The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘public school’

“Skepticism in the Classroom” at the American Association of Physics Teachers

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2011

I had a recent blog post about my presentation at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9’s “Skepticism in the Classroom” workshop, but that was just a warmup, folks!  I’m happy to say that this past weekend, while at the American Association of Physics Teachers summer meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, my skeptical physics colleague, Dean Baird, and I presented a more detailed and physics-oriented version of Skepticism in the Classroom :)

Our workshop was about 4 hours long, and we took turns presenting a wide variety of physics lessons that incorporate some aspect of skepticism and critical thinking into them (what I like to call “guerrilla skepticism”).  For reference, all of Dean’s lessons are available at this link over at his Blog of Phyz.  I share my lessons with you below, so feel free to use, adapt, and share them as you wish:

1. Astrology Debunking Activity  and Solutions – This activity allows you to test out the notion of astrology with your students in a controlled manner.  It illustrates pretty clearly that astrology doesn’t really work.

2. Bed of Nails – I’ve made a very detailed blog post already on the subject (at the link).  However, at the end of that blog post the Youtube video of the moron cutting his arm with a razor sharp machete doesn’t work – try this one instead [warning: not for the squeamish!]

3. Board Breaking & Karate – This is another subject on which I have written before (click the link).  However, included in my blog analysis of the topic are some additional materials: an article about the physics of karate and a notesheet that I use in my classes to illustrate the physical principles behind this not-so-miraculous feat.

4. Einstein Cranks – This is a link to a blog post I wrote earlier about how many physics cranks and pseudoscientists abuse physics and the rules of science in an attempt to promote their nonsense.

5. EMF Woo – These are a collection of blog posts I have made over the years regarding the nonsense and pseudoscience surrounding EMFs (electromagnetic fields).  These posts – and the lessons associated with them – range from addressing claims of low-frequency EMFs inducing cancer to ghost-hunting woo (and the companies that promote such nonsense).

6. ESP Claims – Here I have collected a couple of lessons dealing with the claims of ESP and psychics.  Most notable are the notesheet for James Randi’s Secrets of the Psychics video and an article from Skeptical Inquirer magazine I have my students read on the issue.  You can find Randi’s excellent video for free on Youtube…

 

7. Glasswalking – This is just a blog post and video of why it is that walking barefoot on broken glass won’t cut you, provided you don’t slide your feet.  Hint: nothing paranormal or supernatural is required!

8. Haunted Lab – Every year around Halloween I do a special, exploration-based lab that incorporates a lot of cool physics concepts in with some debunking of paranormal claims.  It’s great fun!

9. Hot Stuff! – In this collection of lessons I address pseudoscientific claims from the standpoint of thermal physics.  Specifically, I have my students learn about how firewalking isn’t paranormal, and I also have them look at the claims that a man uses his “chi” to avoid getting burned when he puts molten lead into his mouth!

10. Magnetic Therapy – This lesson is an article and notesheet regarding this time-honored classic of alternative “medicine” woo.

11. Mega-Woosh Water Slide – A couple of years ago, this Internet video went viral, supposedly showing a man making a near-impossible jump across a valley using a huge water slide.  Well, it wasn’t real, but a basic analysis of physics also shows it is highly implausible as well.

12. Neat Tricks – These include some nice, off-the-cuff critical thinking exercises for your students: my “Uncle Harry” card trick, and my self-tying knot trick (the solution is here).   Enjoy! :)

13. Optical Illusions – This is a really broad category: it includes a PowerPoint I give on illusions and pareidolia, an article I have my students read on so-called “mystery lights”, and some stuff about how spirit orbs are not what New Agers claim.

14. Ouija Board – At the link is a blog post I wrote on a lesson I use involving magnetic fields to get students to question the claims behind Ouija boards.

15. Pyramids & Aliens – These lessons focus on addressing claims by various UFOologists that aliens built the Egyptian pyramids.  I have my students read an article from Skeptical Inquirer on the subject, then I give them a lecture on the physics of how humans (using simple technology) can build a pyramid, given time and a large workforce.

16. Movie Physics – In this end-of-the-year lesson, I get my students to think a bit skeptically regarding the physics presented in various movies.

