A visit from Richard Saunders

So, about a week ago I posted a summary of the sceptical society I started at my school. I figured I would get a couple of “way to go”-like comments and that would be the end of it. I was wrong.The next day at school I got a phone call from the Australian Teachers Magazine wanting an interview and have word that two major newspapers are also interested. My post was plagiarised and put up on Reddit by somebody calling themselves “MrVanAdamme”. Rebecca Watson herself commented and shared the link, along with others.What I’m writing about now however is the fact that Richard Saunders also read it, mentioned that he would be in Melbourne soon and offered to come and speak to my kids.Needless to say, this was a bit of a coup.

I only had a few days to brew up some excitement and get an audience. My request to steal an entire year-level was knocked back due to them being too busy already, so a quick lunchtime spot would have to do. Fortunately, we had a whole-school assembly a couple of days beforehand and I managed to get their attention by claiming that astrology was a load of crap because my astrologer wouldn’t accept that my star sign was the unicorn.

I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t get a decent audience, but fortunately around 65 students turned up, along with a few teachers.

Richard opened with a brief story of what he does, including his appearance on ‘The One’ and his investigations of haunted houses. The students were quite excited about the haunted house investigations and afterwards some asked if he could come back and just talk about that.

He then went on to talk about how easy it is to be fooled.  He showed us a few optical illusions, one of which totally blew the kids away. I think there are some who still refuse to believe the truth of it. Good scepticism, I guess!

The highlight of this section was when Richard picked up a spoon and proceeded to shake it about, ala the wobbly pen trick. The gasps started to come when it really did look like the spoon was bending and that this was more than an illusion. Eventually the spoon bent all the way back and split into two pieces. While there were a couple of cries of “he’s a witch!” Richard explained that it was a simple magic trick they could learn out of a book.

One of my favourite parts was the memory test. Richard showed us two separate lists of words, as seen below:

    

The students were then given one minutes to write down as many words as possible. They were then asked to raise their hands if they wrote down ‘anger’ from the first list or ‘sweet’ from the second. Quite a few hands went up, followed by some embarrassed chuckles after Richard pointed out that those words did not in fact appear anywhere. How easily our memories are deceived!

The part that I thought was fantastic was how Richard explained that there’s nothing embarrassing about being fooled. Our brains are virtually wired for it. Everybody gets fooled at some time or another and it’s better to understand just how easy it is, rather than stubbornly stick to your guns and believe in things that aren’t really there.

A water dowsing experiment followed but my students let me down by not having any ability with it.

I was also lucky enough to get the power balance test demonstrated on me! (I’m the little guy in the front.)

Richard closed the show by reading out Phil Plait’s letter, “Welcome to science.” This was another highlight because not only is it a beautiful message, the students listened in rapt silence. I was so proud of them during this, I think there may have been a few converts on the spot.

Richard, I want to publically thank you for your visit. I’ve had lots of comments from students since then telling me how much they enjoyed it and when are you coming back? You totally put me to shame and gave me some great ideas which I will be stealing without credit. Hopefully we will be able to get you back here soon.

vanAdamme (Mr V)

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3 Comments

Filed under McKinnon Secondary Sceptical Society

3 responses to “A visit from Richard Saunders

  1. Pingback: Interview by Richard Saunders on the Skeptic Zone! | Sceptic School

  2. Pingback: SkepticZone interview | Sceptic School

  3. Pingback: How I manipulated my student’s memories | Sceptic School

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