VS. THE PARANORMAL
An Instructional Kit - Trial Version
Educators interested in evaluating the trial version of the Science Vs. The Paranormal Instructional Kit, providing additional material for it and helping CSICOP develop it further, can request a free kit by contacting Kevin Christopher at 716 636 1425 ext. 224.
Below we have provided the Educator's Guide that accompanies the trial version of the Science Vs. The Paranormal Instructional Kit.
Compiled by Sheri Kashman
In Collaboration with
Barry Beyerstein, Ph.D.
Simon Fraser University
Revised and edited by
Gwen A. Burda, Ben Radford,
and CSICOP staff
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is pleased and excited to have the opportunity to introduce Science vs. the Paranormal: An Instructional Kit to teachers and students at the elementary and secondary grade levels. CSICOP strongly believes that students should have the opportunity to learn and begin using critical thinking skills at an early age. As teachers, you can help them do this. And the paranormal is an easy-to-understand and interesting subject area with which to begin.
The goal of these materials, and others in development, is to introduce paranormal topics in a critical manner. Popular media, movies, books, as well as general childhood and adolescent play (for example, the telling of "ghost stories") tend to reinforce belief in paranormal happenings. While CSICOP acknowledges the importance of fantasy, imagination, and creativity in the growing mind, we also hope to combine those qualities with an inquiring and critical investigative mind. With this kit, students will have the opportunity to study an interesting, "un-academic" topic and develop essential critical thinking skills at the same time. Through this effort, we think students will naturally want to continue to investigate and debate the plausibility of such phenomena as UFOs, psychic powers, astrology, and ghosts.
Finally, we hope that you and your students have fun with this kit. The subject area is diverse and interesting, and we don't wish to discourage students from interest or study in the paranormal or to deny the existence of these occurrences. Rather, the kit is meant to equip students with a penchant for investigation and evaluating evidence.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) gratefully thanks Dr. Helen Edey, Mr. Sandy Brenner, and the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation for generously providing funding for this project.
A 1985 study (Rotton and Kelley, Psychological Reports, 1985) found that 49.7% of students at a Florida university believed people act "strangely" during a full moon.
Percentage of respondents who believe in:
Source: Roper Reports, July 1997Which of any of the following do you believe at least to some degree?
Source: Yankelovich Partners, 1998
(1976 N=8,709; N=1,000 Margin of error=+/-3-5%)
What's wrong with believing in haunted houses and Bigfoot? Why question the existence of psychic abilities and extraterrestrial visitors? The problem is that many people believe these phenomena are real without having sufficient evidence to support their beliefs. Few people who believe in t he paranormal phenomena stop to ask themselves: How do I know? What evidence do I have? Is there some alternative explanation? This is where critical thinking comes in.
Sometimes we let our desire to believe overwhelm our evidence for believing. But wanting something to be true does not make it true. When examining our world, we need to be aware of the ways in which we may fool ourselves or others may fool us.
Students need to learn how to ask probing questions, consider alternatives, and identify what constitutes evidence; we hope that the materials made available in this kit will help develop these skills. Students also need to know that being a critical thinker does not mean having a closed mind; in fact, it's just the opposite. Critical inquiry demands an open mind, but it demands an open mind in conjunction with the use of reason.
Perhaps the field that best embodies these principles of critical thinking is science. To get the best possible information about the world around us, scientists use what is called the scientific method. Although there is no single definition or description of the scientific method, any procedure that serves to systematically eliminate reasonable grounds for doubt can be considered scientific. (Schick and Vaughn, How to Think About Weird Things, 1995).
The scientific method is a way of solving problems, not a particular solution to them. Many people think that only highly educated scientists can conduct scientific experiments, but once a person learns the ideas and principles behind the methods of science, nearly anyone can design and conduct an experiment. Engaging students in the methods of science early on can instill in them an interest in the world around them and a level of comfort with the scientific process.
These are simple examples that can be used to show students just how easy the scientific method can be. They don't need expensive laboratory equipment to perform science experiments. All they need is an understanding of the methods of science.
Finally, consider these practical benefits of critical thinking:
Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics by Dan Barker
Grade Level: Middle School
Beyond Belief: Explorations in the Paranormal - CSICOP video hosted by Steve Shaw
Grade Level: Middle School / High School
The Outer Edge: Classical Investigations of the Paranormal edited by Joe Nickell, Barry Karr, and Tom Genoni; thirteen classic articles selected from Skeptical Inquirer magazine, the official journal of CSICOP
Grade Level: High School
Grade Level: Middle School
Bringing UFOs Down to Earth by Philip J. Klass
Grade Level: Elementary
Additional copies of Science Kit materials are also available.
