Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Paranormal Reality Television: A Lesson in Critical Thinking

This bit of light seems to be floating in the center of the room.  Is it a ghost?
Ghostly Orb? by spectrefloat
The nature of paranormal research reality television lends itself well to the discussion of critical thinking, and what we should, or should not, believe.

Since the early 2000’s, the number of paranormal reality television shows has skyrocketed. Just to name a few, there’s The Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, Biography’s Celebrity Ghost Stories, SyFy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, A&E’s Paranormal State, and The Discovery Channel’s Ghost Lab. Many of these shows' teams, however, use pseudo-scientific methods to make conclusions, and the producers sometimes forego logic and reason to make for more exciting episodes. Whether or not we believe in ghosts, we can use these shows to our advantage when teaching students good critical thinking skills.

Ghost Hunting or Paranormal Television Assignment 

The format for all of these shows is generally similar, so showing any one of them can help us meet our learning objectives. A team of investigators attempt to gather scientific evidence that either proves or disproves paranormal occurrences, sometimes equivocating on the term “hauntings.” The teams conduct historical research, record audio, video, electric, electromagnetic, or atmospheric changes at a location, interview witnesses, and at times, rely on information given by mediums or psychics. The investigators, among others, claim there is truth behind every piece of evidence gathered while investigating. However, there are thousands of skeptics who make counter claims, daily, and post debunked pieces of evidence all across the Internet. Some teams are even made up of skeptics, or they do not believe in the methods or evidence of other teams.  Just like with all controversial topics, an overabundance of competing evidence can confuse viewers, who may choose, in the face of such uncertainty, passive acceptance over engaged thinking.

Goal of the Paranormal Television Assignment

The main goal of this assignment is to help students realize the power of persuasive techniques used in reality television, which requires a look at the nature of television in general. Paranormal television episodes work well in this context because they use terms directly related to reason, logic, and argumentation. Some of their evidence is extremely convincing, and some of the team members have years of experience as investigators and critical eyes when it comes to their own data. This assignment asks students to think critically while avoiding both dualistic and relativistic thinking; students should not dismiss evidence based on only faith-based value or reality assumptions. Students must study and evaluate the evidence as it has been presented by the team investigators, then choose and support a position on the issue, “Can I believe the conclusions made by this team of paranormal investigators?”

Sample Learning Objectives

Teachers can use this assignment to meet learning objectives from any level of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.
  • Students will evaluate the authority and credentials of paranormal investigators.
  • Students will identify errors in inductive and deductive reasoning.
  • Students will summarize the role of television in our construction of positions on issues.


Follow-Up and Assessment

After watching an episode of one of the paranormal reality television shows, students should discuss the answers to the following questions in order to help them take a position on the issue, “Can I believe the conclusions made by this team of paranormal investigators?” Faculty can assess the students, during discussion or with written assignments, based on the following basic questions.
  1. Do these investigators have a profession that warrants the title of “expert” in paranormal research or investigation?
  2. Do these investigators have higher education in science or paranormal investigation?
  3. Do these investigators have adequate experience conducting paranormal investigations?
  4. Do these investigators have a vested interest in the results of their investigations? Do these investigators charge money to prove or disprove paranormal activity?
  5. Based on your previous four answers, do you think these investigators are “experts” in the field of paranormal investigation?
  6. What methodology do these investigators use to collect evidence when conducting a paranormal investigation? Do they use representative sampling, scientific experimentation, observation, research, or a combination of techniques?
  7. How does this team define “good evidence?” Do you agree with their definition of “good evidence?”
  8. Are there any errors in reasoning or logical fallacies demonstrated by the team throughout the course of this investigation?
  9. Do you find that the team’s premises support their conclusions?
  10. Do the researchers present inductive arguments as statements of probability, and do they present valid and sound deductive arguments as statements of certainty?
  11. What evidence or information, if any, would you like to have in order to make a better decision about what to believe and what not to believe?
  12. How does the nature of television affect your decision on which position to take on this issue?

Whether or not students are believers in ghosts, demons, or other paranormal phenomena, they need to think critically about the nature of reality television, the rules of true scientific investigation, and the definition of an “expert” when watching paranormal reality television. Thinking critically about television evidence and the nature of television can help viewers make better decisions when it comes to what to believe and what not to believe - no matter the topic.

