
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: analysis, children, Christmas, critical thinking, education, evidence, Holidays, interview, kids, Kylie Sturgess, mall, myth, mythology, observation, physics, podcast, reality, Santa, santa claus, skepticism, Token Skeptic | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2011
As I’ve mentioned before, every year I do a quick physics lesson on Santa Claus, with the result being a devastation of the Santa myth (see my previous post “How I Killed Santa”: The Physics of Santa Claus for more on this ) Yeah, I admit it – I’m evil.
Of course, that lesson is more geared towards students who are in their late teenage years, because by then they already know that Santa isn’t real. So, while the humor involved in my analysis is quite dark (Santa dies pretty spectacularly in the end), there isn’t going to be any real psychological trauma done to my students.
However, this year it got something of a debate going among some of my students. Some wondered about the appropriateness of sharing such a lesson with young children, who might still harbor a sincere belief in Santa Claus. Personally, I expressed the view that if I were to try to get my own children (if I had any) to think more critically about the Santa myth, I certainly wouldn’t do it using the same method in my physics classes where he ends up bursting into flames and squashed to jelly by atrociously large g-forces!
So, the question was put to me: “How would you deal with the whole Santa Claus thing if you had kids?” It is a worthwhile question, because I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to be simply blindly believing in Santa just because all the other kids are doing it. Chances are, when the kids are of the appropriate age (I’d think 5 or 6 would be about right), I would ask them some leading questions about the nature of Santa.
Specifically, if I were at the mall with one of my children and there were a worker there dressed as Santa meeting with kids (you know the usual scene), I would encourage them to observe Santa closely…
I would encourage them to note carefully details such as how big is Santa, exactly what is he wearing, and so on. In order to help them with their observations, I would probably take photos for later analysis. Then I would make sure to tell them to pay careful attention to Santa’s voice as they sit on his lap to discuss what Santa and kids discuss (I might also record video of the event for this reason).
After that, I would take my children to another mall (because, let’s face it, most of us do our shopping at more than one place, right?). I would make sure to find the Santa at that second mall, and have my kid go through the entire process again. And so on.
Then, at a later time, I would take some time to sit down and look over the evidence with my children, leading them through it and noting inconsistencies between the multiple Santas they’ve observed. This would be especially interesting if we saw more than one in the same night! (“So Dad, how did Santa get from one mall to the other so quickly?” )
The bottom line here is that I wouldn’t want to come right out and tell my kids that Santa is a myth (though a fun and jolly one at that). Rather, I would use the entire experience as a lesson for my kids to try thinking it through on their own, making careful observations, weighing the evidence, and drawing the obvious conclusions. I think this would be a far more useful way to introduce children to the reality that Santa isn’t real, and it would also be an excellent exercise in encouraging critical thinking and skepticism in youngsters.
For more on this topic and approach, I highly recommend reading my colleague Barbara Drescher’s well-written post at the JREF Swift blog titled An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: analysis, children, Christmas, critical thinking, education, evidence, Holidays, kids, mall, myth, mythology, observation, physics, reality, Santa, santa claus, skepticism | 6 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011
My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween!
I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims. Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things? I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.
So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…
Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: 1938, AAPT, aliens, American Association of Physics Teachers, broadcast, cartoon, critical thinking, delusion, detectors, education, electromagnetic fields, EMF, equipment, esp, extrasensory perception, Flim Flam, ghost hunter, ghost hunters, ghost hunting, ghost meter, ghosts, Halloween, Haunted Physics Lab, high school, hoax, humor, hysteria, infrared, invaders, invasion, James Randi, Lake Forest, lesson, magic, mars, Martians, mass hysteria, media, Mercury Theater, meters, NOVA, orb, Orson Welles, Ouija, Ouija board, panic, paranoraml, paranormal, PBS, physics, pseudoscience, psychics, radio, Randi, science, Secrets of the Psychics, skeptic, Skeptic's Dictionary, skepticism, Snopes, South Park, spacecraft, spirit, spirits, TAPS, teacher, teaching, temperature, The Amazing One, The Amazing Randi, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, UFO, war, War of the Worlds, waves, woo | 4 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on October 16, 2011
I am happy to report that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now awarding education grants to help educators with the development and implementation of lessons and curriculum related to teaching skepticism and critical thinking skills. Read on for more information…
… Right now, the JREF has a limited number of educator grants (up to $500 each) available to help offset the cost of developing or improving critical thinking and scientific skepticism programs in the classroom. Preference is given to projects aimed at creating educational content related to science or critical thinking through examination of the paranormal and pseudoscience.
Funded projects can include (but are not limited to) working with JREF educational modules (and related media) or developing new content to be made available to the educational community through the JREF.
If you’re interested in working with the JREF to share critical thinking tools with your students at a time when it matters most, please reply and let me know. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, discuss your ideas for projects, and explain the simple grant application process. For more information or to apply, contact: email@example.com
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: camps, college, community centers, critical thinking, education, educator, elementary, funding, grant, high school, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, junior high, Michael Blanford, middle, money, museums, school, skepticism, teacher, teaching, university | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2011
Tomorrow, September 23rd, is the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, and it is on this occasion that I like to inject a little skeptical and critical thinking fun into my physics classes. Most of us have heard of the urban legend about balancing an egg on its end during the equinox – the thing is, this is true! The myth is the implication that one can only do this on the equinox, when – in fact – you can balance an egg on end pretty much any time you want.
Case in point, here’s a couple of photos of me balancing eggs on their ends during the time of year exactly opposite to the equinoxes…
During the summer solstice…
And during the winter solstice…
In addition, here’s a nice Youtube video showing some tips on how to accomplish this trick:
The reason why this trick works boils down to simple physics: it’s called unstable equilibrium. If you have a flat and level surface on which to perform this trick, and there aren’t a lot of vibrations around, then chances are you can balance a number of eggs in a standard dozen pack. As long as the eggs are relatively smooth on their ends (look closely and you’ll see some bumps on some of them) and you are very patient, then with some practice pretty much anyone can perform this trick. The Bad Astronomy blog has a pretty good rundown on the physics as well.
So the next time you hear someone pass along the “eggs can be balanced only on the equinox” myth, whip out some eggs and balance away. It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to advocate for skepticism and science
Posted in astrology, magic tricks, physics denial/woo | Tagged: astrology, astronomy, autumnal, Bad Astronomy, balance, balancing eggs on end, cosmic, critical thinking, debunking, egg, eggs, equilibrium, equinox, magic, myth, physics, pseudoscience, skepticism, solstice, stable, summer, Sun, trick, urban legend, vernal, winter | 2 Comments »