The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘educators’

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 »

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 »

Skeptical Lesson Plans from the JREF!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 13, 2013

Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve done is to work on the Educational Advisory Board of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).  One of this board’s functions is to help assemble a variety of lesson plans and modules which emphasize skepticism and critical thinking that can be distributed to teachers everywhere.

I am happy to pass along to you some of the latest lessons from our work at the JREF.  Please feel free to share these as you see fit 🙂

New “JREF in The Classroom” Lesson Plans!

The James Randi Educational Foundation is pleased to announce the release of four new additions to our JREF in the Classroom offerings:

New JREF in The Classroom Lessons

Pareidolia: Do You See What You Think You See?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

Illusions: Our Visual System
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Cognition: Are You Rational?
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Power Balance: Sports Enhancement, or Placebo?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

These are downloadable lesson plans for use in high school and junior high school science and psychology classes that use topics in pseudoscience and the paranormal to teach critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Each lesson is designed to expose students to concepts identified in the National Science Content Standards and AAAS science literacy benchmarks.

These free lesson plans for teachers (and parents) are additions to JREF’s growing catalog of grade-specific standards-focused resources including lesson plans, activity guides, multimedia materials, and more. JREF’s aim with these free resources is to inspire an investigative spirit in the next generation of critical thinkers, providing the intellectual toolkit needed to navigate a life full of difficult decisions, confusing information, and conflicting claims.

Teachers can contact education@randi.org for a free printed classroom kit for any of the eight topics available so far, and to get more information on ways to incorporate JREF’s critical thinking materials into their classrooms.

More information on these and other classroom resources can be found here ≫

And don’t miss JREF President D.J. Grothe’s appearance on the syndicated radio show America Weekend where he discusses JREF’s new free classroom resources. Listen now ≫

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

Announcing the NEA Science Educators Caucus

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2013

If you are into public education, you might know that one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation is the National Education Association (NEA).  Every year, the NEA holds what is called a Representative Assembly (RA) in order to discuss internal matters, lobbying issues, and whatnot.

NEAImage source

I was amazed to find out a few years ago that creationists have successfully infiltrated the NEA, because a colleague of mine who was our representative at the RA that year reported to me that creationists had a pretty strong presence in the vendor area of the RA.  *facepalm*

Well, I am happy to announce that there is now an effort among science teachers within the NEA to push back.  The NEA Science Educators Caucus is officially forming this year, and it is hitting the ground running by organizing at this year’s RA in Atlanta.  For more information on them, and to get involved, read the following information from Toby Spencer, co-chair of the group, and consider connecting with them at their Facebook page…

First, thanks for  committing to help improve science education in our union, in our classrooms, and in the legislature!  And thank you for your patience over the past school year, I know many of you are very interested in furthering our goals and spotlighting our most important issues. I’ve waited to email the group until I had good news to share…

AMAZING news, actually!  Colleen Keenan (CA) succeeded in convincing the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to sponsor an Expo Booth this year in Atlanta!  NCSE will be staffing a booth for two days before the RA sessions begin.  They want our ideas!
Furthermore, we will have two NCSE speakers at our caucus meetings!  Dr. Eugenie Scott, NCSE Executive Director, will address us on July 1st at 4pm in our first caucus meeting.  She will focus on the legalities and politics of evolution.  On the following day, July 2nd, Dr. Minda Berbeco will speak to us about climate change, her area of expertise.
Drs. Scott and Berceco are asking us to give them some direction both for the exhibit booth and their talks.  Could you please reply with your suggestions.  We know evolution/creation brought us together, but we have an opportunity to expand and further our agenda this year.
Speaking of creation (!), we need to write a constitution and bylaws  this year, allowing us to elect officers.  We should create a budget and probably establish a nominal dues structure.  All your input will be appreciated.
I’d like to invite each of you to join our Caucus Facebook Group.  Please find us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/nea.science/.  The facebook page is for any and all things, serious or funny.  Please join and post to the caucus page to say hi or to make suggestions.
 
We’ll likely need volunteers for the NCSE booth and for caucus operations.  Please be thinking about how you can help.  Any bright ideas to spark interest in our cause or in our caucus meetings? 
 
Please try hard to make our caucus meetings on the 1st and 2nd of July.  These are before the RA session days, so we won’t be crunched for time.  I’ll update you with meeting room location(s) when I receive them.  And bring a friend:  we are in membership GROWTH mode.  
 
Again, thank you for your patience and support.  Please send your ideas my way or post them to the facebook page.  I’ll be in touch soon.
And here is more information specifically on the caucus meetings that Toby mentioned…
Hi Everyone! I’m excited about our caucus meetings, NCSE speakers and booth, and membership drive this year. Our room assignments are in: July 1st @ 4-5:30pm in room A405 SectA and July 2 @12-1pm also in A405(A). We’ll have guest speakers from the NCSE both July 1+2. Please come! Then we switch rooms to B309(B) for the four days of the RA–those meeting times are 9-9:30am and at breaks. I’m sure we won’t need to meet every day of the RA, but that’s up to you! I’ll also email this info to the group. And if you’ve read this far…the ribbons are coming this week!
If you are a member of the NEA and you value solid science education in our public schools, please consider getting involved in the Science Educators Caucus.  If defenders of science education don’t stand up, then the creeping influence of creationists will go unchecked, and they will have a disproportionate voice on matters of importance to us.
Once more, here’s their Facebook page.  Look them up and get involved!

