Language focus: beliefs, superstitions, conspiracy theories, fake news, disinformation.
Why do we believe weird things?
Fake news, misinformation, disinformation, these concepts are all over the media. We all know it’s out there, but how can we tell what is true and what is fake? First, let’s play a game…
True or False
Salt makes water boil quicker.
You should never swim right after you eat
Some people are more right-brain thinkers and others more left-brain thinkers.
Toilets flush differently in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere.
Einstein failed math.
Humans and dinosaurs co-existed
Vaccines cause autism.
You need to wait 24 hours to file a missing person’s report.
We use only 10% of our brain.
Most of our body heat leaves through our heads.
You should never wake a sleepwalker.
Bats are blind.
Alcohol keeps you warm.
Sugar creates hyper children.
Your hair and nails keep growing after you die.
Slaves built the pyramids in Egypt.
In case you use this to generate discussion with your class, I won’t give you the answers. You could invite your students to check for themselves at Readers Digest.
It’s your brain’s fault
Famous debunker and Skeptic.com’s editor-in-chief Michael Shermer gives us a bit of insight into how our brain is wired to makes us believe weird things. He explains and demonstrates how things like priming and cognitive bias are natural neurological predispositions that lead us to faulty conclusions. This discussion utilizes vocabulary in both pure science and psychology to demonstrate, in very cool ways, how media can create what I will term “information blind spots.”
***Caution! I did this lesson with a high intermediate student and they were overwhelmed with Shermer’s speed. I would recommend slowing the video down and using this True/False handout to explain and explore some of the vocabulary and concepts in the video. Have your students read through the statements and make predictions about the possible answers. Then have your students watch the video to confirm or correct their original impressions.
Go through the handout and predict which statements are true or false.
The Video: Why People Believe Weird Things
What makes us believe weird things…make a Mind Map of all the elements you hear?
I love talking about the weather. It is the single most easy way to initiate a conversation with a stranger or acquaintance if you need to break the silence. Great for elevator rides, spontaneous waiting time and warm repartee.
This particular discussion lesson goes from general to scientific to silly. The objective is to elicit the vocabulary around a familiar topic and add a level of complexity with either the science behind weather or weather-related expressions. I just couldn’t choose, so I put both.
What are the different types of weather or climate you can name?
What affects the weather?
Do you use the weather forecast to plan activities?
What activities do you do in spring, summer, fall and winter?
What are the seasons like in your country?
Option 1: The Video: The Science of Weather
Divide the video into 2 or 3 segments and do a Tell Back of the main themes and words
How do meteorologists sort through information, identify trends, and make predictions?
Why do they often get it wrong?
Why is it important to predict the weather?
Option 2: Weather idioms
For this, I made a handout and some flashcards. They are on Teachers Pay Teachers TPT. Click to go see.
First, let’s clarify that a bad habit is a negative behaviour pattern–perhaps one that causes bodily harm. So if your daily glass of wine is not causing you harm then it can stay (yay!)? However, if you drink a whole bottle, text old boyfriends/girlfriends or pass out on the sofa, that may be a different story.
Without being too hard on ourselves, I’m sure we can think of at least one bad habit. Mine…I stress eat. When I get stressed, I feel hungry, crave sweets (I don’t even like sweets) and I’m always looking forward to my next meal.
The creators of ASAP Science YouTube channel look at bad habits from the scientific perspective. They explain why we feel the need to repeat behaviours even when they hurt us. Let this scientific explanation take the guilt out of your bad habits and give you something interesting to talk about with your students.
Would you like to visit Mars? At one time this would have been a question to engage in hypothetical thinking, but now, it could be a real possibility. According to the Washington Post, NASA expects that trips to Mars may be possible in the next 20 to 25 years. In fact, they have launched an exciting competition calling companies, universities and anybody to build models of habitats for Mars.
