The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘education’

New JREF eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 25, 2015

I’ve been teaching physics, astronomy, and math at both the high school and college level for about 18 years. And in that time I’ve made a number of contributions to the intersection of skepticism and education. I’m proud to say that one of them is a my part in a new ebook published by the James Randi Educational Foundation, available for free download. Please pass this along to any educator whom you know is interested in preserving and encouraging scientific and critical thinking in the classroom :)

New eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Magic in the Classroom

The JREF is pleased to offer a new eBook for educators

Magic in the Classroom is a collection of essays by educators across the curriculum who are using extraordinary claims to teach critical thinking. Editor Robert Blaskiewicz gathers the contributions of fourteen authors from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift Blog who write on topics ranging from popular culture, psychology, linguistics, evolution, exobiology, history, folklore, and many more. Together these essays represent the work of a vibrant skeptical culture in education that is bringing critical thinking skills to students across the curriculum.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE!

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

“Teaching Critical Thinking” Panel at FtBConscience3

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 25, 2015

I just got done participating in a wonderful panel on teaching critical thinking via the online FtBConscience3 event. On the panel with me was Jason Thibeault (who moderated), Chana Messinger, and Dan Linford. The panel was recorded and the video is now posted on Youtube. Enjoy! :)

Teaching Critical Thinking

How can teachers use their role as educators to instill critical thinking and ideas like rationalism and empiricism? Are such approaches intrinsic to teaching or separate? We could also go into the ethics of where to draw the line between instructing and “preaching” but I’d actually prefer to stick to the praxis and methodology of bringing critical thinking into the classroom. How do we adapt assessments and assignments? How do we model thinking behaviors we’d like to see?

Panelists: Chana Messinger, Hiba Krisht, Matt Lowry, Dan Linford

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

The Physics of Santa 2.0

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2014

Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth.  In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK.  I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays! :)

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lowry 4

Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NEA Science Caucus Pushes Back Against Creationism & Pseudoscience

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 27, 2014

Last year I posted about how over the years creationists had actually infiltrated the vendors area at the national meeting (also known as the Representative Assembly or RA) of the National Education Association.  And if you think about it, such a thing is just plain silly; I mean, really, to allow creationists to come in pushing pseudoscience makes about as much sense as allowing, for example, Holocaust deniers to come in pushing pseudo-history.  Where do you draw the line and where are the policies preventing such nonsense from being promoted by a teacher’s organization?!

Well, many NEA members aren’t waiting for the leadership of the organization to act; they’ve decided to push back against this irresponsible promotion of pseudoscience by assembling the NEA Science Caucus.  The NEA Science Caucus is moving ahead by working at the political level within the NEA and by bringing in pro-science groups such as the National Center for Science Education to also have a vendor booth.

I am happy to report that last year’s efforts were quite well-received and successful; it ends up that for years many NEA members were frustrated with seeing creationist propaganda on display in the vendor area, but no one had really organized anything until recently.  But now that the Caucus has gotten started, they’re growing, as is their influence…

NEA Science Caucus

If you’re at the NEA RA this year, look for anyone wearing this ribbon :)

If you are an NEA member, and especially if you are attending or know someone who is attending this year’s RA in Denver, please consider getting involved with the NEA Science Caucus.  Specifically, you should check out their Facebook page (or if you aren’t on Facebook, they also have a new website at www.neascience.org) and attempt to contact their organizer, Toby Spencer.  In addition, you can follow them on Twitter @sciencecaucus and they’ll be using the tag #neascience.  If you’re interested in joining the Caucus, you can sign up for membership with the NEA Science Caucus here; at the very least, spread the word to your colleagues.

It is my hope that if we can bring enough political pressure to bear on the NEA, then perhaps they’ll come to their senses and follow in the wise footsteps of the Illinois Federation of Teachers which adopted a resolution in 2010 (See NEA?!  You’re behind the times!) titled “Keep Supernaturalism Out of the Science Curriculum”.  And this Caucus is a good first step in that direction.

I’ll let the Caucus have the last word; from their Facebook page…

Greetings, science lovers! First, thank you for joining the NEA Science Educators Caucus and for participating on this page. It’s been great to learn from your links and to share chuckles with you.

