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

Introducing The Scientific Method – A New Idea

Posted on: May 19, 2009

I’ve been listening to Carl Sagan’s A Demon Haunted World on tape in the car and I’m awash with new ideas.

Next year, as part of the introduction to the scientific method, I need to draw a line on the board.  On the left, I will write “Gullible,” on the right, “Skeptical.”  If someone is totally gullible, they would believe that a cat matures into a dog.  It seems silly, but the idea is that a totally gullible person takes any statement as fact without question.  For a totally skeptical person, they would doubt you on absolutely everything you say and do.  The total skeptic is so annoying that nobody wants to converse with him.  Both extremes are no good, our job is to find a happy spot somewhere to the right.

zener cardsNext, let’s talk about ESP.  Is it real?  Do you know anyone with ESP?  If we were gullible, how would we answer to the claims of a person with ESP?  What if we were skeptical?  Let’s accept the claim that ESP might exist.  How can we test it?

At this point, I want to break the students into groups.  Their job is to come up with an experiment to test some form of ESP.  They will need to write up their proposed experiment and then perform it the next day in class.  They will then write up their results and submit their report to peer review by their classmates.

Wouldn’t it be cool if they could decide good experiments from bad through the process of peer review.  I can’t wait to try this in September.


5 Responses to "Introducing The Scientific Method – A New Idea"

From this brief blog entry, I think you misunderstand the concept of skepticism. To be skeptical does not mean that you doubt everything, only that you dismiss extraordinary claims if they don’t have extraordinary evidence to back them up. A great resource for skepticism in practice is:
Listen to their podcast to help you plan for september, they have over 200 episodes now so there is a lot to pull from!
Good luck! sounds like a good theme to teach around…

I don’t misunderstand the concept. I’ve been a fan of the show for years, I’ve listened to every show as well as my favorite; Skepticality. As much as I like these shows, they are not for kids and not formatted to bring into the classroom. Yes, they do have kids in their audience, but those are the exception.

I’m not trying to turn the students in skeptics. I’m trying to teach high school students to think about how they perceive and process ideas and information. How do you decide what is an extraordinary claim? I can tell you that a large percentage of high school students believe in ghosts, ET, UFO’s, astrology, magic potions sold on TV, and vampires. They are not equipped to identify an extraordinary claim. They first have to learn to ask questions and look at the source of the claims.

When confronted with data, especially data they generated, high school students will challenge their previous notions and come up with new conclusions. My goal is to get them to take an active role in their learning, to test ideas, and to think for themselves.

Ah, I see. Sounds like a great idea. I guess I was confused by the fact that you put “skeptical” as an apparent opposite of “gullible”. I guess I would have chosen a different word such as “discerning”.

Don’t forget about the Skeptic’s guide 5×5 podcast, those are formatted for teachers to use and may have something you can use. I look forward to hearing about any progress reports you choose to post about lessons or lesson plans!

One of my favorite books…good idea…you got my mind rolling on some ideas for introducing the scientific method. Thanks! What does Carl always say…a “harmonious marriage of skepticism and wonder”….love it.

Carolina Biological used to have an ESP lab set. I have used it for years to introduce statistics in biology (especially before genetics)

It is a wonderful way to show students how personal perceptions of observations can be skewed. Students tended to get excited when they predicted a card, but lost perspective by not noticing that the predictions fit into what would be expected in a random distribution.

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