Scepticism in the classroom - a lesson overview

Methods and means of supporting critical thinking in education
Kiless
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Scepticism in the classroom - a lesson overview

Post by Kiless » Sun May 07, 2006 5:10 am

I would like to start by saying that this isn't meant to be a political gesture.

My inital PM to the moderator here in earky April suggested a forum section on education, where i could outline my education program amongst reading other concerns on the matter.

If you have read my threads on JREF in their education forum, it will be familiar. I anm currently recovering from an injury so cut and paste is al; I can update it as I go but later in the year - I we;come any feedback on it and please use any elements you wish if you're a teacher too.

Thanks.

***********************
I have a class of students who are going to be doing a report task starting from the end of this term and finishing late May. It's primarily an English task but will draw upon the resources of the Science Dept (including a fabulous teacher who has offered some of her free time in class and out of school to advise!) to help with doing experiments well.

This is based on the West Australian skeptics competition, I hasten to point out. Kudos to them for producing a goal and for encouraging skeptical thinking in the classroom by promoting it. :)

The notion is to write up on any curious belief and I'll be getting the class to do a test or survey as a part of this. They'll be doing some research on their topic to outline its popularity and facts for and against it. A bibliography is, of course, a part of the English processes and strategies outcome.

Here are the topics I thought of:

Dowsing - we have a plot of empty land where a house once stood, but I was mostly thinking of basing it upon the method that Mr Mike G used - http://www.randi.org/jr/032902.html - as that can be done in a classroom. Or a similar one with water in the cups, hidden from view. Dowsing for pregnancy also came up too.

Crystals - this one came from the Science teacher. If they can provide energy, could the students have some in boxes mixed up with some placebos (plasticine) and we test how well they do a speed test of some sort (like editing) and the effect that having a crystal around them or not influences their results?
Zener cards - testing psychic abilities. Might need some work to find what exactly we're looking for... is there anyone in the class who considers themselves particularly intuitive? This sprung up in some research - http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/is_v01/1-11-7.htm

Horoscopes - I thought this would be the easiest. Perhaps the class thinks back to the previous week (last week of the holidays) and goes through a checklist of what horoscope prediction best matches certain days from that week...

Other ones included Feng shui - perhaps get a book, find a theory and move class furniture around? Study responses? Will need some further suggestions on that...Traffic lights changing - one of the students said that when her mother holds her breath, the lights will change from red to green (is this testable?) Numerology, Ouija boards, I-ching/runes, Tarot cards, Bible codes, Cloudbusting, Pareidolia (not sure how to do a test for that...), Graphology, Palm reading, Myers-Briggs type indicators, Reverse Speech (as a 'lie detector'??).

Any other suggestions or advice greatly appreciated. I am, of course, drawing upon Athon's original Educational resources link that is found on the education board of JREF's forum - and will give an outline of what we did when it's all done.

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Post by Kiless » Sun May 07, 2006 5:11 am

By giving them the topics before the hols, they'll be told to find out as MUCH as they can. Do a bit of research around them, read the papers. All of this can count towards the part on:
- describe your chosen belief
- its popularity - films, tv shows, magazines, you name it...
- why you think it is curious
- what are the facts for and against it.

I will, of course, give some help by providing a summary from Skeptic's Dictionary and probably Shermer's Why We Believe... There's Randi's commentaries for a start. We'll probably get an analysis of 'what is good research?' as Google throws up so many commercial sites rather than skeptical ones.

Although reference was already made to popular culture and the topics I've chosen, more recently I've started to think about poetic links.

Ouija board - I've heard reference to Plath's Colossus; Dowsing - Seamus Heaney. Tarot cards had this site, which mentions Eliot's The Waste Land (the only one that sprang to my mind), W.B Yeats, Petrarch and Plath's Ariel; Horoscopes - Keats' Lines on the Mermaid Tavern. Hell of a lot of new ager poetry though. And I found this.... 'Hymn to Science'

They'll have a final report which will be sent in to the WA skeptics competition and an oral report to give to the class.