And if you were to go, what would you bring? Some baggies to collect Mars sand? A good pair of shoes? Camera (of course)? It is an interesting thought to play with. Thus in this post I am referencing the Washington Post article Where to stay on Mars? Robots could create living quarters before humans arrive. The article is featured in the Kids Post, so the vocabulary is relatively simple. And the subject matter may spark some interesting discussion about basic needs, isolation, and exploration.
Would you like to go to Mars? Why?
What do you think it will be like? Dry, hot, cold, lonely, weird, exciting?
The article: Washington Post Where to stay on Mars?
To get the gist of the article, do a series of Tell Backs for each section
What are some of the things that have to be planned in order to make this possible (food, habitat, etc…)?
What is the habitat competition all about?
What kind of entertainment would you bring if you were to stay a year?
What would you put in your suitcase?
How do you think visiting Mars will change life on Earth?
Clinical testing of new medicines and therapies is quite a layered and rigorous process. And still, when a drug reaches the general public, there can be unexpected outcomes. This TED talk features Nina Tandon introducing a new biotechnology process that may prevent some of these outcomes.
For your science students…and perhaps your science aficionados, watch Tandon’s presentation and see if your participants can pull out the main points and features this new technology offers.
What do you know about the process of drug testing?
Do you think the process is solid enough to protect against unpredictable outcomes?
What could be improved?
The Video: TED-Could tissue engineering mean personalized medicine?
Cut the video into as many parts as you need depending on the level of your participants.
When we look at the ludicrous speed the planet is changing because of the human footprint, it can leave us feeling powerless. Thus all eyes are on our governments to fix the problem–to be the climate police. But is that fair? Can we trust them?
In this Frontline report, we are confronted by some of the barriers to climate change measures.
What do you know about climate change?
What are some of the elements that contribute to fossil fuel emission?
What habits have you changed to reverse the trend?
The Video: Frontline: Leadership on Climate Change: Can America Summon the Political Will?
Why is there a disconnect between science and policy in America?
Why are some reluctant to support policy that puts constraints on manufacturers?
Should the government be financing innovation?
Who wins by blocking climate friendly legislation? Who loses?
What are other countries doing that has helped the climate change movement?
We live in a fast paced world with all kinds of conveniences. Food taking a huge chunk of the convenience market, many foods are processed and packaged to serve. If food and nutrition are a topic of interest to you and your students, you might find this National Geographic article about Henry Heinz rather interesting.
What concerns do you have about food?
What do you look for when you read the labels on packaged foods?
What are your ‘rules of thumb’ when food shopping?
The article: How Henry Heinz used ketchup to improve food safety
It is an age old discussion. What are the differences between men and women? Biologist Karissa Sanbonmatsu presents some of the new discoveries from epigenetics and research in DNA that explain the differences between men and women from a biological perspective. This is a science based lesson plan with tons of scientific vocabulary to describe how DNA works to create gender differences.
Sanbonmatsu, a transgender scientist, also talks about the challenges she faced in her scientific community given her struggle with her own identity. This content is layered and complex. On one hand the objective is to help science-based students become more verbal with DNA related vocabulary–an important corner stone topic for biologists. But beyond that, the speaker pulls in the social challenges of the “old boys club” that exists in the scientific community.
What are some of the theories you have heard about the differences between men and women?
Do you think there are differences?
The Video: The Biology of Gender
There are really two aspects in this video mashed up together. 1) Sanbonmatsu shares the science of gender. 2) Sanbonmatsu talks about the reactions of her scientific community, thus the social issues surrounding transgenderism in various communities.
I would first untangle each aspect.
What does the latest research tell us about gender?
What is the behaviour of our DNA?
How is Sanbonmatsu contributing to a society of tolerance inclusion?
Why does Sanbonmatsu expose the scientific community as being especially hard on her choices?
Do you think there are other social circles where transgenderism is more difficult?
What about less difficult?
I leave you with that for the weekend…have a good one.