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Skeptical Inquirer aids high school science teacher and students

Barry Karr and Jamye Johnston

December 26, 2008

Recently we received a letter from a 9th grade science teacher asking about the possibility of us helping her with resources for use in her class.

From: Jamye Johnston
IPC 9th Grade - Grand Prairie, TX

Please help! I am a 9th grade science teacher and I am desperately seeking ways to teach my students to be skeptical of the world around them, but there are limited resources available to high school teachers to do this. I visited your website and found a ton of stuff available for college students and I worked with college students in the past, even acting as the advisor for an atheist student group) but I’m looking for something that I can share with a class of 14-15 year olds that they will enjoy and that I can legally have in the classroom, and that’s tough!...

Of course, we agreed to send her some materials, as much anyway as our budget would allow, and she responded:

Thank you so much for your offer of Skeptical Inquiry issues. Just

having a few books and magazines for the classroom can go a long way. I wish we could request and supply budget money for more materials like the ones you have to offer, but even the pens and pencils and paper that I supply to my students (66% of whom are below the poverty line) come out of my own pocket. Last year the budget for our particular school didn’t even cover the cost of any chemicals for the chemistry labs, which I feel (sadly) is where our science education system is heading.

Gone are the cold war days when science education was considered a vital priority.

I would love to have the kids do reports and projects on pseudoscience and I’m very excited for the opportunity to work with you in raising a generation of students who aren’t afraid to question things around them!

We shipped her out a package of materials right away, and a couple of months later we were overjoyed to receive further communication from her:

Dear Skeptical Mentors!

I wanted to drop you all a line to thank you all for the inspirations (and materials - Thank you Skeptical Inquirer and Center for Inquiry!!) to bring the concept of skepticism to my high school science classroom.

Inspired by Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid podcast, my class and I put up a "Be Skeptical” board at the back of the room and when students have questions I encourage them to write them directly on the board. The questions the students come up with are so interesting and demonstrate some of the creativity and superstition that the students have running around in their heads! At the end of the six weeks, each student picked a question off of the board and researched it to find an answer to their question. Some of the students wrote about ghost photography, some of them about cryptozoology, some about the legalization of marijuana, and even how rainbows are made but it made for a very useful science tool to get the kids interested in asking questions and teaching them how to find the answers. I want to thank all of you for helping to make these projects possible. If you would like a list of the questions the students asked I would be happy to forward them to you! I’m attaching some pictures of our lab library (complete with the donated Skeptical Inquirer collection!) and a picture of our completed “Be Skeptical!” board. I hope this project is something the students will take with them as they move on throughout their lives, and I’m indebted to you for all of your help!

——
Thanks again!
Jamye Johnston
Grand Prairie 9th Grade Center

Integrated Physics and Chemistry

Image of Jayme Johston's classroom

Image of Jayme Johston's classroom

Image of Jayme Johston's classroom

Subj: Re: Good News from the Home of High School Skeptics!

Date: 11/17/2008 2:17:22 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

From: SkeptInq

This is wonderful - THANKS!!! I really got a kick out of the board!

This really makes me happy and we are so pleased to be able to help!

Best.

Barry Karr

CSI

Subj: Re: Good News from the Home of High School Skeptics!

Date: 11/17/2008 11:03:30 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

To: SkeptInq

I would be thrilled if you could use our information in any of your work. Feel free to use my name and school name as well, my school principal is proud of our project and our kids would get a kick out of our class getting the publicity.

I hope that our work might be inspiring to some other teacher, administrator, or student out there!

Jamye Johnston
GPISD