What the Fudge


Session 1: Epistemology

10 min discussion: Here’s a question, What is a question.
How do we know? voice inflection, etc.

5 min activity: How do we know what we know.
Offer a list of facts, and get ideas about how we know. e.g. We all exist. The sun will rise tomorrow. The earth revolves around the sun. We are made of atoms.

10 min writing activity: Making a question.
Take a statement of fact, add who what when why where how etc. to make it a question.

15 min writing activity: Writing Jeopardy
Pairs of teams each write answers to questions, then take turns trying to guess the questions.

5 min full discussion: Good and bad questions.
What makes a good question? What makes a bad question?
Good questions contain a path for their answering and have answers that can be found or tested.  Bad questions are too broad or vague, or ask the unanswerable.

10 min activity: What Questions can’t be answered.
List and collect questions that can’t, for whatever reason, be answered. e.g. What is the sound of one hand clapping? What did George Washington’s breath smell like. What is the biggest turd ever made?

10 min activity: What about questions you wouldn’t want to know the answer to?
List and collect questions we don’t want to know about. e.g. How am I going to die? How does the world’s worst breath smell? What does my sister really think about me?

10 min discussion: What makes good questions good?
They are open ended, they are concise, they lead to answer paths: what ifs as opposed to hows.

15 min activity:  Write a good question.
Collect topics, group into panels to each ask 4 good questions.

10 min final discussion: Choose the best questions.
Describe the next workshop and gather the questions, then as a group, vote on the ones most people want to have answered.

Back pocket: What do you know. What have you heard but can’t believe. What do you believe but have heard was wrong. What do you think everyone else thinks they know but that you think is wrong? How are your parents and teachers full of it?

Session 2: Research

15 min discussion: Review of previous session.
Presentation of sample questions collected by the group.

5 min activity: Team up.
Split up the list among various teams.

15 min activity: Make team names and flags.
Students will vote to name their team, then work together with craft materials to create a team flag.

10 min discussion: Good Google!
Use projector to demonstrate various google features: Image search, Google a day, Boolean search strings: +/-, and/or. Wonderful Wikipedia.

20 min activity: Controversies.
Each team picks from a list of controversies, or suggest their own.  
e.g. MSG/Aspartame/tap water/?? is bad for you. Chem Trails? Sugar causes hyperactivity. Creativity is from the left brain and reason from the right brain.
Teams divide into two sections who each research the same question independently.  Compare answers and vote. Analyze effect on team affiliation on results.

10 min discussion: Valid vs. reliable.
How can we tell who is right. Consider various controversies.

15 min activity: Answering our questions.
Return to list of student questions form the first session. Can any may be answered by research? Teams try to find answers and narrow questions via research.

15 min discussion: Scientific method:
Describe rigorous process: Question. Assumptions. Hypothesis. Testing. Records. Results. Conclusions.
Model based inquiry.
Existence of biases. Use of double blind studies. Limiting and controlling variables. Identify remaining research questions.

15 min activity: Break down questions.
Groups separate elements of questions into discreet elements that can be tested.

20 min discussion: Design experiments.
Select from the potential questions that have not been answered, and identify what variables can be tested, how these tests can be made, and what materials will be needed to do them. Create an experimental plan for next session.

Session 3: Experiment

Note: Materials and processes needed will have been pre-determined by staff in analysis of previous work to allow students to do an experiment to answer a question from the previous sessions.

5 min activity: Watch Mythbuster video.

10 min discussion: What did Jamie and Adam do?
Decode the scientific method form what was done in the video.

10 min: Divide into teams.
Specific roles and will be divided among the teams:
Lab Book team will record the conditions and results in a Lab notebook.
Videographers will record images and sound.
Principal investigators will oversee and make crucial decisions.
Lab techs teams:
manipulate materials.
make measurements.
safety monitors.

30 min activity: Set up experiment.
Distribute gear, demonstrate use, and set up.

15 min activity: Run first round of testing.

10 min discussion: Analyze results.

15 min activity: Adjust parameters and retest.
The whole session will be devoted to following through on the experimental plan and duplication repeating and modifying it as many times as possible while rotating team members.

20 min discussion: Final analysis and Conclusion.
Group discussion of results and conclusions. Suggestions for further improvement of the experiment and new questions it may have brought up.

A video of the testing should be cut each week, posted and provided for download by the students.

© Nesdon Booth 2013


I’ve been volunteering at 826LA. What fun!! All the retired teachers out there need to join me. All the fun of teaching and playing with excited little kids, with none of the district or admin BS.


I want to use their massive flow of happy and inquisitive kids to begin collecting good questions. I am planning to put together a science weekend workshop to teach problem solving and question asking at the Mar Vista store.

So, I’m looking for some good experiments around which to build a 3-4 hour class that will require the kids to try and devise and test hypotheses. I looked at lots of science experiments for kids at the Exploratorium and elsewhere, and they almsot all fall into the gee-whiz-natural-history  category, not the how-can-we-figure-this-out category, which is  the key lesson we need here.

Nini came up with a couple of good ones. The Mentos meets Diet Coke testing, and a puzzle pipe where one needs to do some reasoning and testing to find out what is hidden inside a short piece of PVC pipe with holes though which some ropes emerge and by which one can manipulate the contents. They currently have a workshop (I think) where the kids try to use various materials to prevent ice cubes from melting. These sorts of engineering challenges like egg drops, are great to develop problem-solving skills.

