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Critical & Scientific Thinking
in the High School Classroom

In the following post, a high school science teacher outlines the way in which he promotes critical thinking in the classroom through teaching his students about 6 common mistakes in our thinking.

Excerpt from Outline

In my classroom, I utilize many non‐fiction science books published for general audiences. I refer to many more as part of my presentations and even have a “book of the week” that relates to our lessons in some way. There is, however, one book that stands out. I use the entire book and my lesson was actually built around the text. The book is Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking by Thomas Kida.

As part of the first unit in both of my high‐school science classes, Environmental Science and Chemistry, I cover the scientific method. This is a subject that students have covered extensively. They are usually juniors and seniors (with an occasional sophomore or freshman) so they know by heart the ʺstepsʺ of the method, but they do not truly know what it means to think like a scientist. They are not used to dealing with the common thought processes that scientists strive to overcome. Using Kida’s book as a basis, I present the topic in the form of a quiz, having the students fill out an answer sheet for the test.

The lesson is a PowerPoint presentation with additional material over two days, covering three fallacies each day. For each of the six fallacies of thought presented by Kida, I start with quiz questions designed to illustrate the fallacy.

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Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy

This book was required reading for Thomas Holtz & John Merck’s course, “Science & Global Change Colloquium” taught at the University of Maryland during fall 2011.

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy (book cover)

Knowledge of the basic ideas and principles of science is fundamental to cultural literacy. But most books on science are often too obscure or too specialized to do the general reader much good.

Science Matters is a rare exception-a science book for the general reader that is informative enough to be a popular textbook for introductory courses in high school and college, and yet well-written enough to appeal to general readers uncomfortable with scientific jargon and complicated mathematics. And now, revised and expanded for the first time in nearly two decades, it is up-to-date, so that readers can enjoy Hazen and Trefil’s refreshingly accessible explanations of the most recent developments in science, from particle physics to biotechnology. —Amazon

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The Scientific Method: Critical & Creative Thinking

This course was taught at Southern Methodist University.

Excerpt from Syllabus

This course will provide students with an understanding of the scientific method sufficient to detect pseudoscience in its many guises: paranormal phenomena, free-energy devices, alternative medicine, intelligent design creationism, and many others. Students will learn to think critically and to question outlandish claims, hype, and outright BS. Students’ writing will improve and they will be able to distinguish credible sources of information from nonsense; students will become intelligent consumers of information. Students should expect to do a lot of reading, writing, and, most of all, thinking.

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Weird Science

This course was taught at the University of Oregon during the fall 2010 semester.

Excerpt from Syllabus

Science is a powerful tool to understand and explain the natural world in which we all live. Because of its apparent success in so many areas of our everyday lives, there are many instances in which individuals or groups claim that certain strongly or emotionally held beliefs are “scientific” or are supported by “scientific” studies. Even some scientists may make unwarranted claims of scientific “truth” (e.g., Scientism). How can the public, often without specialized scientific training, distinguish between scientific and pseudo-scientific claims?

This course will attempt to teach how to separate reasonable and unreasonable claims by learning how science tackles difficult problems. The key is to be skeptical, but not too skeptical. Students will examine a number of beliefs, including paranormal effects, alternative medicine, creationism and intelligent design, recovered memory syndrome, pseudoscientific devices (e.g., dousing, free energy machines, fuel efficiency extenders, etc.) that all profess to be scientific, and try to explain the psychology behind this clearly human need to believe.

Assignment Outline

The seminar will consist of several components designed to stimulate critical thinking through class discussion and essay writing with 10 writing assignments in the first half of the class. There will be assigned reading from several books and one or two videos to be viewed in class. There will be a midterm essay style exam with 10 questions covering the material from the first half of the class.

Subsequently the class will be arbitrarily divided into a number of pro and con groups to examine, present and discuss several specific pseudo-scientific topics in detail (to be determined by the instructor with suggestions from the class). These topics will be presented by the students as an 8–10 minute formal oral presentation in the second half of the class. A final 5–8 page paper based on the student presentations and subsequent discussions will complete the course

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How Scientific Controversies are Resolved:
Cosmology as a Case Study

In this lecture based on a chapter in his book, The Believing Brain, Dr. Shermer outlines how controversies in science are resolved by looking at the centuries-long debate over the nature of the cosmos, its size and origin, and what those fuzzy patches in the sky are: nebula within the Milky Way galaxy or island universes? It was not clear until well into the 20th century that the Milky Way was not the entire universe, until Edwin Hubble working at Mt. Wilson Observatory determined that the universe is much larger than anyone had previously imagined it to be.

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(72 MB Powerpoint Presentation)

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