Success! Our money is in the bank and the NCSE: The National Center for Science Education will be hosting a booth for the second year! This time, we have the luxury of three expert speakers, including Dr. Minda Berbeco and the NCSE Director of Religious Community Outreach. They’re generously offering up to three talks on subjects ranging from climate education to evolution/creation to religion and science. We also have much business to discuss this year. Last year we had two great talks. So I ask you: How many talks do you want this year? On which topics?

And please try to connect with and invite other science organizations to affiliate with us and to purchase a vendor table at the NEA Expo. The more the merrier, in educating our membership! We are contacting HHMI, NASA, NSTA and Science NHS. Do you have other contacts? NABT? AAPT? AAAS? Dawkins? Skeptics? Beuller?

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Help Bring Reading Rainbow Back!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2014

This isn’t necessarily a skeptical blog post, but it is an educational one in that in order for people to be skeptical and critical thinkers they must be able to share, disseminate, and critique ideas… and that means being able to read.  Thus, this blog is proud to support the new Kickstarter effort to bring back Reading Rainbow! :D

Please watch the video and consider donating to this worthy cause…

Reading Rainbow

 

 

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

The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014: Skepticism and The Brain

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014

I just wanted to pass along the news that registration has opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas this July.  This year’s theme is “Skepticism and The Brain”, and it promises to be an educational and enlightening experience.  Read on for more…

JREF14_tam_webbanner2_newemail

 

We are thrilled to announce that The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) returns in just a few months: July 10-13, 2014 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Our theme this year – Skepticism and the Brain – is focused on the cognitive and brain sciences and how they inform the project of skepticism. Keynote speakers include the acclaimed philosopher, cognitive scientist, and best selling author Daniel Dennett and Scientific AmericanEditor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. Other speakers include neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, Australia’s Dr. Karl, Evolution & Human Behavior Editor-in-Chief Robert Kurzban, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience authors Scott Lilienfeld and Sally Satel, M.D., influential memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, clinical neurologist Steven Novella, M.D., immunologist Paul Offit, M.D., National Center for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott, Skeptic Editor-in-Chief Michael Shermer, psychologists and best selling authors Carol Tavris and Richard Wiseman, and many, many more!

The inimitable George Hrab returns as our Master of Ceremonies. As Pacific Standard magazine recently described, Hrab’s “vaudeville-style” has set the tone for “what is perhaps the world’s preeminent gathering of self-proclaimed skeptics.”

This annual celebration of critical thinking is an unparalleled opportunity to make like-minded friends, enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief. TAM has become the must-go-to event for skeptics and science advocates.

Join James Randi and over a thousand other like-minded folks for four days of fun, friendship, and critical thinking!

REGISTER TODAY!

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Help Get Charles Darwin on an E-Book

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2014

One of the most memorable science and skeptical experiences I had was to organize a Darwin Day event a few years back wherein my local group – Darwin’s Bulldogs – hosted Charles Darwin impersonator and historian Brian “Fox” Ellis.  Brian is an amazing performer, and we packed the room with people who were mesmerized by his work.

Now I’d like to help Brian out with his campaign to create an e-book (that incorporates both audio and video) through a campaign called “History… In Person!” that features Charles Darwin and many other figures of historical and scientific note.  Read on for more information, and please consider donating to his cause…

Darwin impersonator and excellence in science educational policy advocate, Brian “Fox” Ellis is working with a great team of educators, artists and techies to help produce a series of living books, HISTORY… In Person! They are using crowd sourced funding, which means that if you want to support this project you purchase books before-hand to help them move forward. You can be part of this team and produce a living book that you can Print on Demand, read on your tablet, listen to as a podcast and download as video, giving you an intimate encounter with historical characters as portrayed by Brian “Fox” EllisYou get to help decide which characters get produced. Join this crowd sourced funding campaign and win cool perks including a chance to be a costumed character in the film! http://www.Indiegogo.com/projects/history-in-person Share this link on social media and invite your friends to vote! If we get enough folks to support Darwin, he has agreed to offer a free program in the Chicago area for Darwin’s Bulldogs and donate Biography Cards to the Clergy Project! Follow the link and choose your perk for supporting HISTORY… In Person!

 

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Help Raise Funds to Send People to SkepchickCON 2014

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 2, 2014

One of my skeptical colleagues, Surly Amy, is once again launching a worthwhile effort to spread the message of skepticism: she is using her art to raise money to help buy passes to help people go to science and secular events. This will be her 5th year doing this fundraiser project to help people attend the science track at Convergence in Bloomington, Minnesota (a.k.a. SkepchickCON.) This year’s track is jam packed full of educational science programming, led by scientists with activities for children and adults!