The Outer Edge, Beyond Belief, and the Skeptical Inquirer magazine are available from:
CSICOP / Skeptical Inquirer
PO Box 703
Amherst, NY 14226
The Magic Detectives, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, and Bringing UFOs Down to Earth are available from:
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, NY 14228
|The Outer Edge
|The Magic Detectives
|Maybe Yes, Maybe No
|Bringing UFOs Down to Earth
|Video: Beyond Belief
|Additional issues of Skeptical Inquirer
For more information on pseudoscience and the paranormal you can contact:
Additional Reading List:
Borderlands of Science, edited by Ken Frazier
Science Confronts the Paranormal, edited by Ken Frazier
The Hundredth Monkey, edited by Ken Frazier
Encounters with the Paranormal, edited by Ken Frazier
The UFO Invasion, edited by Frazier, Nickell, and Karr
Flim-Flam, by James Randi
Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, by Martin Gardner
Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, by Terence Hines
Secrets of the Supernatural, by Joe Nickell
The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, edited by Gordon Stein
(all above titles are available from Prometheus Books)
How to Think About Weird Things, by Schick and Vaughn
(available from Mayfield Publishing Co., 1280 Villa St., Mountain View, CA 94041)
- rumors heard in school
- discrimination towards minorities
- surveys, questionnaires, statistics
- truthfulness of advertising
- boastful people
- material taught in books and texts
Once students have read and discussed several paranormal accounts, have them choose a reading from the provided materials and write a short report in which they answer some of the questions posed above.
Book Reviews and Oral Reports
Have students choose a paranormal subject and review a book on the topic. This may be either an individual or group effort. Set aside class time for them to go to the library and investigate potential sources. If the school library has insufficient materials on the subject, you may want to consider a field trip to a city or community library. The book review itself should include: a) a brief overview of the book's premise; b) reasons to believe the premise (e.g., reasons why UFOs or ghosts exist); c) reasons not to believe the book's premise; d) personal opinion. You may also want to consider having the students present the report in class.
Photocopy selected mini-mysteries from The Magic Detectives without the solution and distribute to students. Assign each student a mystery to read and evaluate overnight or over the weekend. Discuss the mysteries in class and generate possible solutions. Then read the solution to the class and discuss reactions and any alternative solutions.
Personal Experience Essays
Assign a critical essay about a "paranormal" occurrence in their own lives or the lives of people they know. The essay should include: 1) a brief description of the event; 2) initial reaction to the event; and 3) current reaction to the event, given what they have learned in class and through assignments.
Surveys of Popular Beliefs
Have students collectively prepare a questionnaire to survey other classmates, peers, and family about their beliefs regarding the paranormal. Students may either use direct yes or no questions about beliefs ("Does not believe in ghosts" vs. "Does believe in ghosts") or may include indirect questions, such as "Have you ever seen a ghost?" Once the questionnaires are completed and returned, have the students compile the results into averages.
Have students collect articles and other information about the paranormal from various media sources (newspapers, television news reports, documentaries, etc.). Discuss any relevant materials at the beginning of each class.
Presentations and Skits
Have students act out convincing demonstrations and/or skits of various paranormal phenomena such as mind reading or ghost sightings. Skits should be left to the students' discretion, but in general, they may want to include a portrayal of the event itself, the claim, and the reactions and/or debunking by others.
Assign group projects such as making realistic UFO photographs, preparing stock mind-reading analyses (as found in The Outer Edge), or making spirit pictures (as found in The Magic Detectives) to show others how paranormal phenomena can be faked.
Divide the class into two sections, one for and one against the paranormal, and have students debate an issue. For example, one side might be a group of people who have sighted a UFO, and the other could be scientific investigators attempting to provide scientific rationales for the sightings.
Have students watch popular television shows that include paranormal depictions (e.g., X-Files) and come up with possible explanations or ways of going about investigating a particular phenomenon portrayed on the show.
Local Paranormal Investigations
If there is a "paranormal occurrence" in your area, such as a haunted house or recent UFO sighting, arrange a field trip to the site and allow students to investigate the scene. Have students interview witnesses if possible.
If possible, invite a magician to class to demonstrate and discuss illusions. Discuss the difference between such entertaining situations as magic shows and illusions versus the manipulative and misleading analyses offered by so-called psychics, astrologers, and fortunetellers. Is one or the other more acceptable and why? How is this justified?
Special Event Field Trips
If you have a local science center in your area, watch for special events relating to paranormal issues. Often, planetariums and museums organize displays and offer discussions and seminars on such topics.
As available, supplement project materials with relevant films, documentaries and reading materials.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community, the media, and the public. It also promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. To carry out these objectives the Committee:
The Committee is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, started over twenty years ago. The Skeptical Inquirer, published six times a year, is its official journal. The Committee maintains an international network of fellows, consultants, and affiliated organizations. Subcommittees are established to examine key issues such as health claims and alternative medicine, parapsychology, astrology, UFOs, and the media representation of paranormal events.