Sunday, December 5, 2010

Teaching High Schoolers "Real Science"

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to teach a group of high schoolers about whatever I wanted. The event was called Splash, and brought thousands of high schoolers and middle schoolers from the bay area in to Stanford to take short classes taught by Stanford students.

I decided to teach: "Real Science - What It Is and How to Spot BS" a lesson on what science was and what it could do. I had about 40 students over 3 classes, and it was a great time. The kids (grades 9-12 in my class) had a good time, and I did too. I am pictured above with Karl Popper.

My main points were:
1. Science works on matter. Matter's not all that matters.
2. Science works by experiments. Experiments have limitations.
3. Scientists are people. People are not objective.

These points are not all that controversial. I don't think many scientists who would disagree. But this revelation shook some of the kids pretty profoundly. Comment cards I collected at the end had questions like, "Then how do we know what is true?" and as if defeated, "Do all experiments have limitations?" It seems that many of my students believed in scientism. They believed that the only things that can be known are those that science can find out. And a better understanding of what science really was challenged this. Anyways, this goes along with what JP Moreland says about epistemology (ideas on how we can know things) being the central issue of our age. But that is for another blog post.

For more detail, my Powerpoint (with teaching notes!) can be found here (make sure you download the original to get the animations and teaching notes; click 'file' 'Download original').

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