Have You Tried This Critical Thinking Assignment?

Are you a teacher who has tried this assignment or a student who's completed this assignment?  I'd really love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Feb 10, 2012 by Amy Lynn Hess.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching Cultural Diversity through Functional Pottery

Green Diamond Butter Dish by bohlsmargaret

The world over, one thing all people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving their cultural cuisine.  The creativity and uniqueness found in such pottery is inspiring, and it is a perfect avenue by which to introduce student potters to a variety of cultures. 

By studying and imitating ware designs from around the world, students can get a muddy, hands-on lesson in cultural diversity.

Functional Pottery and Cultural Diversity

The world over, no matter the culture, one thing people all have in common is the use of functional ware for cooking and serving the food produced and available in that part of the world. The types of foods and recipes served dictate the uses and designs of the wares. Additionally, pottery from around the world is created using native clays, glazes, decorations, and techniques; all the more potential variety for students to research, practice, share, and study.

Learning Objectives in Butter Dishes

The study of butter and the butter dish might be a good starting point for students studying cultural diversity through the creation of functional pottery. Students can determine if butter is used in a culture, or why it may or may not be found on many tables. Students can study cultural design patterns and techniques for types of butter dishes, and they can design their own dishes based on whether or not people from the culture use melted butter, soft butter, hard butter, whipped butter, liquid butter, butter substitutes, large lumps of butter, or butter molded into particular shapes. Students can infer knowledge about the culture by studying the forms and functions of its pottery.

By combining cultural research and technique, teachers can meet any number of learning objectives or course goals from all levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.  For example, students can be asked to sequence the steps required to center a lump of clay on the wheel, summarize their current knowledge of butter dishes or particular cultures, safely use a slab roller in the creation of a butter dish, differentiate between types of butter dishes and their uses or places of origin, produce an imitation of a style of butter dish, and evaluate the functionality of their own finished products.

Pedagogical Requirements

In order to meet the stated learning objectives of the class or unit, teachers must determine the skill levels of their classes, the number of times the classes will meet, and any firing or equipment restrictions the students might encounter along the way. Some requirements for the assignment, however, should include research, planning, the creation of prototypes or test tiles for glazes, and the completion of a finished product per type of butter dish and cultures studied. Requirements that tie the project together can include student presentations, research papers, or a school-wide display of the artwork with statements by the students that include the cultural information, sketches of various designs, or any type of specialized display.

Regardless of where students may live, or where they might come from, the study of functional wares from all over the world can benefit their understanding of other cultures. With careful planning, teachers can use the study of functional pottery to meet cultural diversity learning objectives.


The Online Teacher Resource. (n.d.). Blooms Taxonomy Verbs. Retrieved from http://www.teach-nology.com/worksheets/time_savers/bloom/

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published September 28, 2011. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Dahn Yoga Experience

Dahn Yoga was a type of yoga I hadn't ever heard of, so I decided to give it a chance. After my experience, however, I'll never go back.

Chakra Displeasure by Claire L. Evans
There are mixed reviews when it comes to individuals' experiences with Dahn Yoga. Some claim the practice is the best thing to ever happen to them, many scoff at the claim it's even yoga at all, and others liken the program to a dangerous cult. The organization has even been sued for wrongful death and brainwashing by former members and their families (Falkenberg, 2009). However, I didn't read about these things until after my private session. Before attending my first and only class, I looked only at online reviews for the specific center I would be attending. What follows is an account of my personal experience.

Before my Dahn Yoga Appointment

While purchasing some shampoo recently, I noticed the store where I was shopping had flyers posted in the store advertising a free aura reading for later in the week. I hadn't ever had an aura reading before, so I thought it could at least be an interesting lunch-break diversion.

I arrived back to the store at my appointed time and was greeted with a hug by a very friendly Dahn Yoga instructor. He asked a few questions about my health and wellness, and he used a piece of electronic equipment to "read" my aura. When the results came up on his laptop screen, he was very complimentary about the uniqueness of my aura, pointing out that he could help me reach my potential by providing instruction that would "brighten" the areas of my aura that were literally darker in my results. He spoke to a great extent about chakra healing and meditation, both of which I believe can help a person lead a balanced life.

