Tag Archives: philosophy

8-Bit Philosophy

There aren’t a lot of opportunities in a standard curriculum for students to think philosophically.  Hopefully, teachers still find ways to give them time for such discussions.  In the past, I’ve written about the Kids Philosophy Slam and Teaching Children Philosophy as resources for integrating philosophy into the classroom.  Both of those offer ways for students for K-12 to become philosophers.

8-Bit Philosophy would be better for older students – middle school and above.  The topics are a little “heady” for elementary.  However, I think tweens and teens would really enjoy the fun graphics in these short videos, and they would definitely spark some interesting conversations.  There are currently 7 episodes available.  Each one is between 2-4 minutes long.  The subjects range from, “Do humans operate like computers?” to “Can we be certain of anything?”  (After watching the latter, I’m only certain that we can’t!)

As always, preview any videos before showing them to students. Religion is discussed in several of these, and there is a bit of video game-ish violence.

from: 8-Bit Philosophy
from: 8-Bit Philosophy – Episode 3

This I Believe

If you never had a chance to listen to “This I Believe” on NPR, then you have been missing out.  Although the series does not air any longer, you can still access many of the recordings, and there are books available as well.  The best way to describe these personal essays is this paragraph from ThisIBelieve.org: “This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.”

You can find recent recordings from the show here. The appropriateness of the recordings for school depends on the age-level of the children.  I have used pieces of the “This I Believe” high school curriculum originally provided through NPR with my 5th grade GT students.

The other day I bookmarked an intriguing Tweet from Drew Frank (@ugafrank) about a “This I Believe” video created by a student for a class.  I finally had the chance to view it last night, and I was blown away by the message and creativity. The student’s name is Kasey Tamamoto, and her video is definitely appropriate for all age levels.  As soon as I viewed it, I knew it would be the subject of today’s post. There seem to be quite a few of these videos on YouTube.  I haven’t watched them yet, but I bet there are some other exceptional examples as well.

For more inspirational videos for students, visit my Pinterest Board or this post on my top 3 favorites.  I also have a Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers – where Kasey’s video would fit just as well!

Ethics, Tuck Everlasting, and the Trolley Car Dilemma

Arthur Miller

In my 4th grade GT class yesterday, we came to the part in Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, where Mae Tuck hits The Man in the Yellow Suit with the barrel of a shotgun.  For those of you who have not read the story, The Man in the Yellow Suit learns the location of a spring that gives anyone who drinks its water eternal life.  He wants to advertise and sell the water, and to forcibly use a young girl, Winnie, as living proof of its effectiveness.  The Tucks don’t want the secret given away – and don’t want Winnie to be taken by The Man in the Yellow Suit.  So, Mae conks him in the head with the gun.

This dramatic scene in the story always spawns the ethical question, “Is it ever right to use violence?”  When applied to Mae’s actions, the class of 15 students seemed to be somewhat split on whether she behaved appropriately or not.  Some, of course, argued that violence is okay when it is in defense of yourself or others.  Some felt that Mae had alternatives.

When pressed, though, all seemed to be absolutely certain that violence is right if you are protecting yourself or others – if it’s the only alternative.

I don’t like it when everyone is certain 😉

So, I posed a problem that I had heard on the radio.  Unfortunately, I got a few of the details wrong.  But, essentially, my scenario was the same as the one you can see in the video below, created by Professor Joyce Chaplin of Harvard (which I originally found on Larry Ferlazzo’s website).

The way I told it was: Suppose you are on a bridge, and you see that there is a train headed straight for a section of track that is broken.  If it gets there, the train will surely careen off the tracks and everyone in it will die.  But you can save them.  On the bridge is a button.  If you push it, the train will switch tracks.  The only problem is – there is someone on the second track.  He will not have time to get out of the way, and the train will not have time to stop.  Do you push the button?

Most of them said, “Yes!” But that’s not the end of the thought experiment.  Then I asked, “Well, what if there was no button, but there is a heavyset man next to you on the bridge.  If you push him on to the tracks below, he will stop the train, saving hundreds of people.  Would you do that?”