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

Stage one, introduced the task.

Went through the entry sheet. Ended up brainstorming likely topics to investigate and unlikely ones (it appears that the SF Sea Serpent/Loch Ness Monster investigation and going to see a John Edwards show is out... unless the school will chip in for travel costs!).

Some of the international students suggested tea leaf reading, runes and i-ching. Some said that they actually do feng shui with their family, 'but only the practical stuff, like, don't let the doors back into each other because they'll smash...' So I'll get a list on Friday of what they want to focus on and start helping collate resources. On Friday we'll look at 'Secrets of the Psychics', I think. The Science teacher who is helping us will pop in to introduce herself to the class, as not all the students know her.

Tonight one group is going to (they had already planned it as a fun activity before this topic was raised) play with an ouija board. They want to see if that can be their focus. I didn't catch whether the host of their party had their very own board though. Perhaps the investigating group could borrow it? I'll see.

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

Stage two - research.

Students will be using the upcoming two-week holiday to investigate and collate everything they can find on the following topics that they've chosen:

Ouija boards (two groups wish to do this)
Zener cards/psychic ability
Tarot cards
I-ching/runes
Feng shui (I think they're going to feng shui my classroom... this will interest the other classes who use my room, if they get particularly creative...)

I'll be suggesting some sites, texts, poems and lending my Bull*&^t DVDs (with a note home to parents in regards to language/content...) to help start the search. I'll list what sites I have got here tomorrow.


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

for the holiday break:

Each one of the groups also has a folder with:

The Skeptic's Dictionary definition of their area of research (e.g. Feng Shui)... I hope this isn't poisioning the well, but this was suggested by the Science teacher - she's worried they'll be converted to believe the issue they're investigating... any critiques of this? I don't really have much of a problem with it as it's the best brief straight-forward summation of the topics that I've found.
A sheet entitled 'Analysing the Task' which prompts them to write in point form 'Content words - What do I have to find out' and 'Instruction words - What do I have to do?' and an outline of the task requirements: Final product is to produce a group report and class oral on the topic (29th May, report is due, sent off to be in the Comp which is on 31st May). During that week, they'll do their oral report. They'll hand in their bibliography, survey results and final copy to the comp; the drafts and an additional copy will go to me (so, one to the comp, one to me). The oral they'll produce separately, naturally drawing on the elements they've used to make the report. They'll probably be quite imaginative in presenting their topic to the class... I've had everything from dramatic interpretations to quasi-dance extravaganzas in the past....
Web page evaluation checklist
Info sheet on 'Searching Online Databases and the Internet'
Draft bibliography for all the forms of texts


****************************
Beginning Term 2:

* students researched over the holiday break - the tarot card group found this recently published fiction book: The Tarot Card Reader's Daughter.

* science teacher H summed up the scientific method using the overview sheet that I got from the department; apparently the notion of an abstract isn't common in producing reports in high school so she was impressed by the outline given by the WA skeptics group

* suggested resources for any teachers:
- The Mythbusters ep on 'talking to plants' (found on the 'exploding house' dvd, here) was good as an overview to scientific method - pleased to say that some of the errors reported on this site were also noted by students who happily questioned how they might improve the experiment.
N.B, their book called 'the explosive truth' isn't that useful a resource but a fun read.
- Dr Kruszelnicki's 'Q & A with Dr K' has a nice overview of his studies into bellybutton fluff that won him an Ig Nobel award back in 2002. I gave a copy of that to students as an example of surveys and research into your topic before engaging in an experiment.

Experiments and writing up for the next three weeks.

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Re: Scepticism in the classroom - a lesson overview

Post by Lord of the Left Hand » Tue May 16, 2006 6:01 pm

Kiless wrote:Traffic lights changing - one of the students said that when her mother holds her breath, the lights will change from red to green (is this testable?)


Well traffic lights work all kinds of different ways, but if you test them you should be able to find one that is on a basic timer with no external input (other than maybe an override for emergency vehicles).