After five minutes or so, he presented the opportunity for me to have a private session at a Dahn Yoga center for the low introductory price of $20.00 (€ 15.0800). I took the opportunity with an open mind. I wanted to form my own opinion of the center and practice, and he seemed like a sincere, friendly person. The problem areas he had identified resonated with me. He told me he would call the day before my session to confirm.

Before the session I read reviews about the particular center I would be attending. Although most of the reviews were glowingly positive, there was one review that warned readers that Dahn Yoga is a cult and a scam. Thus warned, I promised myself I wouldn't sign up for any additional sessions until after I had mulled it over the week following the session.

Not having heard from the practitioner as promised, I did call to confirm my appointment before I left the office and headed to my appointment.

During the Session

I was slightly wary of what was happening throughout the session to the extent that when I looked at myself in the mirrored wall, I realized I was visibly uncomfortable. I was talking a lot, I could not relax, and even though I am normally able to clear my mind while meditating, my body and mind seemed to be on high alert.

I was noticing everything, both positive and negative.  I noticed the music was a bit loud and distracting, and the practitioner fiddled with the laptop that was playing the music a few times during the session.  Although he did ask for permission before touching me, I noticed that when it was time to breathe while he pressed or tapped on my body, I was feeling more ticklish than normal because my body was very tense. This, in turn, made me hold my breath. I noticed he seemed very knowledgeable about chakra healing and meridians.  I noticed that although I was too warm in my sweatshirt, I was not willing to take off my sweatshirt. I continued to think about that distractedly for the entire hour.  I noticed I felt no different when we were finished than when we began.

What I noticed the most, however, was the extremely obvious hard sell that followed the session.

When I explained I did not have a work schedule that would allow me to come during class times, the practitioner "reminded" me that this was a very important journey I was about to undertake and "suggested" $1200.00 worth of private sessions would solve my scheduling difficulties. When I explained my financial situation would not allow for that, he suggested a plan in the $900.00 range. Every time I said "no," he offered a plan $100.00 to $250.00 less than the previous suggestion until we got all the way down to a $93.00 plan with a 3% discount. Knowing I was probably his worst nightmare, I told him I would think about it. He gave me his number and told me to call no later than 9:00 p.m. so that the 3% discount could still be applied.

Following the Sales Pitch

Unlike positive experiences I've had at other yoga or meditation centers, this seemed very phony, from the tacky music to having to call to confirm my appointment when I had been told I would receive a call to the hard sell that followed the session.

As someone who strives to avoid the consumer-mindset in my daily life, I never respond well to a hard sell. The longer I thought about my session and attempted to keep my open mind about it and how it ended, the angrier I got. Just as I had promised myself, I thought about my session and whether or not I would subscribe to a plan. "No way," I thought, and that was before I researched the company and its various legal challenges.

I did not call the practitioner to subscribe to any plan, regardless of the very arbitrary 9:00 p.m. discount expiration. Instead, I realized what I should do more of is take advantage of the wonderful and easy-going yoga center located only a few miles from me where people can drop in for sessions at only $15.00 for an hour - with no sales pitch, only fresh fruit, to follow.


Falkenberg, K. (2009). Dahn yoga: Body, brain and wallet. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0803/fraud-dahn-yoga-centers-body-brain-and-wallet.html

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Original publication May 1, 2012.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Make a Clay Whistle: A Beginner's Pottery Project

This is a picture and a drawing of a clay whistle for comparison.
A Clay Whistle Photograph and Design Plan
Walking into a pottery studio as a beginner can be a bit intimidating. There's a lot to learn, from basic handbuilding and throwing techniques to more advanced firing and glazing concepts. However, do not be discouraged!

A clay whistle project can be created in your first few days, even if you're just starting out.

The basic building techniques you should use and understand for this project are wiring off clay, wedging, pinching, paddling, and attaching pieces by scoring and applying slip.  Once you understand these basic techniques, you can master the art of making a working clay whistle!

Understanding How Whistles Make Sound

Before beginning, it's important to understand a few concepts about how whistles work so you can sketch and plan your project.

