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Science teachers have an obligation to instill critical thinking and skepticism in their students. If my students can calculate kinetic energy as (1/2)mv^2 but also buy a Power Balance bracelet or accept media reports of paranormal activity, I feel I have failed them.
So I insert explicit lessons in skepticism and critical thinking into the curriculum throughout the school year. This is one of them.
Power Balance bracelets burst onto the scene a few years ago and enjoyed explosive success. There were "knock-offs," fakes, and the company gathered so much cash it bough the naming rights to sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento: what had been ARCO Arena became Power Balance Pavilion.
Here's the kind of video they used to promote the product. It seems to convincing!
Power Balance Demo (YouTube v=A_Ow-ZGMy5o)
Many media outlets were only too keen to promote this "miracle product". Australian TV news magazine, Today Tonight, for example:
Power Balance Wristband on Today Tonight (YouTube v=CF7gvhj6140)
Harder to find were the media reports skeptical of the snake oil. Kudos to Today Tonight for running this follow up.
Balance Test Scam. Watch how they fool people with this simple party trick (YouTube v=2xBVEM2iMns)
The activity carefully and deliberately brings students through the claims and the tests of those claims.
Power Balance has since declared bankruptcy, but similar products (targeted toward baseball players) persist. There will always be such products, I hope my students do not buy them.
I developed this activity for use with my own students.
April 2020 UPDATE: In addition to the printable PDFs of the student blank and answer key, a Google Docs version of the student document now included for easier distance learning use.