If you can find one on a regular timer, it should be easy to test. Lets say that observation shows that the lights stays green for 45 sec to North/South travelers, goes yellow for 5 seconds then goes red for 45 second to north/south travelers. Once this has been establish is should be easy to test if someone can force it to break this pattern by holding their breath.

LLH

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Post by Capthorne » Tue May 16, 2006 8:53 pm

They don't generally work just on timers. There's an elf under each approach to detect the arrival of a vehicle; sometimes several elves to detect an accumulating line of vehicles. It's the presence of vehicles that triggers the change.

Timers are used to over-ride the primary system when a vehicle has been waiting for a certain time.

It's more complex than that to describe but the programs are straightforward - I believe they may be available from the manufacturers if you ask nicely, but it's more fun to write your own. It might make an interesting project for a beginning programmer.

The point is, that if you don't know how the system works it may appear randon, in which case holding your breath or uttering the magic phrase may well appear to correlate to the change.
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Post by Kiless » Thu May 18, 2006 10:59 pm

Thanks for bumping the topic and your suggestions - will update next month. Things are doing very well so far; we have six confirmed entries ready for the due date of 31st May.

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Post by Kiless » Tue May 30, 2006 7:55 am

Final update until my huge pile of grading is done:

Six assignments, 24 students in total amongst the groups - all done.

Zener cards
Ouija boards x2
Feng Shui
Tarot cards and
I Ching.


Students drew upon texts suggested and chapters photocopied in class as well as doing quite a bit of research on their own - mostly on the internet for topics like feng shui and i ching, because there were so many sites for them out there.

BTW - the Tarot card group would like to personally thank Doctor X from skeptic.com forum for his most enlightening debate with Ms Dragonlady on the realitycafe forum boards. They really appreciated your logical breakdown of her methodology when using Tarot cards. :)

Posting off their assignments for the competition today. A lot of work and pride in what they completed, even if they are criticised on some methods (sample size was quite difficult at times since they only had two weeks to get participants for surveys and experiments!) I think this is an excellent start for what will be a ongoing collaboration between the departments of English and Science.

During the break in a few weeks time, I'll put together all the worksheets and see if somewhere will host them. Until then, I'll make a list of references if people would like to use similar texts in teaching an investigation into a pseudoscientific or paranormal claims for either English or Science class.

This week? Studying GATTACA and The Chrysalids. Then Macbeth. Gotta love the classics... ;)

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Post by Kiless » Tue May 30, 2006 10:44 pm

Oh, the students feng shuied my desk. :? Couldn't find a damned thing and after about two weeks got so annoyed with it I moved everything back. :roll:

Thanks for reading!

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Post by Kiless » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:18 pm

Skepticism in the classroom - Round Two.

Another class of Year 10 students, this time I'm removing the oral report component and just doing the written part (which was after all, the part that was the requirement for the competition. I think I may ask if if these can be entered for the 2007 competition, if it's run).

One group has already started plans to survey and test beliefs in horoscopes. :) So, the areas of interest and investigation are not limited by what has been done before.
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Post by Kiless » Wed Jul 05, 2006 11:23 am

Final update on Round One:

Two award winners - the teams on I Ching and Tarot Cards.
Highly Commended: Feng Shui.

Nice work, skepticladies of Perth. :cool:
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Post by Kiless » Sat Sep 02, 2006 1:57 pm

Still trying to see if this will be extended beyond my state... I'm waiting in hope.

Wish I could post what my students designed - a test for accuracy in finding one's horoscope reading based on three different horoscopes. Designed it all on their own. I think it's better than the one Randi showed on 'Secrets of the Psychics'. I'll see if they'll send the draft to me and summarise it.