It is our hope that through these workshops we can get more and more teachers to consider pursuing these skeptically-oriented topics in their own classrooms. We have plans to try doing workshops at future teacher conferences, such as the upcoming National Science Teachers’ Association meeting in 2012.  Stay tuned! :)

Posted in education, physics denial/woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

TAM9 “Skepticism in the Classroom” Workshop

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 27, 2011

This year at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, I had the honor of presenting once again at the Skepticism in the Classroom workshop with my skeptical education colleagues, Michael Blanford of the JREF and Barbara Drescher of ICBSeverywhere.com.  Together we put on a workshop for about 200 people, mostly teachers, on the topic of how to incorporate skepticism and critical thinking into the classroom.

After a brief introduction from Michael, I tackled the issue from the standpoint of a high school teacher and shared some of the practical tips and tricks that I use in my classes to “sneak in” skepticism into lessons I normally teach.  I really like how my partner in the workshop, Barbara, described my contribution:

Photo credit: Dean Baird

Matt recapped the most important concepts from his piece last year and presented more of his fun and interesting demonstrations. I used to think that cognitive psychologists had all of the fun because we study the interesting ways that our brains and minds fool us and can blow those minds by showing them. However, after some thought I realized that the physics teachers I know have the coolest, scariest, ickiest, and most surprising demonstrations. They deal with the physical world and there are almost as many bizarre things in the physical world as there are in the mind.

Matt did not walk on fire or lie on a bed of nails, but he has done those things and has the video to prove it! What he did do is show the audience that getting your hands dirty can be a great way to reach minds.

Barbara then gave a very interesting lecture on the importance of trying to get students to think critically at an early age, such as in elementary school, and how to use the basics of philosophy and philosophical discussion to engage students.  I found her points to be very thought-provoking, and I am seriously considering working something like this into my own teaching if I’m able.

I could go on and on about it more, but I think it would be more useful for you to see and hear for yourself.  Below is my PowerPoint lecture from the workshop, complete with an audio recording of the workshop.  In addition, you should take a few minutes to go see Barbara’s ICBS blog post on the workshop; and while you’re at it, see this link to the resources that both Barbara and I are providing for anyone interested!

** FREE RESOURCES FROM THE “SKEPTICISM IN THE CLASSROOM” WORKSHOP **

More stuff you might find useful:

TAM9 Lecture: Inquiry-Based Skepticism for the Classroom (my PowerPoint file I presented)

Audio of TAM9 Skepticism in the Classroom (Audio file embedded in PowerPoint file – about 1.5 hours long)

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

Creationism Coming to Your Backyard?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2011

Think that your school district is immune from the pressures of pseudoscientific nonsense such as creationism?  Think again…

This image is edited from the hilarious original :)

It can happen anywhere, and I say that with all sincerity because it looks like creationism could very well be creeping very near to my own backyard.  Specifically, there is a school board election coming up soon in a nearby district, and I was tipped off to this fact by an online pro-science group I’m part of called Darwin’s Bulldogs.

In this article in a local paper, it is outlined quite clearly that the intentions of two candidates for the school board (one of whom is the current president!) are to have their religious beliefs taught as science…

Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes

Two candidates for the Fremont School District 79 board — including the panel’s current president — believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The revelations were made Monday morning during candidate interviews at the Daily Herald’s Lake County office.

“I think from a scientific standpoint it can be given as a viewpoint,” board President Sandra Bickley said in the interview. “(It’s) another theory to consider.” …

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow that to happen.  I’ve already written a letter to the paper which published this article.  Here it is…

Creationism should not be taught as science

As a physics teacher/professor and taxpayer, I was appalled to read your Feb. 14 article “Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes” about the Fremont school board election.

According to your article, candidates Sandra Bickley and Kim Hansen said that creationism is “another theory to consider” and that it “should be presented in a very broad type of curriculum or structure”.  They also said that “there is no right or wrong” regarding people’s beliefs.

Well, I don’t know about the right or wrong of one’s beliefs, but I can tell you that there most certainly are right and wrong answers in science.  And the evidence overwhelmingly shows that creationism, as science, is dead wrong.  If there were anything substantial, in a scientific sense, to creationism, why is it that we don’t use creationism to make modern vaccines & antibiotics, as we do with evolutionary biology?  We don’t because creationism doesn’t work as science, period.