When I was a kid, Christopher and I had a long and not very successful rocketry program. We made a few cool explosions, a lot of lovely fireworks and started a bunch of fires in his backyard, but never a successful rocket flight. In a parallel line of inquiry, we made a giant box kite with to test the capsules in which we planned to send our pet hamsters aloft. The kite, Archimedes, did take a frog in a capsule hung under a parachute up several hundred feet, although a Joshua tree fouled our trigger release line  causing early deployment, and the strong wind kept our parachute from fully deploying, but the excellent multilayer cushions of the capsule allowed out frogstronaut to survive the fall unscathed. I think the frog had to be substituted for a hamster because I, in one of the most idiotic lapses of my life, had tragically and absent-mindedly squashed Christopher’s hamster by forgetting that it was asleep in my pocket when I laid down on the floor in his hallway to play a game of Life.

The Answer is…

…Asking a good question. How we ask determines the answers we get. The core of this effort, to get people who are not and will never be interested in STEM careers to understand the power and primacy of scientific inquiry as the source of truth and knowledge, is going to hinge on collecting good questions.


So much science education is couched in the revelation from authority fallacy, and so much is about trying to turn kids on to an interest in the working of the universe. We shouldn’t want them believing that Mr. Wizard has the answers. This opens them to believing that Fox News, Ayatollah X, Bill Maher or Michael Moore have the answers. We want them to understand how to find answers, or at least respect the process and not the personalities.

Questions like what is the Higgs boson, what was the biggest dinosaur, or why is the sky blue, all beg for an answer from an authority. They are questions that are beyond the ability of an average person to discover the answer to on their own, they are the province of big science. But questions like: what is the shortest route to my school, what would happen if I never cleaned my room, how does my choice of shoes affect my friends, who can tickle whom, are questions we can answer of ourselves, and in trying, come to understand how to solve problems.

So the first step in this process is to collect questions. We have a chicken and egg problem here. We cannot make a program until we have a sufficiently large set of questions to address, but we cannot solicit questions until we have a program. Therefore we need to divise a system for collecting a large volume of authentic questions from which we can select. How can we do this?

Chasing Ice

I recently saw Chasing Ice at the new Sundance Sunset theater. Very nice place BTW, 21 and over with a bar and cafe, good prices, and no commercials. It is a compelling doc about the Extreme Ice Survey project of the cinematographer, James Balog.

It happens that this is as close to a realization of my Terrakino project as I have seen. By some odd serendipity, Mr. Balog chose, unbeknownst to me, to do a Q and A after the showing of the film I attended. It was apparently sold out at the Landmark in Westwood, but at the Sundance, there were only 8 people in the audience. This of course gave us unusual access to him, and I was able to ask lots of questions about his techniques and process. However, he was, as were the rest of the audience, in a more political frame, surrounding how we can stave off the slow-motion disaster he was so eloquently documenting.

So rather than Terrakino,  more interesting and motivating for me, was that he was pretty successfully defeated climate science denying with art. This idea of using art to make science more accessible is of course the essence of this Schmience project. Balog’s pitch is: Take Action and so of course he chastised me for not acting on these ideas I was discussing with him.

I had begun this blog in an effort to help build the Schmience program as part of my Masters thesis, but was so discouraged by the pedantry of the Full Sail Faculty, that I had mostly abandoned it. My trip to the ISTE conference this year reinforced my problem with the relative elitism of STEM education, at the same time that it empowered me with the strength of multi-media, multi-platform, multi-mode education. So, between Balog, ISTE and my disillusionment with my job, here I am taking a stab at reinvigorating this project.

The Yucky Stuff

Photograph by Anne Dupont of Aplysia dactylomela mating chain

These sea slugs, who Christopher referenced, are hermaphroditic, and can form full rings with each simultaneously getting and giving. The ones we find here in our local California Waters are Aplysia calfornica. The wonderful slimy, deep purple ink of this family was used by the Romans to dye their “Royal Purple” togas.

This purple, mucousy ink is among the coolest yucky stuffs I know. My former brother-in-law, Larry, suggested a kids’ book with this title, all about snot, puke and pus, and I think he was right on the mark. I have thought about the great popularity of MythBusters, and lamented a bit that it is often more about explosions and ick, but I see that this level of flash, humor and excitement is essential to their success.

My goal with Schmience is not solely to feed naturally curious kids with fascinating information, they will seek that out on their own; my goal is to take the kid who thinks science is boring and give them understanding and respect for the validity of the scientific process. So, we need to aim at a much broader target audience than our usual science program our STEM outreach is likely to address, i.e. people likely more like me and you. To reach this audience, I think we need to be more committed to entertainment value than to the ultimate rigor of the data.

Beakman tried, and succeeded in many ways, at this entertainment value with a zaniness of the container, making natural history data more palatable to this same audience. But it is the process we want to make more palatable, which is what MythBusters succeeds at even with a very bland container.

Transgressive Media: Garbage Pail Meme

Garbage Pail Kid 45

Garbage Pail Kids trading cards were a play on the wild popularity of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. They started in 1985 and, at least in my home, with three boys aged 9, 10 and 11, they were a huge hit. They were also banned at their school, giving my 10 year old his first taste of a blackmarket profiteering, as he sold off his duplicate cards to the keeping-up- with-the-jonesing, lower-grade kids at 1000% mark-up.

But the real lesson of this viral meme for me, was the power of transgressive media. Kids loved how annoying and disgusting (albeit mostly harmless) Garbage Pail Kids were to their parents. The process of individuation, especially as they develop through Erikson’s Competence and Fidelity and Piaget’s Concrete and Formal Operational stages, often involves seeking  semiotic mileposts that reinforce peer-based and weaken parent-based identity. Gangster rap, Punk Rock, and Rock and Roll all have typified the end of this period of development, that is often begun in the scatological fascination and humor, typified by Garbage Pail kids, in which the process begins for tweens.

So we want to embrace this phenomena in Schmience.