Previous reports included:
1) Ouija Boards (two groups)
2) Tarot cards
3) I Ching
4) Zener cards / Psychic ability
5) Feng Shi (they feng shuied my desk; never been so uncomfortable about my desk before... )

At the moment, the teams consist of:
1) Validity of Horoscope Predictions across two gender groups aged 15 -17 - an interesting link they found on this topic: http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/s1266452.htm
2) Belief in Voodo vs Horoscopes
3) Beliefs about Intelligence of Blonde women vs non Blondes
4) Belief in Urban Legends correlating with Gender and Religious beliefs
5) Belief in Psychic readings (they're incensed that John Edwards is coming to our town... )
6) Gender and belief in UFOs (based on Shermer's writings in Why People Believe Weird Things).

... and one student who is assessing how many believe in moon hoaxes. She's already got a list of questions for Phil Plait in regards to what his book says and what his site says.... 8-)

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Post by JO 753 » Mon Sep 04, 2006 3:34 am

Getting tired uv typing to yourself yet?

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Post by Tsukasa Buddha » Mon Sep 04, 2006 4:10 am

JO 753 wrote:Getting tired uv typing to yourself yet?


Views: 659
"I don't hold back when I fight idiots."
-Tsukasa

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Post by Capthorne » Mon Sep 04, 2006 4:28 am

Keep it up; lots of us are interested in your project, even those who have little to offer.

You are teaching more than just skepticism; too many people seem to think that it is just a matter of distrust. You are showing your charges that the true skeptic is above all an analyst.
I am a skeptic because God made me so. - me
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Post by JO 753 » Mon Sep 04, 2006 4:46 am

I sit corrected.

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Post by Kiless » Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:55 am

Tsukasa Buddha wrote:
JO 753 wrote:Getting tired uv typing to yourself yet?


Views: 659


*snorf*

Sorry, Tsukasa Buddha, I have that person you quoted on ignore. The irony of their situation hasn't escaped me. :D

I've found a Word hosting site and I'll post my assignment details next. :) I'm thinking of looking at the NSW and Victorian English and Science outcomes and writing similar task parameters so teachers there can use it to contribute to student grades like I did.

At the moment, I have a house-guest who did the IB and I think that an extended version of the Awards could serve as an essay or investigation for either Science or the Theory of Knowledge sections. I'll get working on that after.

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Post by JO 753 » Tue Sep 05, 2006 5:45 am

I know you hav your arms rapped around your earz and are babbling LA LA LA LA, but hopefully Tsukasa will find sumthing to dispute with this and repost it az a quote.

Why do you keep refering to me az 'they' & 'their'? I'm 1 guy.

I've read most uv your posts and think the problem you hav iz first fact prioritization syndrome. Wutever you learn or believe first, no matter how rediculous, gets weighted in favor uv any contradictory future info, no matter how obviously true.

Dude. Read the title grafik at the top uv this page!

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Post by USAskeptic » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:07 am

Kiless, I am sure many of us would be greatly interested in reading the results of the students' investigations (even if the results are highly abbreviated ;) ).

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Post by Kiless » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:23 am

USAskeptic wrote:Kiless, I am sure many of us would be greatly interested in reading the results of the students' investigations (even if the results are highly abbreviated ;) ).


Oh! Thanks. :) Actually when I get home I'll see if I can request if I can summarise their general findings about the Awards.

I'm also interested in this - I don't know if there's New Zealanders online who can talk about this... it's their high school speech competition for their conference.
http://www.skeptics.org.nz/download/Hig ... tition.pdf
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Post by Tsukasa Buddha » Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:05 pm

[quote="JO 753"][/quote]

No.
"I don't hold back when I fight idiots."
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Post by JO 753 » Wed Sep 06, 2006 8:30 am

HA!HA! You made him look anyway!

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Post by Pyrrho » Wed Sep 06, 2006 11:00 am

JO 753, you seem to be following Kiless from topic to topic in order to make insulting remarks. Please focus on the topic of discussion and not the perceived faults of other people.
For any forum questions or concerns please e-mail skepticforum@gmail.com or send a PM.

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Post by Kiless » Thu Sep 21, 2006 1:11 am

Turns out that the Australian skeptics site has offered to host the documents for the competition! I'll see what happens.

(incidently, kept having troubles with the alternative hosting site I tried which is entirely my fault in terms of technical troubles - so it's good timing! :))

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