The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘educators’

How I Use a Card Trick to Teach About Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2010

Every year when I start a new class, I always take some time on the first day to discuss science & the scientific method. But I have my own fun & unorthodox spin on it: I first tell the “Dragon in My Garage” story, and then I go on to describe the scientific method in a very fun manner.  In short, I do a card trick…

The way I start is to ask my students if they’ve ever been to a family reunion or other gathering where someone present is doing card or magic tricks (suppose this person is “Old Uncle Harry”).  And say Uncle Harry does a particularly impressive card trick (some kind of “mind reading” or mentalism trick); what is likely to be the first response from the children present?  If you said “Do it again!” that’s a pretty good guess, but second to that I’d say the next most common response is “How did you do that?”

“How did you do that?” – contained within this question is a lot of information, folks.  First, it shows that even little kids can think critically & skeptically, because if Uncle Harry responds “It’s magic, kid (wink, wink)” even children know something’s fishy.  Second, it shows that kids want to know some kind of plausible, naturalistic solution to the supposedly “magical” phenomenon they just witnessed.

Then I play off this curiosity & natural skepticism: I ask my students what a particularly curious kid might do to figure out Uncle Harry’s trick (because really good magicians don’t reveal their tricks too easily).  Invariably, they respond that perhaps the first step would be to do some research on card tricks by looking up info on the Internet or going to the public library.  Then, once they think they’ve got an idea of the process, what’s the next step?  “Experimentation” comes the reply – in other words, the student might try to replicate just how the trick is performed by getting their own deck of cards and trying to repeat the phenomenon they observed earlier.  Depending upon their relative success or failure at replicating the trick, they may have to go through this process multiple times before coming to a meaningful conclusion as to how the trick is done.

And that, as I tell my students, is the scientific method in action.  Scientists are going through the very same investigative process as are those kids attempting to figure out Uncle Harry’s magic card trick.  They are attempting to figure out the “tricks” that nature is playing upon us all the time, and to do so they must study, research, hypothesize, and experiment in order to form a coherent & naturalistic explanation for the phenomena we observe (sorry, no “magic” allowed ;) )

And then I ask the question I’ve been waiting to ask for the entire class: “So, having said all of that, do you want to see a trick?”  The answer is always yes, and it’s always a satisfying and enjoyable trick.  This very trick I performed at the “Skepticism in the Classroom” workshop at The Amazing Meeting 8 for about 150-200 people, most of whom were teachers, and it was a real hit.  In fact, it was such a hit that I decided to write up the solution for it, and I share it with you here… enjoy… :)

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Posted in education, magic tricks, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Teacher Workshop – “Skepticism in the Classroom” – at The Amazing Meeting 8

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 19, 2010

**Update: If you’re interested in getting hold of some of the useful materials presented at the “Skepticism in the Classroom” workshop, then check out this link to the Critical Thinking Education Group.

================================

In my last blog post concerning my time at The Amazing Meeting 8 in Las Vegas, I wanted to take some time to outline the workshop called “Skepticism in the Classroom” which I helped to organize and run.  Led by Michael Blanford, the JREF’s new point-man on education, the presenters in the workshop consisted of myself, Daniel Loxton, Barbara Drescher, with a brief bit of material presented on behalf of Kylie Sturgess. I was pleased to see that our workshop was very well attended, with about 150-200 people present (most of whom were teachers!)  We started off with some comments by Michael, where he introduced all of us…

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Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

James Randi Educational Foundation has Grants for Teachers

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2010

In the ongoing effort to put more ‘E’ into the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation), there is a new grant available via the JREF Swift blog to teachers who wish to incorporate more critical thinking & skepticism into their lessons.  Read on…

Announcing The James Randi Grants for Educators

Written by Michael Blanford – Wednesday, June 9th

In its continuing efforts to provide resources to teachers and other educators, the James Randi Educational Foundation is proud to announce its grants for educators.  These grants are intended to help offset the cost of developing or improving critical thinking and scientific skepticism programs in the classroom and beyond. The grants will be awarded annually to educators of grades K-12 to help improve the education of their students, school and/or community in the methods of science and critical thinking through the examination of the paranormal and pseudoscience. Grants will allow teachers to:

  • Purchase materials and / or equipment for the classroom, school or community for use in skepticism and critical thinking education.
  • Begin new school and / or community skepticism and critical thinking outreach and educational programs.
  • Enhance and expand existing skepticism and critical thinking educational programs.
  • Attend courses, workshops or conferences related to scientific skepticism that will significantly enhance their teaching activities.

The James Randi Educational Foundation will award a limited number of grants of up to $500 each. In general, those educators selected to receive the grant are those whose applications are deemed to:

  • Have the greatest need.
  • Will have the most significant and widest impact.
  • Have submitted the most detailed proposal describing how the grant money will be spent.
  • Be most likely to succeed with their proposal.

