The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘TAM9’

“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! 🙂

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

Science Confirms the Bible? Hmmm, Not So Much…

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 2, 2011

So while I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as I was hanging around the vendor tables I encountered a nice man who came up to me, handed a small pamphlet to me, and said, “Carl Sagan would want you to read this.”  He then went on his way and repeated this process all around the hall.  When I looked at the pamphlet, I was rather amused by what I saw: it was titled “Science Confirms the Bible”.  A virtual copy of the handout can be found at Living Waters, the website of evangelical Christianity espoused by none other than Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort.  Here’s what it looks like…

Yup, the folks over at Living Waters are seriously making these arguments.  Ray Comfort should have just stuck with the banana thing; at least that bit had a sight gag 🙂

Now I’m going point out just a couple of specific things about this pamphlet that shows it (as well as the argumentation behind it) are just way off base.  Suffice it to say that others have already analyzed some of these points, such as at a recent Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, but I’ll just give my thoughts here:

First, look at the format of this pamphlet: it shows a Biblical verse, a claim about what science “then” was saying (btw, “then” was supposedly 2000-3000 years ago), and a claim about what science now says.  The implication is that current science supports what the Bible is saying.  Now before I get to specific claims in this pamphlet, let me first say that it is ironic that Ray Comfort and his band of evolution-denying evangelicals are claiming that modern science supports their interpretation of the Bible, because their interpretation of the Bible conflicts with modern evolutionary science!  So if Ray Comfort is claiming what he is in this pamphlet, then he’s messing things up from every direction (but what do you expect from a guy who thinks that banana’s are “The Atheist’s Nightmare”?)

Not to mention, if a literal reading of the Bible (according to the manner in which Ray Comfort would read the Bible “literally”) is supposed to be scientifically accurate, then how can one account for blatant inconsistencies such as that in these verses from Genesis?

Genesis 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

1:5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Genesis 1:13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.

1:14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

1:15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

1:16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

1:17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

[Addendeum (8-2-11): How could there have been light before there were stars?  The only scientifically viable option is to invoke the big bang model of cosmology, which many creationists such as Ray Comfort are loath to do, since they don’t like the fact that it clearly shows the universe is about 13.7 billion years old.  So there’s another contradiction.] Okay, so there was day and night in the sky and on the Earth before there was a Sun (the greater light).  How exactly does that jibe with our understanding of modern astronomy?  Oh wait… it doesn’t.

Folks, this sort of thing is just a taste of the multitude of inconsistencies found between a “literal” reading of the Bible and modern science.  If you really want to see more, I suggest checking out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

Now, on to some specific criticism regarding this Living Waters pamphlet.  Let’s just take a look at the very first line in the claims about how the Bible supposedly predicts that the Earth is a sphere, from Isaiah 40:22.  What exactly does Isaiah 40:22 say?  Here it is…

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

So the Earth is described in this Bible verse as a circle.  A circle.  For those who may not have mastered basic, high school geometry, a circle is a flat, two-dimensional object.  Yup, basically the Bible is arguing for a Flat Earth (because remember that, hey, circles are FLAT!!!) This is in direct conflict with the findings of the ancient Greeks (about 2000-3000 years ago) when natural philosophers such as Erastothenes of Cyrene proved, using simple measurements and geometry, that the Earth was a sphere.  Two additional points should be noted:

1. The fact that the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was NOT flat is also in direct conflict with the claims in the Living Waters pamphlet, which states that the ancients two or three thousand years ago thought the Earth was flat.

2. Modern science actually states that, due to the Earth’s rotation, our planet is not perfectly spherical.  In fact, it is an oblate spheroid.  So this fact is two steps removed from the text of Isaiah 40:22 – first that verse states the Earth is a circle, not a sphere; and second, if the Bible really were so accurate scientifically, why didn’t it just say “oblate spheroid”?

[Addendum (8-2-11): I would think that if the Bible were so amazingly accurate in predicting the behavior of the universe in scientific terms that it would have said something about quantum mechanics, general relativity, or how to do something practical like build an airplane or make a vaccine.  Nope, nothing like that in the Bible, either.]