This whistle will work much like a flute. According to Mark Shepard on An Intro to Flute Acoustics, "Nearly all musical instruments are made up of two basic elements: a generator, which gets the vibration going, and a resonator, which amplifies the vibration and modifies it to create the sound of the instrument" (2001, para. 1).   For this project, the mouthpiece and "wedge" will be the generator, and the hollow form will be the resonator.

This is a diagram of the inside of a clay whistle.
The player will blow air that passes through a canal until it hits a wedge of clay that splits the air, causing the sound. The air will alternate between escaping out of the whistle and being forced into the whistle, which will cause vibrations in the form.

Make a clay whistle

Creating the Resonator of the Whistle; The Hollow Form

The basic idea in making the hollow form is to create enough space for the air to resonate.  The instructions here are for creating one pinch pot and sealing the end, then creating a flat surface for the generator.  Alternately, you can create a second pinch pot of the same size as the first and attach them together to form a hollow sphere.

  1. Wire off 1 - 2 pounds of clay.
  2. Wedge your clay and cut it into 1/2 pound cubes.
  3. Form balls of clay from the cubes.
  4. Wrap all but one of the balls in plastic (to keep them moist), and use the last one to create a pinch pot the size of your hand.
  5. Smooth and pinch the pot until the walls are 1/4 inch thick.
  6. Close your form by applying slip to scored edges. The closed edge is the bottom of the form.
  7. Lightly tap or paddle the top of the form in order to create a flat surface for the whistle's hole.

Creating the Whistle's Mouthpiece

The mouthpiece is the piece of the whistle the player will use for blowing air into the form.  Be sure it is smooth and has a straight slot on one side.  The air passing through to the wedge will need to be "shaped" as a rectangle in order to properly split between the form and the wedge.  It's a strange concept to think of "shaping" air, but by shaping the hole in the mouthpiece, the air can be "shaped."
The mouthpiece of a clay whistle is a cube or cylinder.

1. Use about one cubed inch of clay to create a smooth cube or solid cylinder.
2. Poke a thin, rectangular hole in the mouthpiece, like a shortened slit for a piggybank.
3. Set the mouthpiece aside.

Attaching the Mouthpiece to the Whistle

The mouthpiece must be aligned with the slit created in the hollow form, and it must be carefully attached to the form.  You don't want it to fall off or become out of alignment with the wedge while drying or while in the kiln!

  1. Insert a fettling knife (or popsicle stick) into the hollow form just under the top of the "lid."
  2. The top surface of the knife should touch the bottom surface of the hollow form's "lid."
  3. Remove the knife.
  4. Create a slot at the knife's opening that's the same size as the slot in the mouthpiece.
  5. Insert the knife into the mouthpiece, then into the slot in the hollow form.
  6. Push the knife through both slits so it just touches the lid of the hollow form, as before.
  7. The knife now sits where air will later pass through the whistle.
  8. Slip and score the mouthpiece to attach it.  Use extra coils of clay as needed to make a smooth connection.

Creating the Generator; The Whistle's Hole and Wedge

The hole and wedge are the pieces of the whistle that will allow sound to be generated.  Notice the shape of the hole and wedge in the following figure.

  1. Use a needle tool to cut out a small square of clay where the air hole meets the hollow inside of the form.
  2. Create 90 degree angles straight down into the form. You will be able to see the fettling knife's top surface.
  3. After the square is cleanly cut and you can see the surface of the fettling knife, create a 45 degree "slide" from the back edge of the square hole up towards the back of the hollow form. It's at this point the air will be split to make a sound. Use the top of the knife as a guide.
  4. Be sure to use the needle tool to clean any clay out from below the edge of the wedge that sits below the level of the air canal.
  5. Practice blowing softly into the mouthpiece and adjusting the angles until the wedge and air canal are aligned and the whistle makes the desired sound.
  6. Practice with all of the 1/2 pound balls of clay you've wedged. When the basic forms and whistles are complete and working (and you've cleaned the clay from around your mouth), let the clay become leather hard, then decorate your whistle before bisque firing.
  7. Remember to glaze carefully so as not to plug any of your whistle's holes with glaze.

Even if it's your first day in the pottery studio, once you understand basic handbuilding techniques, you can begin making your first clay whistle.


Shepard, M. (2001). An Intro to Flute Acoustics. Retrieved from http://www.markshep.com/flute/Acoustics.html

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.