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Is That A Fact?
It is a common, deceptively simple, question. This section
should help you show your students some strategies for answering it well.
Skip to the list of assertions you can
use with your students.
- The first thing they need to know is that for something to be a fact, it
must be testable. If I say that I feel warm, the rest of the world
pretty much has to accept it. Somebody can take my temperature or look
at a weather report or the thermometer on the wall, but that won't
necessarily have anything to do with how I feel. It may be a fact that
I said it, but beyond that there may not be much relevant evidence
establish with certainty. On the other hand, if I say that yesterday's
high temperature in the city was 70 degrees, there are several tests
we can run to validate
my assertion. Somebody can check the weather
page in the paper. Someone else can call the National Weather Service
office. A third person can log on to the Weather
Channel online. A fourth can tape the evening TV and radio
weather reports. If the data we gather supports my assertion, then it
is a fact. If not, it isn't.
- Thus the key to answering the question, "Is that a fact?", is to
identify tests that can be run to generate evidence with which to validate
or invalidate the assertion about which it is asked. If it is
testable, and if the tests return evidence that affirm it, then the
assertion is a fact. If it is not testable, or if the tests do not
affirm it, then the assertion is not a fact.
- There are at least two ways to approach this type of warm-up. Select
the one most appropriate for your students.
- Write out an assertion so all students can see it. Take a vote on
whether or not the students believe it to be true. Record the vote,
then allow your students to discuss their reasons for voting as they
did. During the discussion, try to identify pieces of evidence as
they are presented. If you like, present and discuss any relevant
evidence you have.
- A bit more challenging is to present your students a factual assertion,
then ask them to figure out if it can be validated. If they agree that
it can, go on to help them find a consensus on how it might be
done. When you've finished, you can present and discuss any relevant
evidence you've previously collected. This approach is especially useful when your
students are unable to distinguish potential fact
In addition to helping them define those terms, you can use it to help
them explore other concepts like truth,
as they apply in your discipline.
- Such activities can be a prelude to assignments that lead to class reports
and discussion. Click
here to see a simple one I created for the assertion about George
Washington's birth date below.
- Here are factual assertions for you
to use with your students. While
the first two are generally considered "common knowledge", the evidence I found as I
attempted to validate them might surprise you. Click on each assertion
for information you can use as you discuss it.
- George Washington was born on February 22, 1732.
- Betsy Ross created the first U.S. flag.
- "Dorky" made its first recorded English
appearance in 1983.
- Someone is likely to shoot at students in my
- The earliest humans lived at the same time as the
- Christmas Day always falls in winter.
- NASA faked the Moon landings.
- Every year since 1950, the number of children
gunned down has doubled.
- The U.S. Constitution's 2nd amendment protects
the rights of Americans to own firearms of any sort.
- Voltaire wrote, "I may disagree with what you
say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
- William Shakespeare authored a play titled
- Evolution is both a theory and a fact.
- Glaciers have been growing, not shrinking as
Global Warming proponents claim.
- If you believe that what you see with your own eyes must be true, or even
if you don't, you must view Jeff Schrank's
- On August 20, 2011, I presented a session at EdCampSFBay titled, "Truth:
What is It?" Here is my
flowchart for that session.
- Several people have published books in which they've challenged accepted
"facts" in a variety of disciplines. Click
here for a list of some that I especially like.
- Click here if you're looking for
"facts" to validate, or if you want to see reason in action.
- Exploring the concept of truth can get complicated. Two books to help you negotiate the maze are:
- Truth : A History and a Guide for the Perplexed
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Hardcover - 256 pages 1st US edition (November 1999)
St Martins Pr (Trade); ISBN: 0312242530
an excerpt from the book
- The Truth About the Truth : De-Confusing and Re-Constructing the Postmodern World
by Walter Truett Anderson (Editor)
Paperback (August 1995)
J P Tarcher; ISBN: 0874778018
- Most of us accept photographs as solid, factual proof. However, in
the digital age that may be a foolish assumption. If you are curious to find
out how well you (or your students) can tell if a photo has been digitally
modified, you'll not want to miss
the Fake or Foto
- Do you need a list of good online reference works? Look
- Related Classroomtools.com activities
return to the Warm-up activities page
return to the Lesson Ideas page
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original web posting: Tuesday, February 22, 2000
Monday, August 26, 2013