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Old 3rd February 2013, 01:45 PM   #1
mdstep1913
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Help with class ideas

I'm a high school teacher and would like to teach a once weekly class on critical thinking and skepticism. I'm just looking for ideas of demonstrations or activities to illustrate things. Some ideas I currently have involve recreating orbs and other ghost illusions, showing the issues of eye-witness testimony, the rubber hand illusion, etc. Basically I want students to start to think and realize that there are explanations for everything and their brain pieces things together to see patterns, even where there are none. In short, are there any ideas for demos, labs, or activities which you know of that would help teach this? I really want to do something showing how EVP's are just your brain making a voice but I can't find too much to help demonstrate this. Any help would be appreciated, or any other cool ideas you may have.
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Old 3rd February 2013, 02:46 PM   #2
Akri
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For EVPs, I suppose you could have groups of students all listen to the same white-noise recording, but tell them each that there's a voice saying a specific phrase (with each group being told a different phrase). Afterward bring all the groups back together and ask everyone what they heard--of course there will be different answers based on the group everyone was in. At that point you explain how you told each group what to expect to hear, and, surprise surprise, everyone heard what was suggested.

A different subject you could demonstrate is the idiomotor effect. Have a student hold a necklace with a pendant on the end, and tell them the pendant should move back and forth or in a circle depending on certain circumstances (like, if they hold it over a girl's hand vs a boy's hand). Then after a few kids have played around with it, put sequins or glitter (if you don't mind the mess!) on their hands so they can see their hands move.
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Old 3rd February 2013, 04:06 PM   #3
The Man
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There was a Scientific American Frontiers episode on false memories were they got Alan Alda to remember something that didn’t actually happen

http://www.pbs.org/saf/1402/segments/1401-4.htm

Perhaps if you could work in that kind on demonstration or experiment.

Another is like the old telephone game. You tell a story to one or more students. After some time they pass it along (say a day for each person or group iteration) and then see how the story has changed when the last person or group recounts what they have been told.

You could also try to stage a scene, just something sudden, surprising and intentionally unusual. Then have the class write down what they saw, perhaps even the next day or interview each other about what happened and then compare stories. The interview experiment one can also, hopefully, show how people can lead each other in their questioning. Some perhaps coming to a consensus and agreeing on details that can still be quite wrong.

ETA: I’ve just got to say mdstep1913 that I’ve always wanted to do something like that in a class.
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Last edited by The Man; 3rd February 2013 at 04:13 PM. Reason: eta
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Old 3rd February 2013, 04:54 PM   #4
Mister Earl
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You can do it every day instead of once a week. Start each class with the preamble, "Once a day, including today, I'm going to work in one fact that is a blantant lie. It is your job to figure out which it is." Follow through. Skepticism and critical thought is very easily self-taught in this manner, even if they don't realize the goal, and think it's some simple game. I suggest a weekly reward of a snack of some sort... a baggie of hershey kisses or something. That would help also.
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Old 11th February 2013, 12:30 PM   #5
Minoosh
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Originally Posted by mdstep1913 View Post
I'm a high school teacher and would like to teach a once weekly class on critical thinking and skepticism.
Wait till one of the darlings starts to argue with you, then pick a fallacy you can point out. "But Ms. X lets us do it" could be, maybe, an appeal to authority. Tell them, aha, You are falling for the (appeal to authority, whatever) fallacy," and ask them to reframe their argument without the fallacy. Since they argue constantly it shouldn't be too hard to call them on it. Make it about them, because that's all they're really interested in.
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Old 11th February 2013, 01:05 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Mister Earl View Post
You can do it every day instead of once a week. Start each class with the preamble, "Once a day, including today, I'm going to work in one fact that is a blantant lie. It is your job to figure out which it is." Follow through. Skepticism and critical thought is very easily self-taught in this manner, even if they don't realize the goal, and think it's some simple game. I suggest a weekly reward of a snack of some sort... a baggie of hershey kisses or something. That would help also.
That is an excellent way to get them to listen closely and critically to the lecture. Of course, you'd have to be damned careful preparing your lecture notes. That sort of thing you can't do off the cuff.
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Old 11th February 2013, 01:22 PM   #7
joesixpack
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Originally Posted by mdstep1913 View Post
I'm a high school teacher and would like to teach a once weekly class on critical thinking and skepticism. I'm just looking for ideas of demonstrations or activities to illustrate things. Some ideas I currently have involve recreating orbs and other ghost illusions, showing the issues of eye-witness testimony, the rubber hand illusion, etc. Basically I want students to start to think and realize that there are explanations for everything and their brain pieces things together to see patterns, even where there are none. In short, are there any ideas for demos, labs, or activities which you know of that would help teach this? I really want to do something showing how EVP's are just your brain making a voice but I can't find too much to help demonstrate this. Any help would be appreciated, or any other cool ideas you may have.
My only concern is that when you spend time simply debunking you're not necessarily teaching critical thinking, you're just teaching why one particular thing is false. Getting a student to think "wow, I see that orbs aren't actually ghosts, maybe other things could be false as well" is a good start, but it won't necessarily give them all the tools they might need for more critical thinking. I'm not saying debunking is a bad activity, just that there needs to be some way of forcing them to use critical thinking skills on their own without leading them, without it being like a typical lab activity of following steps.

Also, teaching kids to think critically opens up an entirely new can of worms. Some of your fellow teachers are going to hate you for it because bright kids have an annoying habit of using what they learn. If someone's teaching style depends on mere memorization and regurgitation of facts they're not going to be happy with the results of your work. I can tell you parenting a critical thinker requires skills that I never learned from my parents (the "Because I said so" generation).
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Old 11th February 2013, 01:27 PM   #8
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
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Originally Posted by mdstep1913 View Post
I'm a high school teacher...
Of what? If you teach Chemistry, suggest that students read The Periodic Table and other studies of the history of Chemistry. If you teach History, have students read Premak's The Origins of World War One. I would not try to teach critical thinking apart from critical thinking about some specific subject.

How does "critical thinking" differ from common sense?
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Old 13th February 2013, 10:21 AM   #9
mdstep1913
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I teach biology but it's wouldn't be apart of my normal class, it would be a weekly class during the last class period of the day. Students get to choose if they take one of these types of teacher created courses or study hall for that day so I'm not looking to put it embedded in a science curriculum.
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Old 15th February 2013, 04:30 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by mdstep1913 View Post
I teach biology but it's wouldn't be apart of my normal class, it would be a weekly class during the last class period of the day. Students get to choose if they take one of these types of teacher created courses or study hall for that day so I'm not looking to put it embedded in a science curriculum.
If you don't mind referencing science in your lesson, then an ongoing discussion about the merits and limits of scientific method might be a good way to start.
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