As for the “teach all views” argument, which version of creationism should we teach?  Should it be young-Earth (the Earth is 6000 years old) or old-Earth (the Earth is billions of years old) creationism?  What about teaching non-Christian versions, such as Raelianism (they believe we were created by aliens, not God)?  Perhaps after we get done “teaching all views”, the students might have a couple of weeks left in the school year to learn real science.

They don’t waste time with this nonsense in science classes in China & India, whose populations are becoming better educated & more competitive with the United States every year.  I suggest the taxpayers consider that fact when casting their votes in the upcoming school board election.

I’m not sure if my letter will get published, but I’ll fight this thing tooth & toenail if I have to, and I have allies in that fight.  That includes regular readers of this blog, whom I encourage to contact me, most especially if you live in the area, for advice on dealing with issues such as these.  This is important because one things creationists do is track each others’ success with things like this; if they have even mild success in an area, they will make a concerted push in that area (and others).  If you don’t beat them back quickly, they’ll multiply and try to take over the school board; then, the next thing you know, you’ve got another Dover trial on your hands.

This should serve as a cautionary tale, folks: it CAN happen anywhere, and it WILL happen if those of us on the side of science & skepticism let our guard down.  So be on the lookout & watch your local school board.

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

Illinois Federation of Teachers Awesome Resolution on Science vs. Supernaturalism

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2010

As some of you may know, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a blog post that the Illinois Federation of Teachers was working to pass a strongly worded resolution on science & creationism. Well, now that I’ve seen the actual text of the adopted resolution, I have to say that it is stronger than I expected (a very good thing indeed!)  I find it worthwhile to point out one section in particular – thanks to RBH over at The Panda’s Thumb for bringing this section to my attention…

WHEREAS, attempts to subvert the validity or teaching of evolutionary theory are also attacks on all scientific inquiry and, therefore, also attacks on the validity of using reason and experimentation to understand the universe;

Wow!  That’s pretty much a right cross straight into the teeth of not only creationists, but pretty much anyone else who wants to push their pseudoscientific, religious or supernatural beliefs as science in Illinois public schools.  Count me as a happy camper :)

But there’s more, so without further delay, here is the full text of the adopted resolution:

KEEP SUPERNATURALISM OUT OF THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM

Adopted at the 2010 Illinois Federation of Teachers Convention

WHEREAS, science is a systematic method for investigating natural phenomena through experimentation, observation and measurement leading to falsifiable explanations that are open to continuous testing; and

WHEREAS, science proceeds on the basis of methodological naturalism and assumes observed phenomena of the universe are real, nature is consistent and understandable, and nature is explainable in terms of laws and theories; and

WHEREAS, a scientific theory is consistent with evidence from multiple and independent sources of evidence, explains many different facts and allows predictions of subsequent discoveries; and

WHEREAS, the theory of evolution satisfies these criteria fully, is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy and chemistry; and

WHEREAS, there have been attempts in some states to include supernaturalism in the science curriculum as an alternative to scientific explanations of nature, particularly as an alternative to evolutionary theory; and

WHEREAS, arguments that invoke supernaturalism are grounded in religious or philosophical considerations outside the realm of science; and

WHEREAS, attempts to subvert the validity or teaching of evolutionary theory are also attacks on all scientific inquiry and, therefore, also attacks on the validity of using reason and experimentation to understand the universe; and

WHEREAS, legislation that conflates supernaturalism, or limits, or prohibits the teaching of any scientific theory negatively impacts our ability to make informed decisions; and

WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the Illinois Federation of Teachers to preserve the integrity of science in the classroom; therefore be it

resolved, that the Illinois Federation of Teachers affirm, through a positional statement on its website, the validity of science as a methodology for understanding the nature of the universe, and affirm the validity and foundational importance of organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT affirm, through a positional statement on its website, that supernaturalism is not a scientific endeavor and, therefore, is inappropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution does not make it the official position of the IFT that there is no God and should not be interpreted as a statement either for or against religion or belief in God; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT call upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of including non-science subjects (e.g., intelligent design and creationism) in our science curriculum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the IFT communicate to the local, regional and national public media, to educational authorities and to appropriate legislators its opposition to the inclusion of non-science approaches and subjects (e.g., creationism and intelligent design) into the science education curricula of our public school system; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the IFT members also promote these concerns and help resolve these issues in their home communities among educators, parents, school boards and students in appropriate public forums.