This was a little bit more disconcerting to them, and we discussed why.  Essentially, the math is the same, but…

Then, one of my students said, “What if the man you have to push was the President of the United States?”

Wow.  That really changed the conversation.  Are some lives more valuable than others?  Should we save a train full of hundreds of strangers or the President?

And then someone said, “What if you have family members on the train?”

There were more “what if” questions, and I loved them all.  Now, no one was certain.

Mark Twain once said, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  I would borrow from Arthur Miller, and tweak Twain’s quote a bit by saying, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to humble uncertainty.”

Students usually have no problem identifying black and white.  It’s admitting that there’s a gray that can be the greatest challenge.

(By the way, this is not a discussion, nor a video, that I would share with younger students.  There needs to be  a certain level maturity, and a classroom environment that allows for deep discussion, for this to be meaningful.)

Zen Pencils

artist:   zenpencils.com
artist:  Gavin Aung Than

The genius behind Zen Pencils is Gavin Aung Than.  Zen Pencils is a “a cartoon blog which adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories.”  I admire Than’s talent immensely, and I was so thrilled when I discovered his site.  Like many people, I collect inspiring quotes, and when Than’s graphics accompany them, they are true art.

You can get your own set of three free, high quality posters from Zen Pencils by signing up for updates here.  They feature quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I think they are perfect for the classroom.  If you go to Than’s blog, he even gives you tips for framing his posters.  More prints are available, of course, from the Zen Pencils store.  One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is featured above, and can be found in the store.

I also like the Downloads page.  My plan for next year is to download the wallpapers to the desktop computers in my classroom – maybe even the iPads – so when they are not being used there will still be some inspiring graphics on their screens!


Welcome back, everyone!  In my first post for 2013, I present to you a short animation that has a surprising ending.  This would be a great video to present to your students when talking about Multiple Perspectives, one of Sandra Kaplan’s areas of Depth and Complexity.  It could also be a fun story starter or creative writing exercise.  You might ask the students to think about some of these questions:

What if our world is a BumbleVille?  How would we know if it is or isn’t?

Would you want to live in BumbleVille?

How is BumbleVille different than your own community?

How would someone go about leaving BumbleVille?

What would you do if you discovered a BumbleVille?

If you are unable to view the embedded video below, you can find “BumbleVille”, produced by The STUDIO, at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCFJGp7OQjM

UPDATE 12/6/17: For an incredible STEAM project that you can use with this lesson, check out the immensely creative Tricia Fuglestad’s post here!  Also, here is a writing/augmented reality lesson that we did after watching the video.

BumbleVille from The STUDIO on Vimeo.

Thought-Provoking Quotes from Albert Einstein

image from: http://www.dumblittleman.com

The interestingly named site, “Dumb Little Man“, recently included a post by Barry Demp that listed 6 of some of Einstein’s more memorable quotes.  The bonus, though, is that Barry Demp also gives his own thought-provoking questions to follow each quote.  I’m guessing that his audience is mostly adults, but I don’t see why some of the quotes and questions couldn’t be addressed to students as well.  For example, Einstein’s words, “Life is all about choices. How many people are trapped in their everyday habits: part numb, part frightened, part indifferent? To have a better life we must keep choosing how we’re living,” are followed by these questions from Demp:  “Where are you currently trapped and limited by your everyday habits and thinking?” and “What new and intentional choices can you make to achieve a better life?”  Depending on the age of the students, you may need to change the wording a bit, but it’s definitely a good thought exercise from which all of us could benefit.

Kids Philosophy Slam

It’s that time of year again – time for a new topic for the Kids Philosophy Slam.  The 2013 topic is, “Which is more powerful, love or hate?”  You can learn more about the Slam by visiting their site.  Be sure to watch the video on the home page, and take a look at the rules for this year’s Slam.  Also, you can visit the site weekly to learn about a new philosopher.  If you are interested in using more philosophy with your students, you might also want to take a look at this post from last year.