Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Critical Thinking Exercise

Posted on: September 16, 2008

I had some fun with the kids today.  We first had a discussion about the scientific method, discussing the steps.  The classes are just starting their Mythbusters project (check in a previous post), so I wanted them to start thinking.  I put out two beakers and let them assume they were both water (one with water, the other was alcohol).  On the board was the hypothesis, “We believe the two liquids are different.”  I then asked them to come up with ways to test them.  I got lots of good stuff; freeze them, boil them, test their acidity, put objects in the liquids, etc.  Then I turned the lights out and tried to light them.  The alcohol burns with a cool blue flame.  They liked that.

The elusive Pacific Tree Octopus

Next, I handed out an article on the almost endangered tree octopus.  (  If you aren’t familiar with this creature, you must read the web page.  I did my very best to play this straight and we talked about ways to protect this creature.  This went on for a good ten minutes until I finally told them it was totally made up. The point was that they weren’t being critical at all.  If a teacher gave them information, it must be true.  If it came from the internet, it has to be true.  The newspaper and TV are never wrong.  They never challenge the information or do any checking on their own.

The last step was that I told them how they can pull a car from the mud by themselves with a rope and a tree.  Now they decide not to believe me.  They demanded proof.  This is my physical science class, so they won’t be calculating the vector forces.  Instead, I showed them how it works with a martial arts escape.  I have two large kids come up front, each grabbing one arm and pulling opposite.  The escape is to take a small step backwards and gently pull them together.  The kids will come crashing into each other with quite a bit of force.  You have to be careful or they will hurt each other.  I then recapped how I gave them a statement, they demanded facts, and I backed the facts up with tangible proof in the form of a demonstration.  Finally, they agreed with my statement because it was backed up.

There was a small problem with the printed article.  The picture above looks really bad after printing and copying.  If I do this again next year, I will put a color picture from the web site on the overhead or perhaps just grab the projector and show the page on the screen.


1 Response to "Critical Thinking Exercise"

I like the site, but I would remind readers that it is only acceptable to light a liquid on fire to determine what it is if someone already knows!

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