I-Love-Science-at-SkepchickCON
You can also help by donating (there is a donate link in the post) or just passing along the word.  The process is quite simple:  If you want help buying your ticket just put your name in the comments here: http://skepchick.org/2014/02/i-love-science-at-skepchickcon/
And if you want to help pay for people by buying a necklace go here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/surly?section_id=14978935&ref=shopsection_leftnav_1
Also, if you are someone in need of help paying for their ticket and want to learn more about the sciences by attending this event, then simply “add your name to the hat” in the comment section on the blog post.

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

Darwin Day 2014: Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles – Part 2

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 17, 2014

In my previous post, I outlined how creationism got quite a public trouncing in the recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham.  Apparently, it’s not only the pro-science crowd that thinks Ham lost hands down; it is worth noting that one of the most infamous modern creationist outlets, the Discovery Institute, has some harsh words for Ham as well.  And if that isn’t enough for you, even conservative evangelical Pat Robertson gets in on the act, criticizing Ham’s idiotic arguments.  Last, but not least, a poll over at the Christianity Today website very clearly states that Bill Nye was the debate winner (by 92 to 8% !!!).

Now, as if this weren’t embarrassing enough for the creationist movement, let us take some time to visit the progress of one of its most touted efforts in recent decades: the Wedge Strategy from the Discovery Institute.

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Image source

Josh Rosenau at the National Center for Science Education gives a really nice breakdown of the utter and complete failure of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy since its inception over 15 years ago:

A Crystal Anniversary for the Wedge Document

… The Wedge Document [an original copy is available here], as the packet came to be known, laid out a bold plan by which the Center would “re-open the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature,” and “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” From its first sentence, the document proclaimed its sectarian goals, stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.”

In order to achieve this religious revival, the creators of the CRSC proposed a five-year plan, with three phases: “Research, Writing and Publication,” “Publicity and Opinion-making,” and “Cultural Confrontation and Renewal.” Of these, they insisted that the first was most crucial: “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.”

On this fifteenth anniversary of that five-year plan, it’s worth asking just what the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture has accomplished. They promised at the time, “we can accomplish many of the objectives of Phases I and II in the next five years (1999-2003), and begin Phase III (See ‘Goals/Five Year Objectives/Activities’).”

The Five Year Goals:

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory.
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Of these, the first has certainly not happened within science. The second is immeasurable, but hasn’t happened in any obvious way, and to the extent there are new debates in the fields described in the third item, the CRSC seems to have no role to play (aside from sitting on the sidelines and carping). …

These five-year objectives outlined seven topics, of which there are two I’d like to emphasize from Rosenau’s article:

Topic #3. One hundred scientific, academic and technical articles by our fellows [i.e. research fellows with the Discovery Institute]

Rosenau elaborates…

… Unless you count articles published in the various unimpressive and intellectually incestuous ID journals that have come and gone over the years, or include papers that have nothing to do with ID creationism, they haven’t met this standard, either. Even the CRSC’s own list of publications only hits about 75 items, and most of those are not in credible journals, or don’t mean what the Center claims they mean.

Again, the Wedge document opened by insisting that “Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” By their own standard, the ID creationists have to be judged as engaged in “just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” …

Ouch, so much for the actual science, of which there appears to be none in favor of so-called ID.  However, as anyone who has followed the Discovery Institute knows, their real goal is to promote so-called “cultural renewal”.

Topic #5: Spiritual & cultural renewal:

  • Mainline renewal movements begin to appropriate insights from design theory, and to repudiate theologies influenced by materialism
  • Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s) Darwinism
  • Seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositions
  • Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God

Again, time has shown that on this point the ID-creationists have had no luck, as Rosenau points out…

… Many mainline Protestant churches (and their seminaries) have issued policy statements in favor of evolution in recent years, and against IDC, while the CRSC’s allies in the older creationist organizations have backed away from IDC since its failure in the Dover trial. Public opinion polls show increasing acceptance of marriage equalityviews on abortion are quite stable, and belief in God is declining. …

Rosenau concludes:

