The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Matt Lowry’

Higgs Boson Lecture at Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 22, 2012

While at Dragon*Con 2012, I gave an incredibly well-attended lecture (standing room only!) on the recent “discovery”(?) of the Higgs boson and our modern theories of particle physics (known as the Standard Model).  The lecture was followed by a very fruitful Q&A session which was made all the more interesting because attending the lecture was an engineer who actually works on a detector at the Large Hadron Collider and a theoretical particle physicist!

I recorded the audio of the lecture in order to share it, and I have embedded that audio into the PowerPoint file I used for my lecture.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Higgs Boson – DC Lecture with Audio


Posted in philosophy, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“We’re All Doomed… Or Are We?” Panel from Dragon*Con 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 16, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I attended Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia where I was heavily involved in the Science Track.  I helped to run three panels and gave a lecture while there, and I wanted to share those with you here.  The first panel I helped to run (I moderated it) was on the question of how real and/or dangerous are various doomsday scenarios.  The panelists included me, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, Bob Novella of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, psychologist Barbara Drescher, and disaster researcher (and science consultant to the Stargate franchise) Mika McKinnon, and we had a wide-ranging and alternately funny yet serious discussion.  I recorded the audio and share it with you below.  Enjoy! 🙂

We’re All Doomed, DOOMED!!! Or Are We?

Killer asteroids, LHC-generated black holes, nuclear meltdowns, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, global ecological collapse, financial recession/depression, the Mayan 2012 prophecy… AAAGGHH! Run for your lives! We’re all doomed, DOOMED!!! Or are we? What are some real or imagined doomsday scenarios, how dangerous are they really, and how likely is it that each could occur? If you’re looking for a good scientific look at these questions, with a few chuckles along the way, then this is the panel for you. Join us for a discussion of all things apocalyptic, because talking about the end-of-the-world is fun!

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

Convergence 2012 Day 2: “Ask a Scientist” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2012

During Day 2 of Convergence/SkepchickCon, I was fortunate enough to (once again) be on the “Ask a Scientist” panel for the third year in a row 🙂

The whole point of this particular panel is to get a small team of scientists from a variety of backgrounds (physics, geology, biology, mathematics, medicine, forensics) together to hold an hour-long Q&A session with the audience.  And boy what an audience it was – the room was packed, standing room only, with roughly 400 people in attendance!  I recorded the entire discussion and you can access it all at the link below – enjoy!

Ask a Scientist – Convergence 2012

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A general Q&A with expert scientists from a variety of fields.  Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Mirian Krause

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Convergence 2012 Day 1: “Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2012

The first day of Convergence 2012 involved the usual… checking into the hotel, getting registered for the Con, and so on.  But for me it also included a very fun, late-night panel about various doomsday scenarios, including killer asteroids, massive solar flares, outbreaks of deadly infectious disease (think the Black Plague), the potential failure of the Internet, release of so-called “grey goo” nanites, nuclear war, and everyone’s favorite – zombies!

While it was a serious discussion, there was also much humor involved (I will never forget Jason Thibeault’s quip: “I tried to start a nuclear war, until I took an arrow to the knee” 🙂 ), and the audience Q&A was very lively.  If you’d like to listen to the panel discussion, just click the link below to hear my recording:

Final CONvergence Doomsday Scenarios – Convergence 2012

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The zombies are right outside the door. Which geeks do you keep close and which to you push into the parking lot as bait. Surviving apocalyptic scenaries convention style! Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Adam Whitlatch, Robert Smith?, Matt Lowry, PZ Myers

Posted in doomsday, humor | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Educating/Debunking: What’s the Difference?” Video from Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2012

This past September I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and I participated in many events and interviews, etc.  However, in my role as both a skeptic and a teacher, one of the most fruitful things I did was to participate in the Skeptrack discussion of how to approach the question of debunking in the context of education.  The panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect.  The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture.  Below is the video footage of the discussion; I hope you find it useful…

Image and video footage courtesy of the fine folks at 🙂

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

“Education vs. Debunking” Panel at Skeptrack, Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 17, 2011

While I was at Dragon*Con a couple of weeks ago, one of the things I did was to participate in a very useful panel discussion on the Skeptrack.  The title of the panel was “Education vs. Debunking”, and the panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect.  The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture.  The entire discussion was recorded and is being broadcast on the Skepticality podcast, so if you’re interested check it out…

Skeptrack – Dragon*Con 2011

Panel Discussion: Educating vs. Debunking

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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  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!


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 »

The Skeptical Teacher on Virtual Drinking Skeptically This Friday!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 11, 2011

If you’ve been part of the skeptical community for some time, no doubt that by now you’ve heard about Drinking Skeptically, which is a nice way of saying “a bunch of skeptics get together in a bar and talk & drink”.  Well, in case you didn’t know, there is an online version called Virtual Drinking Skeptically, which is hosted by Brian Gregory pretty much every Friday night.  Brian often interviews prominent skeptics on his show, and the discussion is not always serious though it is always fun!  This week’s guest is yours truly – check it out 🙂

Special Guest: Matt Lowry – March 11, 9pm ET

Announcing “special guest”: Matt Lowry. He will be joining us on Friday, Feb 18th at 9pm ET for a few hours to answer your questions in ‘virtual’ person.

Matt Lowry is a high school & college physics professor who is dedicated to educating his students and the public about science, skepticism, and critical thinking. He blogs on these and other subjects at The Skeptical Teacher. In addition, he really likes to do wacky & dangerous physics demonstrations as a way of “sacrificing himself for science!” (Ask about him getting hammered & nailed – go on… ask)

You can take a look at a few of his crazy stunts here.

IMPORTANT: This will be an official “special guest” chat and will be run according to the these rules, so make sure to add it to your calendartest your setup for tokbox video, and get ready for an interesting evening. Oh, and put this on your calendar NOW!

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

The James Randi Educational Foundation Announces a New Education Advisory Panel!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 2, 2010

I’m very happy to announce that one of the largest & most active skeptical organizations out there – the James Randi Educational Foundation (also known as the JREF) – has formally put together an education advisory panel. Allow me to reference their blog post announcing the panel, and allow me to further toot my own horn a bit, because I’m on the panel! 🙂

Before referring you to the official JREF announcement, let me first say that I’m perfectly willing to entertain any and all feedback on issues related to education and the JREF. After all, that’s why I’m on the advisory panel – so my email inbox is open…

The James Randi Educational Foundation announces formation of Education Advisory Panel

Written by Michael Blanford
Monday, 01 November 2010 15:16

The James Randi Educational Foundation is pleased to announce the formation of a new education advisory panel. The JREF’s mission includes educating the public and the media with reliable information about the paranormal, the supernatural, and the pseudoscientific, while promoting critical thinking as a tool for making reasoned and reliable decisions about such unproven claims. The JREF is committed to expanding the impact of its educational programs through innovation and a focus on effectiveness and accessibility. We think this new educational advisory panel, which will focus primarily on the JREF’s K-12 educational initiatives, will be a valuable tool to help us better achieve our mission.

The panel will be made up of individuals with broad experience in areas at the intersection of skepticism, critical thinking, and education. Its primary function will be to provide the foundation’s president and director of educational programs with informed opinions and recommendations related to the JREF’s efforts in the educational arena, focusing on resources for teachers to advance critical thinking in their classroom. …

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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