We ask that curricula and other resources developed with the help of this grant be made available to other educators through the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Grant proposals should be sent to mblanford@randi.org and must include information about the educator’s school or institution, a detailed description of the critical thinking/skepticism project, biographical information about the applicant, and a project budget.  Grant proposals are due on or before July 31st, 2010 and recipients will be announced August 16th 2010.

The James Randi Educational Foundation’s grants for educators program is supported by our generous members. To help support this program click here.

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptical Education at the TAM8 Teacher’s Workshop

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 16, 2010

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with some folks through the James Randi Educational Foundation to try putting more ‘E’ in JREF.  As such, we’ve landed some valuable workshop time at The Amazing Meeting 8 in Las Vegas this coming July.  Here’s some info from the latest issue of JREF Swift on the workshop…

Fine-tune your Skeptical Education Skills at the TAM8 Teacher’s Workshop

Written by Michael Blanford – Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Among the many highlights to be found in the jam-packed TAM8 schedule, is the robust lineup of expertly-led workshops offering practical, and often hands-on reviews of important topics relating to science, critical thinking, and skepticism. Many will be pleased to hear that among them is a teacher’s workshop focusing on some of the specialized skills needed to bring the tools of scientific skepticism into the classroom and beyond. I am very excited that the workshop is being presented by Barbara Drescher and a number of experts with many accumulated years spent learning the “ins and outs” of this sometimes tricky endeavor.  Below is a sneak peak at the workshop from Barbara.

The “E” in JREF at TAM8

You do not need to be a teacher to educate. Each of us takes on the role of educator when we promote critical thinking, science, and skepticism through private debate and public talks. So, you do not need to be a teacher to take home something of value from a workshop to be hosted by Michael Blanford, Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation, at The Amazing Meeting 8.

Join us on Thursday, July 8, 2010 for tips, tricks, and practical advice for teaching critical thinking through classroom demonstrations, lessons and exercises, and mind opening mini lessons. Michael will give us an update on JREF’s educational efforts. Junior Skeptic editor and author of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, Daniel Loxton, will discuss using concepts in evolution through natural selection to cultivate critical thinking in elementary school children. Matt Lowry, The Skeptical Teacher, will cover the secondary set with instructions on how to make a skeptical kid. Finally, I will demonstrate some easy, quick, and fun ways to jimmy open minds by showing that what we perceive does not always match reality. There may even be a surprise guest by proxy. *shhhh!*

So, sign up today, or treat yourself to an all-workshop pass. There will be plenty to take home from what we are confident will be an inspiring start to your TAM8 experience.

Fine-tune your Skeptical Education Skills at the TAM8 Teacher’s Workshop PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Michael Blanford
Tuesday, 15 June 2010 13:57
Among the many highlights to be found in the jam-packed TAM8 schedule, is the robust lineup of expertly-led workshops offering practical, and often hands-on reviews of important topics relating to science, critical thinking, and skepticism. Many will be pleased to hear that among them is a teacher’s workshop focusing on some of the specialized skills needed to bring the tools of scientific skepticism into the classroom and beyond. I am very excited that the workshop is being presented by Barbara Drescher and a number of experts with many accumulated years spent learning the “ins and outs” of this sometimes tricky endeavor.  Below is a sneak peak at the workshop from Barbara.

The “E” in JREF at TAM8

You do not need to be a teacher to educate. Each of us takes on the role of educator when we promote critical thinking, science, and skepticism through private debate and public talks. So, you do not need to be a teacher to take home something of value from a workshop to be hosted by Michael Blanford, Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation, at The Amazing Meeting 8.

Join us on Thursday, July 8, 2010 for tips, tricks, and practical advice for teaching critical thinking through classroom demonstrations, lessons and exercises, and mind opening mini lessons. Michael will give us an update on JREF’s educational efforts. Junior Skeptic editor and author of Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be, Daniel Loxton, will discuss using concepts in evolution through natural selection to cultivate critical thinking in elementary school chilren. Matt Lowry, The Skeptical Teacher, will cover the secondary set with instructions on how to make a skeptical kid. Finally, I will demonstrate some easy, quick, and fun ways to jimmy open minds by showing that what we perceive does not always match reality. There may even be a surprise guest by proxy. *shhhh!*

So, sign up today, or treat yourself to an all-workshop pass. There will be plenty to take home from what we are confident will be an inspiring start to your TAM8 experience.

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Where Education & Skepticism Meet: The CTEG

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 11, 2009

I just wanted to take a few minutes to give a quick shout out to a new group which caters to both educators and skeptics: the Critical Thinking Education Group (CTEG).

cteg

The CTEG formed as a result of a group of classroom teachers and education researchers meeting informally at The Amazing Meeting 6 (TAM6) in Las Vegas in June 2008. At that meeting, we decided that one aspect of the skeptical movement that seems to have been a bit neglected is a more formal analysis of and involvement with the educational community.