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

Is There a Need for a National Center for Science Education on Climate Science?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 30, 2010

The answer is YES! That’s because when you compare the tactics employed by climate-change deniers to those employed by creationists, they are practically identical.  Eugenie Scott, the director of the NCSE, elaborates in more detail…

Please consider supporting the NCSE and their important work. They are a valuable resource, one with whom I have consulted (and helped others consult) on numerous occasions.  Their experience in matters such as these is invaluable, so if you have any questions and/or concerns, contact them.

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pro-Science Resolution for the Illinois Federation of Teachers?

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 15, 2010

**Update: I’ve received word that the IFT resolution was accepted this past weekend!  I will post the full text of the amended resolution once I receive it.

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

I teach high school & college science in Illinois, and I’m also a member of both teaching unions here – the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association. I’m often proud to be a member of these organizations, though at times my patience is worn rather thin with them.  Specifically, I know some people who are trying very hard to get a resolution passed at the IFT conference this weekend concerning evolution & creationism.

Sadly, in the past the IFT (and, to my knowledge, the IEA as well) has taken no official position on the teaching of science in public schools.  Thus, stupid things happen like creationists are allowed to show up with a booth at IFT/IEA conferences (would they allow, say, Holocaust deniers to push their “alternate view” of history?)

The purpose of the resolution is to get the IFT to finally take a strong, pro-science stand against the pseudoscience & religiously-driven malarkey of creationism which has been pushed for far too long.  It is undoubtedly true that there are IFT members who are creationists, but that isn’t a reason to avoid addressing this issue – the scientific community has spoken, the federal courts have spoken, and now it is time for the IFT and other teachers’ unions to speak & stand up strongly for sound science education in our public schools.

If you are a member of IFT and are a delegate to this weekend’s conference, or you know someone who is, please encourage them to stand up  and speak in support of this resolution when it is presented.  For more information, you make contact Professor Gary Fritz at gnfritz@eiu.edu

The language of the resolution follows:

UPI House of Delegates 2009

Keep non-scientific ideas out of the science curriculum

submitted by

GARY FRITZ, EIU-UPI

WHEREAS, science is a systematic method for investigating natural phenomena through experimentation, observation, and measurement leading to falsifiable explanations that are open to continuous testing; and

WHEREAS, science proceeds on the basis of methodological naturalism and assumes observed phenomena of the universe are real, nature is consistent and understandable, and nature is explainable in terms of laws and theories; and

WHEREAS, a scientific theory is consistent with evidence from multiple and independent sources of evidence, explains many different facts, and allows predictions of subsequent discoveries; and

WHEREAS, the theory of evolution satisfies these criteria fully,  is the foundation of biological science, is supported by a coherent body of integrated evidence from other disciplines in science, and is consistent with theories from other scientific disciplines including anthropology, geology, physics, astronomy, and chemistry; and

WHEREAS, there have been attempts in some states to include non-scientific ideas, such as creationism and intelligent design, in the science curriculum as  alternatives to scientific explanations of nature, particularly as an alternative to evolutionary theory; and

WHEREAS, arguments grounded in religious or philosophical considerations outside the realm of science have been invoked in attempts to subvert the validity or teaching of evolutionary theory.  These attempts are also attacks on all scientific inquiry and, therefore, also attacks on the validity of using reason and experimentation to understand the universe; and

WHEREAS, legislation that incorporates unscientific ideas into the science curriculum, or limits, or prohibits the teaching of any scientific theory, negatively impacts our ability to make informed decisions; and

WHEREAS, it is the responsibility of the AFT to preserve the integrity of science in the classroom;

Therefore be it resolved, that the AFT affirm, through a positional statement on its website, the validity of science as a methodology for understanding the nature of the universe, and affirm the validity and foundational importance of organic evolution to science as a whole and biology, specifically; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFT affirm, through a positional statement on its website, that ideas such as creationism and intelligent design are not with  in the realm of science and, therefore, are inappropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFT call upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory, and the inappropriateness of  including non-science subjects (e.g.,  intelligent design and creationism) in our science curriculum; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFT communicate to the local, regional, and national public media, to educational authorities, and to appropriate legislators its opposition to the inclusion of non-science approaches and subjects (e.g., creationism and intelligent design) into the science education curricula of our public school system; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFT members also promote these concerns and help resolve these issues in their home communities among educators, parents, school boards, and students in appropriate public forums.

