Tag Archives: critical thinking

Ancient Aliens Debunked & Information Literacy

Ancient Aliens Debunked & Information Literacy

Stuck at home the last couple of days suffering from the flu, I had a little time on my hands and stumbled upon the website Ancient Aliens Debunked.  Essentially this site is the host of a free documentary (embedded below) by Chris White that goes point by point through claims from the History Channel’s popular Ancient Aliens program and offers alternative explanations to the ancient astronaut theory presented in the show.

While I am a casual fan of Ancient Aliens, seeing a three hour documentary that tried to vet the sources was very interesting and got me thinking about how we (and our students) evaluate information today.  As the documentary progressed, it became clear that some of the information in the Ancient Aliens show was clearly not sourced or obviously invented and not merely a different interpretation of a known source or artifact.  However, given the professional and authoritative air that the TV series put on, some may accept these proposals and theories without question.  While it is not perfect, the Debunked documentary and website does make a concerted effort to link various sources that allows viewers to research on their own to reach their own conclusions.

Neither show is perfect in anyway, and it is a rather roundabout way to get to my point, but what struck me was one statement by Dr. Mike Heiser, Debunked’s ancient language authority:

“[A source] should always be willing to direct you to information so that you can do the work and check on them. If they don’t, you should be suspicious… You should ask that source; that person ‘Where can I look? What can I do? What can I access to try to test what you’re saying?’”(via).

This idea is one we should stress to our students, and allow them to have access to the materials and sources to conduct their own research and analysis.  This type of independent discovery is a key to student learning – especially as more and more classrooms are flipped into a student-driven environment.  We just need to be willing and open as instructors to not only show them our research, sources, and methodology, but also to provide them with the tools to evaluate and critically analyze what they find, see, and hear on their own.

In the coming weeks, I will add more tips and tricks to help provide more Information Literacy tools for evaluating sources and content as well as how you can help students in pulling out relevant information from source then properly citing them in their research.  In the meantime, enjoy the documentary and visit the companion website where you can see the research conducted (with citations) by filmmaker Chris White.

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Posted by on January 9, 2013 in Tips & Tricks


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Daily Photo — 1/8/13

Daily Photo — NYC Subway c. 1973-1974

Use the photos posted in this feature as a writing prompt, for a warm-up activity, a drawing template or as part of a photo analysis.

From the this photo is one of a series “all taken in 1973 and 1974, documenting the graffiti-marked subway system of New York City.”  There is the added benefit of seeing the human condition at the same time.

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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Daily Photo


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Solid Edge Garage — A Critical Thinking Game

Solid Edge Garage

Today I thought I would mix it up a little and bring you another game because I know it’s been a while since I’ve done that.  Put out by Siemens, Solid Edge Garage can be used in virtually any class, even though on the surface it lends itself very well to a physics or physical science class.   You may want to consider using Solid Edge Garage any time you want to break up your class or have students work on their collaboration skills, reasoning, problem solving, or critical thinking.

The idea behind the game in Solid Edge Garage is that there is a Rube Goldberg machine set up in the garage but it is not working.  You need to adjust the various parts of the machine to allow a ball bearing to pass through the machine and release a scooter that is parked in the Solid Edge Garage.  There are twelve components of the Solid Edge Garage machine that can be adjusted when a wrench icon is visible, but all twelve do not have to be tweaked to solve the puzzle.

The difficulty in the Solid Edge Garage arises when students need to start to think through and observe the mechanism as they begin to work on solving the puzzle.  After each unsuccessful attempt, the machine resets to its default, requiring students to observe and take notes about what did and did not work in each trial run.  Planning is essential to success in completing Solid Edge Garage.  Also, observation and deductive reasoning as well as critical thinking and logic are all tested in Solid Edge Garage.

There are hints provided along the way to help you solve the puzzle, but they will not provide the answer.  I think you might enjoy Solid Edge Garage more for the fun the students will have at being allowed to play a game while at the same time honing critical thinking and logic skills that are oftentimes neglected.

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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Websites


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One Sentence — Writing with Brevity

Photograph: Tetra Images/Corbis

One Sentence

All writing begins with a single sentence.  Have you been looking for a way to either get students to simply start writing or to have them start writing simply?  You might want to check out One Sentence.  The idea is that complete, true stories can be told in one sentence and one sentence only.

Aside from simply repeating the idea as a warm-up for creative writing in English or writing class, try the concept of One Sentence in any classroom:

  • Use is as an exit ticket in math to summarize the day’s lesson.
  • In history you could have students write one sentence biographies.
  • Science classes could explain concepts, reactions, or processes using this format.
  • Students could write one sentence character sketches from their Independent Reading or their own creative writing.
  • Positions can be explained in one sentence for political science, civics, or debate classes.
  • “and many, many more…”

Like most user driven sites, One Sentence may have submissions that are not appropriate for school, so you might want to preview the site before each class before sharing with your students.  However, even if you don’t share the site, try using One Sentence to spark the writing bug (both creatively and in the subject areas) in your students.