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Science By Email

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 10, 2009

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to my skeptical colleague Down Under, Mike. Mike works with the CSIRO – Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – in Australia. The CSIRO is the national science agency for Australia, and Mike helps to work with the educational outreach section of the agency. Specifically, he writes an email newsletter called Science by Email which goes out to over 30,000 educators worldwide.

In addition, if you’re interested, feel free to browse the Science by Email archive of over 100 activities – check out these online lessons & ideas and consider passing them on. Here’s a quick breakdown of the categories of material available at Science by Email

* Chemistry
* Kitchen science
* Weather and the environment
* Biology
* Mathematics
* Electricity, magnetism and engineering
* Astronomy
* Forces
* Sense and perception

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Need for Science Teachers

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2009

I teach high school & college physics, and just this week a colleague of mine sent me a disturbing article in the Chicago Tribune about a crisis in the teaching profession in the state of Illinois. Now, it’s not necessarily the kind of crisis that you might envision – that there aren’t enough prospective teachers on the market. It’s actually the opposite problem – there are too many teachers; at least, there are too many of certain kinds of teachers.

Here are a couple of key excerpts from the article:

The nation’s third-largest city school system [Chicago Public Schools] is seeing a deluge of applications, a phenomenon usually associated with coveted suburban jobs. Applications have doubled in five years—to 23,568 for the 2008-09 school year—fueled in part by the economy but also by a glut of new teachers statewide.

The “overproduction” of teachers is highest in social science, according to the state. Local districts are reporting an oversupply of applicants for elementary school teaching jobs, as well as English language arts and physical education teachers.

This confirms suspicions I’ve had ever since I was getting my certification to teach math & physics many years ago: there are too many education majors or those enrolled in certification programs who are specializing in the humanities such as English & history. But there is something even more disturbing in the article…

Districts also report what they consider to be shortages of qualified teacher applicants, which in 2008 were reported in special education areas, but also in physics, chemistry, math and foreign language.

So the problem is a double whammy – not only are there too many people going into teaching the humanities, but there is a lack of qualified teachers for core scientific & technical subjects such as math, physics, and chemistry!

I don’t know about you, but I see this as a huge problem – especially if it is a common trend throughout the United States (which I suspect it is – see this USA Today article from 2006). If we in the United States are trying to retool our economy to be more forward-looking in the 21st century, then we’re going to need to emphasize basic scientific research & technological development. But where do the scientists and engineers to work on those important projects come from? They come from our educational system.

But when our educational system has too many people wanting to teach English literature and too few people qualified to teach basic physics, how can we possibly expect to educate a workforce that will have the necessary understanding of science & math to be competitive? Without engineers, how can you design & build newer cars, roads, bridges, and infrastructure? Without scientists, how can you do the basic research into alternative energy sources as well as explore other essential questions, such as global warming, medicine, etc?

And this begs an even more fundamental question: Why is it that so many students enrolled in teaching certification programs at U.S. universities & colleges steer away from the physical sciences and mathematics? In discussing this question with my colleague, we speculated on some reasons…

1. Majoring in science and/or math in college is perceived to be very difficult, especially the more mathematical the specific area of science (physics, for example, usually attracts the fewest students of all the sciences). Many U.S. college students choose not to major in science/math because “it isn’t an easy major” or “it’s too much work” compared with other subjects. In all my years of college & graduate school, I cannot tell you how many times I heard fellow students make those sorts of comments. This reflects a fundamental problem – intellectual laziness coupled with a profound lack of work ethic. But why?

2. Sadly, science and math are not respected as much in U.S. society as they were a generation or two ago. Don’t get me wrong – we all love getting on the Internet or playing the latest music on our I-pods. But what is lacking is a respect for and understanding/appreciation of the process of science which leads to the development of those technological marvels. In a way, we’ve gotten so used to being on top that we forgot what it took to get us here. Besides, how can we be surprised that the public image of science is taking a beating when there are constant assaults against our scientific institutions from creationists, New Agers, and sCAM advocates? When the media in this country treat the nonsense of psychics & vaccine deniers halfway seriously, without a hint of critical thinking, why does it shock us that we see the inevitable dumbing down of our educational system regarding actual science?

Without a broader & deeper societal appreciation for science and its methods, how can we expect that enough young people will wish to pursue the sciences, engineering, or science/math teaching as a career path?

This is one reason why I think it is so important for skeptics, critical thinkers, and defenders of science to stand up and speak up. If we are to have any chance of reversing these disturbing trends in science & mathematics education (both in terms of getting good teachers and in terms of educating our kids), then it is incumbent upon us to do our part. If we continue down this dangerous path, then ultimately we will only have ourselves to blame.

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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