I could go on, but I think that by now you get the idea.  Feel free to take a look at some of the other loony claims made by this pamphlet, read through the Bible verses for yourself, and have a good hearty laugh.  Because that’s all this pamphlet is good for: a laugh 🙂

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

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 »

Solution to the “Self-tying” Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 24, 2011

This is the solution to the puzzle presented in my previous blog post – Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9  – wherein I show you how to supposedly tie a knot in a length of rope without releasing the ends. Of course, it is a trick, so watch the video carefully to see just how the trick is done. And have fun with some friends, family, or (if you’re a teacher) students with this puzzle.  It is a wonderful exercise in critical thinking!

Check out the Youtube video for the answer…

One last thing: I cannot claim credit for inventing this trick. I learned about it from Penn & Teller’s old book “Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends”, so credit should go to them 🙂

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

Vaccination Clinic at TAM9 is a Great Success!

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2011

Once again, I would like to toot my own skeptical horn 🙂  This past weekend at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 a group of organizations – the Women Thinking Free Foundation, the James Randi Educational Foundation, Skepchick, and the Southern Nevada Health District – worked to bring a free vaccine clinic to the conference.  And boy did we kick all kinds of ass!  Look, I have photographic evidence…

Me and Bad Astronomer Phil Plait, kicking ass with our official Hug Me gear (T-shirts and teddy bears for sale via the WTFF)!

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Like the WTFF’s previous clinic at Dragon*Con last September, we offered free TDaP vaccinations for anyone who came into the clinic (TDaP stands for “tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis”) and it was also part of the WTFF’s “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign to reach out to the general population, and parents in particular, about the need for vaccines and how anti-vaccinationist propaganda can be deadly.

At the Dragon*Con clinic, we vaccinated over 200 people in two days, which was – according to the clinic workers – a massively successful clinic.  But we aren’t satisfied with that success, which became apparent when our clinic at TAM9 blew that record away by vaccinating a whopping 306 people in 5.5 hours!  W00t!!! 🙂

A lot of people came up to me during the clinic and thanked me and my skeptical colleagues at the WTFF and JREF for doing this work, but I have to say that one of the biggest reasons why we can do this at all is because of the generous support from people like you.  We want to keep doing these clinics, and we’re planning to do another one at Dragon*Con 2011 – but we cannot do it without your support.  So please consider making a donation to this worthy cause…

 **DONATE HERE**

Thanks again for all your support – YOU kick ass! 😀

Photo Credit: Jamie Bernstein a.k.a. The Original Skeptical Ninja

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Self-Tying Knot Trick from TAM9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 18, 2011

Well, I’m back from The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, and I’m slowly but surely getting caught up on things.  I just wanted to take a moment to share with everyone a trick I showed off during my “Skepticism in the Classroom” lecture at TAM9.  In this video, I show how to use a simple nylon rope to perform a *seemingly* mathematically impossible feat: having the rope tie a knot in itself without releasing either end of the rope. I show this to my students as a lesson in skepticism and critical thinking, and it never ceases to catch their interest.


Can you figure out the trick? Stay tuned to my Youtube channel for the solution 😉

Posted in education, magic tricks, mathematics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Digital Guide to The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (via Tim Farley)

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 13, 2011

Well, The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (the largest skeptical gathering ever!) is about to get underway in Las Vegas! I will try to provide some updates about how things are going at the conference and the general goings on, but I know that I’m only one guy with a limited perspective on things.

So, whether you are attending TAM9 or not, perhaps one of the best things to do to keep up is to read the following excellent post on the Digital Guide to TAM9. The author is Tim Farley, perhaps better known as the creator of the What’s The Harm? website, and this post gives you all the details (and I mean ALL the details) on how to follow what’s happening at TAM9…

Digital Guide to The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (TAM9)

The purpose of this post is to be a clearinghouse for all things digital related to the meeting. I’ll show you how to get information you need about the show, how to get connected and stay connected once you are in Las Vegas, and more. I’ll provide links to a variety of resources online that will help.

