Internet Science: Some Updates

Well, it’s that time of year again: back to school. Next week I am again headed back to high school to give the talk that spawned my Intro to Internet Science series last year.

This is my third year talking to this particular class, and I have a few updates that I thought folks might be interested in. It makes more sense if you read the series (or at least the intro to what I try to do in this talk), so if you missed that you can check it out here.

Last year, the biggest issue we ran in to was kids deciding they can’t believe ANY science, which I wrote about here. We’re trying to correct that a bit this year, without losing the “be skeptical” idea. Since education research kinda has a replication problem, all the things we’re trying are generally just a discussion between the teacher and I.

  1. Skin in the game/eliminating selection bias In order to make the class a little more interactive, I’ve normally given the kids a quiz to kick things off. We’ve had some trouble over the years getting the kids answers compiled, so this year we’re actually giving them the quiz ahead of time. This means I’ll be able to have the results available before the talk, so I can show them during the talk. I’m hoping this will help me figure out my focus a bit. When I only know the feedback of the kids who want to raise their hands, it can be hard to know which issues really trip the class up.
  2. Focus on p-values and failure to replicate In the past during my Crazy Stats Tricks part, I’ve tried to cram a lot in. I’ve decided this is too much, so I’m just going to include a bit about failed replications. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how popular studies get repeated even when it turns out they weren’t true. Talking about Wonder Woman and power poses is a pretty good attention getter, and I like to point out that the author’s TED talk page contains no disclaimer that her study failed to replicate (Update: As of October 2016, the page now makes note of the controversy). It does however tell us it’s been viewed 35,000,000 times.
  3. Research checklist As part of this class, these kids are eventually going to have to write a research paper. This is where the whole “well we can’t really know anything” issue got us last year. So to end the talk, we’re going to give the kids this research paper checklist, which will hopefully help give them some guidance. Point #2 on the checklist is “Be skeptical of current findings, theories, policies, methods, data and opinions” so our thought is to basically say “okay, I got you through #2….now you have the rest of the year to work through the rest”. I am told that many of the items on that list meet the learning objectives for the class, so this should give the teacher something to go off of for the rest of the year as well.

Any other thoughts or suggestions (especially from my teacher readers!) are more than welcome. Wish me luck!

One thought on “Internet Science: Some Updates

  1. I don’t know how to frame it for high school students, because even the brightest of them may not have had the experience of self-teaching and self-understanding long enough to get this. But one rule that has been strong for me is “What do I hope is true?” and to be especially suspicious of that.


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