Purpose: Things are not always what they seem! Events can often be misinterpreted due to our tendency to attach certain meanings to words. The key is for students to recognize what the “false assumption” is in each short mystery story. The “false assumption” is what makes the solution tricky, and that many common problems are difficult to solve because we tend to assume a particular paradigm.
Background: Point out that one of the strategies of science is to recognize how easy it is to make false assumptions about the workings of nature (Earth being the center of the universe), and to devise methods for avoiding or revealing those false assumptions for what they are. This often requires a total paradigm shift…a different way of looking at the situation, in which common assumptions are critically challenged, on purpose. Encourage you students to “think outside the box” and be cleverly creative.
Procedure: Ask students to think about what “false assumption” means to them. Have an open discussion about what kinds of false assumptions scientists have made in the past, the problems this created, and how they solved the problems. Explain that science is a way to work around or through those false assumptions.
These little deceptive problem stories are presented to the class, and students are challenged to solve each problem by asking only yes/no questions.
Explain to students that their challenge is to solve each of the mysteries. Students can either as a group to solve each story or this can be conducted as a whole group lesson. Students are allowed to ask you (the teacher) questions which can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” It is up to you how many questions each group is allowed to ask, I allow each group only one question – so they have to really think about what they are going to ask. All questions must be answered truthfully. Encourage students to listen carefully to the other groups’ questions. Be sure to think out-of-the-box, keeping in mind the title of this assignment!
For each story, write down the answer and the false assumption.
Example Story: A man and his son were rock climbing on a particularly dangerous mountain when they slipped and fell. The man was killed, but the son lived and was rushed to a hospital. The old surgeon looked at the young man and declared, “I can’t operate on this boy: he is my son.” How can this be?
Answer: The old surgeon was the boy’s mother False Assumption: That the surgeon was a man.
This lesson plan is adapted from Steve Randak, 1999, ENSI.