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Design and Possible Uses for this Set of Exercises

by William McGaughey


General explanation:

This is a set of exercises, suitable for children aged 9 to 14, that will stimulate interest in the world around us. It is related to the theory that all things in this world are comprised of three types of being - matter, life, and thought - or some combination of them. My book of Big History, titled History of the Triple Existence, is written as a cosmology or creation story for the three elements. “Things of the Triple Existence”, presented on this web site, is a companion work that brings this concept down to earth in ordinary things that children would know.

Its venue: Schools are the logical place for children to learn about such things. This set of exercises could be introduced in science classes orit could become a course of its own. Alternatively, the exercises could become a kind of a parlor game. The template for various uses is given freely to whomever finds it helpful or interesting. But, really, it is up to the individual teacher, parent, or other interested person, to breathe life into this scheme and make it work.


Proposal for a school course:

The lesson would be taught mainly in the classroom, the teacher being a discussion leader. There would be no written tests. However, the most active student participants in classroom discussion would likely receive the highest grades. This course would be appropriate for the 4th grade through middle school.

It would work like this: The teacher would first identify or show a particular “thing”.This might be a photograph or, better still, the object itself, passed around the class for close examination.

Starting with a particular student, the teacher would then ask if this thing was matter, life, or thought, or a combination of these elements. The student would be asked briefly to explain his or her answer. The teacher would grade the performance.

Next the teacher would ask the same student an additional set of questions about the same object. The format is given in “A template for discussion”. The questions would cover only those elements that are associated with the object. For instance, if the thing is associated with matter and life, the questions under the headings of matter and of life would be asked but not those under the heading of thought. A certain number of points would be awarded to the student for correct answers. In effect, this would be the student’s test score.

After the student has finished answering the question, the teacher would decide how many points he or she should receive and would hand the student plastic chips equivalent to the number of points. Each day, at the end of class, the students would individually return the chips to the teacher who would then record their number in a book under the student’s name. The teacher would keep a running tally of points through the semester; and this would be the basis of the student’s grade for the course.

It would be important that each student have an equal opportunity to answer questions about these “things” so that there would be a level playing field in the competition for grades. That means that over a semester of classes all students be asked questions about objects the same number of times.

In addition to the regular rounds of questioning, students would have an opportunity to earn additional points by raising their hands to answer unanswered questions or add new information relevant to the template:

(a) If a student misses or answers a question incorrectly in the regular round, the teacher will recognize another student in the class who would be invited to give an answer. That student would receive points if the question is answered correctly.

(b) After all the question pertaining to an object are answered, the teacher would open the class up to additional comments. Students would be invited to supply additional information related to the topic and the teacher would award points to the student based upon the value of the information offered. Where there is a question about this information, the student might be required to do homework that evening to confirm its truthfulness and make a report on the following day before the points are recorded.

Again, there would be no written tests. The grade for the course would be based upon the number of points which students have accumulated during the semester plotted against a standard for assigning letter grades. For instance, the top 20 percent of points might earn an “A”; the next 20 percent, a “B”, etc.

If this is presented as a course, the teacher might write the names and point totals of the top two or three students in the class (with the most points) on a black board or other display at the front of the class. Honor the high achievers but do not embarrass the others by lising everyone in the class.



1. Young people are interested in physical objects and are naturally curious about their origin. Therefore, the subject matter of this course would be inherently interesting.

2. Young people are also competitive. They want personal recognition. This type of course would build competition into the classroom experience itself so that the students would see it taking place before their very eyes. The grade would be based upon this competition rather than the invisible process of grading a test paper. The purpose would be to make heroes out of the students on the basis of earning points. The intellectually curious would become heroes. It might pull the timid out of their shells and give them confidence to discuss intellectual questions with their peers.

3. Such a course would be an interdisciplinary exercise combining history with the natural sciences. Something of biology and economics would also be thrown in. Yet, there would be a consistent focus to the discussion.

4. Such a course would make students more aware of the world around them in seeing how particular objects are comprised of matter, life, and thought. If they want to explore the three-part structure of existence further to get the “big picture”, they can study big history, a fast-growing academic field.

5. Such a course could ignite curiosity that would lead to lifelong interest in particular subjects and to possible careers. We also want young people to become aware of the earth’s natural resources so that those resources are used wisely.


Teacher Resources:

The teacher would have detailed templates or sets of questions for all objects discussed in class. There might also be lists of sources, on the internet or in libraries, to gain additional information about these questions. There might be videotapes of actual classroom discussions to give teachers examples of how to conduct the course. There would be a website for persons interested in such courses to get additional information and perhaps participate in discussion groups.


Other Possibilities:

This could become the basis of a game show on cable television or an informal parlor game played in social settings. The scheme of the triple existence is quite new and ready to be explored in various ways.


Concluding Thoughts:

The idea here is not to take this scheme too seriously or try to establish a new orthodoxy of scientific knowledge but to encourage people, especially the young, to look at the world in new ways, come out of their intellectual shells, be imaginative, and even have fun. Above all, it is to ignite a spark of interest in children to examine the world around them and explore certain fields on their own. A teacher with the unique ability to lead classroom discussions, make things interesting to their students, and set their imaginations ablaze with specific questions and answers about the world that we inhabit on earth will be the key to a truly valuable education in the sciences and other areas.

An analogy: James Naismith, a physical-education instructor at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, invented the game of basketball in 1891. He wanted a vigorous game that could be played indoors during the New England winters. Well designed though this game is, the excellence of basketball lies not so much in its invention but in the experience and tradition of playing it. So this set of exercises will have to develop a type of practice that excites young people to do their best in thinking about the world. There may need to be modifications in the rules as the game of basketball was improved by, for instance, eliminating peach baskets in favor of open-ended hoops.


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