Please note: in most cases I did not create the resources listed. Most were created or published by the JREF itself, other TAM9 attendees or JREF Forum users. Where possible I’ve also provided links where you can get in touch directly with the content creators. …

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

Vaccine Clinic at The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 8, 2011

As most people within the skeptical community know, next week The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 will be coming to Las Vegas.  It will probably be the biggest gathering of skeptics ever, and the lineup of speakers and workshops (one of which I’m helping to run) promises to be quite illuminating and informative.  Something else which will be taking place at TAM9 is a vaccine clinic, held in conjunction with the JREF, Skepchick, and the Women Thinking Free Foundation as part of the WTFF Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated! campaign; this will be very similar to the highly successful clinic held at Dragon*Con last year.  The clinic will be giving away free vaccinations for TDaP (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) to anyone who wishes to receive one – so if you’re at TAM9 and you’re not sure you have had your vaccinations updated, come on by the clinic!

In addition, even though these vaccines are free for those obtaining them, they still cost money, so we are looking for donations to help us facilitate future clinics.  If you are interested in donating to this worthy cause, click here…

DONATE

 

And here’s more general information about the Hug Me campaign.  Who doesn’t like good health AND hugs?  What a deal…

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

Help Send Women to The Amaz!ng Meeting 9

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 22, 2011

If you have been involved with the skeptical movement for any amount of time, then you understand that women are traditionally under-represented in those circles.  Over the years, there have been more & more women getting involved, but progress is slow and I am of the strong opinion that we should do all that we can to address this disparity as efficiently as possible.

So in the spirit of lighting candles, I want to pass along to you a project in which I’m involved with the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Skepchick Surly Amy: we are doing The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 (TAM9) grants for women.  In other words, eligible women can apply for this grant and, if they get it, they will have their expenses paid (that is, the membership & registration fees for the meeting, not hotel or travel) to send them to TAM9 in Las Vegas this coming July!!! 🙂

Surly Amy provides more details in her blog post over at Skepchick…

Putting our Money Where our Mouth is for Women in Skepticism

It is a fact that women are underrepresented in science and in skepticism and while I may not be able to change the world overnight, I can at least help to change things in my general vicinity right here and now. I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and quite literally get more women involved.

I have spoke with the JREF and I have pledged to pay, out of my own pocket for at least one other women to go to The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas this year. And I have bigger aspirations. I am going to try to pay for even more women to go!

I have joined forces with The Women Thinking Free Foundation to help me. They will handle the application process so I have time to implement phase two. Phase two is making awesome art you can wear.

I have made (and am in the process of making) a series of LIMITED EDITION TAM 9 Surlies.  Each is one-of-a-kind and hand-painted, ceramic-awesomeness made by me. I am rolling up my sleeves and getting to work to make a palpable difference.

When you purchase a TAM 9 Surly you help us raise the money for MORE women to attend TAM 9. Together we can encourage other women to learn about science and critical thinking AND YOU get an awesome, handmade, one-of-a-kind souvenir. Even if you can not attend the conference you are still a part of making this year’s event better than ever! WIN!

Last year, I helped raise $2,000 for the American Cancer society with the help of Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy. This year, I want to raise money for women in skepticism but I need your help.

You can help out the cause by purchasing a limited edition TAM 9 Surly here. Let’s level the playing field and learn about science and critical thinking together.

Or if you do not want a necklace but still want to help the cause you can click the donate link here and donate directly to the fund.

I can’t promise that I can raise enough for all the women I’d like to send to TAM this year but I promise, I will personally pay out of my pocket to send at least one woman.

More info about TAM 9 can be found here.

To apply for The Surly and Women Thinking Free TAM 9 Membership Grant please download and fill out this form. You can download it as a .doc fill it out and email it to: Grants@womenthinkingfree.org
We will notify the grant recipients via email.

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

The Amaz!ng Meeting 9: TAM9 From Outer Space!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 21, 2011

I just wanted to let you all know that registration is now open for The Amaz!ng Meeting 9. This year’s theme is all things astronomy & space oriented, so the event is being called “TAM9 From Outer Space!” I’ll be attending again this year, and if you are make sure you find me.  This promises to be one of the best TAMs ever!  Check it out 🙂

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

 
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