Also of interest: Six-Word Memoirs – stories told creatively using only six-word sentences.

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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in Tips & Tricks, Websites


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Experience the Planets — Cross-Curricular Artistic Experssion

Experience the Planets

Science meets art, or the other way around, on this fantastic site where artists interpret our solar system creatively while at the same time applying scientific fact to their work.  Experience the Planets allows you to look at our planetary neighbors in a new light, while at the same time teaching students the astronomical facts behind the artwork.

There are many uses for a site like this.  You could use the idea behind Experience the Planets as a cross-curricular project with art and any subject in any grade level.  Have students illustrate a scientific concept or natural phenomenon and provide the research and factual material to accompany it.  You could do the same in a history or social studies class and have students create an artistic representation of a person or event and cite each aspect of their artwork with research.  Perhaps you might try using Experience the Planet’s concept in reverse to have students work in art class to critique pieces that depict historical or real-life events and find accuracy in the artwork based on their research of that event.

Make sure that you have the latest plug-ins (Flash, Shockwave, etc.) in your browser for Experience the Planets and watch the volume – there is a great classical-inspired background soundtrack for each of the eight planets.

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Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Websites


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Get the Math! — Algebra in the Real World

Get the Math!

From WNET comes this great series that helps students understand simple algebra in real world examples through video and challenging projects.  Get the Math! currently has six videos and challenges available to students.  Each addresses a different concept or formula and feature all-star celebrities explaining how they use the math in their respective fields. Following the video is a step-by-step challenge for students to directly apply what they have just learned.

The videos currently available are:

  • Math in Music
  • Math in Fashion
  • Math in Videogames
  • Math in Restaurants
  • Math in Basketball
  • Math in Special Effects

Tutorials helping explain how to use Get the Math! in your classroom are available as are lesson plans and expansion project ideas.  This is a great way to help integrate a little technology into your class, either by watching the videos as a whole then breaking into groups to attempt the challenges or by having students work in small groups on each concept.  Try using Get the Math! as a supplement to your lessons, as a starter to a larger Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit, or as an extra-credit assignment.  Students could even design their own new challenges to show how they use algebra in their own daily life.

All the videos on Get the Math! are embedded in the browser so make sure you test your browser and machine for compatibility before showing these to your classes.

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Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Websites


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C-SPAN Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates

Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates

Whether you are teaching history, current events, politics, rhetoric, or even public speaking, these are a great resource!  Very timely given that we are in the middle of the presidential debate season for 2012, C-SPAN has made available through their video library both the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, as broadcast on C-SPAN and without commentary or spin, from 1988 through 2008.

Each video comes with a short synopsis of the key points raised during that debate as well as a full transcript that you can read or print out for students to follow or use in research.  Also, within each debate C-SPAN has allowed you to jump to specific clips or answers.  Each of these can be anywhere from the 2-minute opening and closing remarks, down to some 18-second individual answers.  This makes for easy navigation to what might otherwise be an unwieldy hour and a half of coverage.

You can use these in your classroom to compare and contrast the current debates to those from the recent past.  Some may be useful as a primary source for teaching modern election history.  Perhaps you can use examples (good or bad) from the debates for your public speaking or rhetoric lessons.  If you need a cross-curricular lesson, print the transcripts and have the students read along and test comprehension and understanding as they read through the various talking points and positions of the candidates.  There are many possibilities for how to use these.

Explore the other offerings in the C-SPAN video library as well.  Coverage of past Congressional hearings, Senate debates and many other events are all available in the same format.

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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Websites


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Two-Minute Mysteries

Two-Minute Mysteries

Looking for a fun and unique way to have students work on their critical thinking and logic skills, with a little deductive reasoning built in?  These two-minute mysteries from Mystery Digest might do the trick.

The stories are designed to be read and solved in less than two minutes, and these short mysteries will test students reading comprehension (or listening, if you read them aloud) and then encourage them to think critically about the facts given to quickly solve the case.  None are designed to be tricky, and all the cases can be solved based only on the facts given.

There are several ways you might use these in class.  They could be part of a different warm-up exercise to change the routine a little in a math class to test logic.  Use them as part of a unit on mystery and detective stories in your reading or English class.  They could be templates in a creative writing class on writing short, concise stories packed with information.  Just make them a fun group activity, seeing how each student group arrives at their conclusions, and if they are different.

The mysteries are divided into both easy to solve and medium difficulty stories, but they should really only be used in middle school or above (grades 6-12).  If your students enjoy these, you might also want to try both the logic puzzles available and the “Case Files of Detective Nose” for some more short cases.

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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Websites


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