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

“Skeptical About Climate Skeptics” from NCSE

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2012

As many of you know, one of the best pro-science groups out there is the National Center for Science Education; they specialize in defending the teaching of evolutionary science while simultaneously battling attempts by creationists to push their non-scientific ideas into the public schools.  However, in recent months the NCSE has brought its expertise into a new fight: the climate science wars.  Many climate science deniers employ the same kinds of tactics in their denial of global warming as creationists apply in their denial of evolution, and the NCSE decided it was time to start exposing these pseudo-scientific tactics.  So, to help facilitate this process, I wanted to share with you a talk by NCSE’s climate expert Mark McCaffrey wherein he dissects climate change denial; the use of doubt, delay, and denial; myths and misperceptions deniers push, and more…

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2012

It seems that in the United States we could be doing a much better job of teaching our young people about science (big surprise there).  However, it doesn’t become apparent just how troublesome the situation is until you take a look at the standards for public science education laid down by the states.  One look at this map gives you some idea of the challenge we face…

Image from Your State Sucks at Science

The well respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which regularly tracks issues related to science and education, has provided a summary of the survey of state science standards.  You can read more about their summary, as well as a breakdown of the standards state-by-state, here…

American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed. [emphasis added]

This is particularly problematic because the 21st century is going to be one of intensifying competition between the United States and developing nations such as China and India.  If we cannot (or will not) beef up our science education then we are only hurting ourselves in the long run.

Why is it that the U.S., the most powerful and technologically advanced nation (so far) on the planet, seems to have this weird relationship with science where we appear to almost disdain it?  My thoughts on that in a future blog post…

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

NCSE Now Taking on Climate Change Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2012

There was some very welcome news this week on the science education front: the National Center for Science Education, long associated with the strong defense of evolutionary science curricula in public schools, is now joining the cause of defending climate science from the deniers.  This statement from the NCSE illustrates why they’ve taken this important step…

Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help. …

In true NCSE fashion, they provide a page of resources for teachers, scientists, parents, and concerned citizens to help with the promotion of good climate science education while also battling back against the climate science deniers.  Check it out and pass it along…

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

Save National Science Foundation Funding!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 6, 2011

I just got the following action alert from the American Association of Physics Teachers.  If you value not only scientific research but science education as well, I encourage you to contact your Senators and tell them to fully fund the NSF.  As a physics teacher/professor, I cannot tell you how valuable programs like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are for reaching out to the public and promoting science.  In addition, these and other similar programs are absolutely critical to helping insure that the United States has well-qualified science and math teachers in our schools; these programs also help to shuttle many students into science and engineering-oriented careers, which ultimately benefits all of us.

Anyway, read the AAPT’s press release below…

If you live in the United States, AAPT and the nation need your help. On Friday, September 16th, the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies reported a bill to Congress recommending a reduction of science funding for fiscal year 2012. Specifically, the bill recommends reducing funding for the National Science Foundation by an amount of $161,772,000 or 2.4% below the 2011 enacted level and $1,068,905,000 or 13.8% below the budget request.(See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ CRPT-112srpt78/pdf/CRPT- 112srpt78.pdf for the full bill). This is particularly disappointing because the House has recommended much higher funding amounts ($6,698,100,000 for the Senate versus $6,859,870,000 for the House and $7,767,000,000 for the 2012 requested). Particularly hard hit is the Education and Human Resources Directorate of NSF which has a recommended cut of $32,030,000 or 3.7% below the 2011 enacted level and $82,200,000 or 9% below the request. This Directorate funds many of the programs that support STEM education including many key AAPT programs such as the New Faculty Workshop, ComPADRE, and the SPIN-UP Regional Workshops.

I urge you to contact your senators and ask them to support the full requested level of funding for NSF for the 2012 fiscal year. You might mention the legislated calls to double the NSF budget as a fundamental investment in our society, but we realize that goal will be difficult to meet in the current difficult enconomic situation. This is particularly urgent if one of your senators is a member of the CJS Subcommittee. You can find your senator at the US Senate website http://www.senate.gov/general/ contact_information/senators_ cfm.cfm and members of the CJS Subcommittee are listed at http://appropriations.senate. gov/sc-commerce.cfm.

In order to make the process easier, you can use the sample letter of support and insert the date, your address, your senator’s name, and your name and credentials. If possible, personalize the letter by adding a few sentences on the impact that a reduction of this funding will have on you and your students. Better yet, write your own letter emphasizing the impact the cuts will have on physics education. You can submit your letter directly to your senators via their websites to expedite the process.

Best regards,

Beth A. Cunningham, Ph.D.
Executive Officer

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“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 »

 
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