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Time for Back-to-School Vaccinations!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2010

I wanted to pass along a quick video about vaccinations and sending your kids back to school.  Starring in the video is Elyse Anders, president of the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and generally all-around awesome Skepchick!  Check it out :)

For reference, the WTFF will soon be publicly launching our “Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated!” campaign, so stay tuned for more information on that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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…

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Oppose Texas Theocratic Threats to Nationwide Education

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 11, 2010

I just wanted to pass along a very well-worded action alert from the folks over at the Secular Coalition for America

****************

Don’t Let a Few Theocrats Have a National Effect on Public School Curricula

A few theocratic members of the Texas State Board of Education—already infamous for their moves to indoctrinate Texas students with creationism in science classes—are falsely asserting a theocratic basis to America’s founding and removing, of all people, Thomas Jefferson from a list of influential thinkers. [Read more about this situation at the Texas Freedom Network's website]

A handful of religious extremists can affect schools across America. Because other big states like California and New York do not impose statewide standards in the same way, Texas is one of the largest statewide textbook markets. Texas uses some of its $22 billion education fund to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually—which strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor products to fit Texas standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association have developed (and the Obama administration has embraced) common core educational standards, but they apply only to math and English language arts. As the New York Times recently noted, some basic, factual subjects, such as evolution may be deemed “controversial” in the 21st Century’s educational environment. If standards are to exist, federal financial incentives must apply with equal force to science and history just as they do for math and English. To do otherwise is to succumb to the pressure of religious extremists.

Let’s make sure our community’s voice is heard.

Write your Member of Congress now! Tell them that if they support national education standards and incentives for math and English, they should support standards that are just as strong for science and history, regardless of pressure from religious extremists.

Secular Americans believe that every student deserves to learn science and our nation’s history as they actually are, with no bias for or against any ideology or religion. Religious creation myths have no place in science classes, and religiously-based revisions and indoctrinations should be equally unwelcome in history classes. We should not be afraid to set standards because of religious extremists.

******************

Amen to that :)

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Evolution Education: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 11, 2010

In the ongoing fight to promote good science education in the United States, sometimes I think it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing.  The U.S. has some of the best universities in the world, and we do a huge amount of cutting edge scientific research in a variety of fields – indeed, our federal budget for scientific research dwarfs that of other nations.  Yet, at the same time, there is a very dedicated creationist movement in this nation which seeks to tear down any kind of science they view as contrary to their fundamentalist religious views. And they’re willing to destroy the scientific education of the country’s young people in the process.

Case in point, here are two recent stories outlining this dichotomy:

1. Hubble Space Telescope shows earliest photo of the universe – This is an example of what I was referencing as the best the U.S. has to offer in terms of cutting edge science.  The HST has generated an optical photograph of the early universe, a mere 600 million years after the big bang (which is very soon after the big bang, since the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).  The photograph shows evidence of the formation of the earliest galaxies in our universe, and it adds yet another layer to our knowledge of cosmic evolution and how the first stars & galaxies formed.  Indeed, it is hard not to be awestruck when contemplating the full implications of such a scientific discovery – here’s the photo…

When understood in the full context of the big bang, the expansion & evolution of our universe, the formation of our own solar system, and the evolution of life on Earth, this is an amazing thing!  As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “We are star stuff – a way for the cosmos to contemplate itself.”

I am eagerly sharing this new information with my colleagues, students, and friends & family.  Hopefully, this new discovery will be added to the wealth of knowledge in our public schools’ science curriculum and more students in the future will learn about it.

Alas, sadly, this leads me to my second point…

Read the rest of this entry »

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

 
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