… In short, on this crystal anniversary of the Wedge Document, it appears that the C(R)SC staff’s crystal-gazing skills were awful; they essentially achieved none of their goals. …

Or, as I like to put it… Message to the Discovery Institute:

shipment_of_fail

Posted in creationism, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Darwin Day 2014: Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles – Part 1

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2014

This Darwin Day, in celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin, I would like to pause and reflect upon two recent bits of news related to the ongoing battle against creationism.  In this first of two posts, I want to note that our friends from the National Center for Science Education have highlighted the recent debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham.

darwin change

The NCSE’s Josh Rosenau gives a quick breakdown of the Nye vs. Ham debate.  Honestly, this was a debate of which I was highly skeptical, seeing as how I tend to come from the “don’t debate creationists” school of thought; however, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well Nye handled it.  I shall post below some select parts of Josh’s analysis; for the full story check out Josh’s post on it…

How Bill Nye Won the Debate

In tonight’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the Science Guy went on stage equipped with the most vital tool of all in any oral debate over evolution and creationism: a showman’s flair, developed over three decades of experience explaining science to the broad public.

Of course, he also had the science on his side, which doesn’t hurt. But it isn’t a guarantee of anything in a stage debate: competitive debaters are judged by their ability to argue either side of a question. Debate is a tool for showing who’s a better orator, not necessarily who’s right. … [emphasis added]

The text in bold above is one of my primary criticisms of the typical debate format; that and the fact that it, by default, elevates the two sides to apparent levels of equity (i.e., it gives the uninformed observer the impression that creationism is just as scientifically valid as evolution).  However, what Josh reports next is the saving grace of the entire debate, in my opinion, and can serve as a model for how scientists can and should debate creationists (or pseudoscientists in general) in the future…

… He [Nye] opened by undercutting the core of Ken Ham’s claim to authority, emphasizing that Ken Ham bases his claims not on the empirical evidence, but on a very particular reading of Genesis. And that way of reading Genesis is very specific to Ken Ham, not to most of the world’s religious people, or even Ham’s fellow evangelicals. He never stopped emphasizing that Ham’s theology is an outlier, and that he doesn’t speak for religious people, Christians, evangelicals, or even all creationists.

Throughout, Nye did a great job keeping the focus on the failures of Ken Ham’s creation model, and the key ways in which it fails to provide any sort of viable explanation for the world around us. A good, viable model has to make real predictions, he emphasized; those predictions can’t be wrong, and a viable model has to be of practical value. In various ways, Ken Ham’s creation model fails on all three prongs. … [emphasis added]

The two lines of bold text are critical points: they show that Nye absolutely refused to play into the typical creationist debate gambit of being pushed to “defend evolution”.  Instead, Nye chose to attack creationism as an extreme form of theology (especially Ham’s variation) which is only one kind of creationism among many, and he then went on to point out the fundamental flaws in Ham’s creationist model, namely that creationism isn’t science at all!

This two-pronged attack on creationism was, in my view, devastating to Ham’s arguments in particular and creationism in general.  That is because it shifts the argument away from evolution having to justify itself to creationism having to justify itself.  I especially like how Nye emphasized the connection of aspects of evolutionary science to important and practical uses in our everyday lives with this…

… Then he [Nye] made the crucial point that Ken Ham’s creation model requires us to reject basic science we all rely on every day. The radioisotope dating methods Ken Ham dismisses are based on the same basic physics that nuclear medicine relies in to save lives. Is it a coincidence, Nye asked, that there are no training programs in nuclear medicine available anywhere in Kentucky? …

Or, as I like to put it, if there really is something to creationism as a “science”, then why hasn’t it been used to develop any medicines, vaccines, or other practical technologies?  And, just to stick it to the creationists even more, I’d like to point out that evolutionary science has done all that and more!

I won’t call the debate a slam dunk for science, because – as we all know – many creationists tend to be unsinkable ducks; no matter how much evidence you amass against their position, no matter what fatal flaws are exposed within their arguments, many of them will simply fall back upon the ol’ “God did it!” routine as a line of last defense.  However, I think that Bill Nye has shown us a road-map of how to proceed in future public engagements with creationists and give those people on the fence some serious food for thought.

Perhaps I will debate a creationist in public, after all :)

In part 2 of “Science Marches Forward While Creationism Fumbles”, I will explore the massive failure of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy

Posted in creationism, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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