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Lesson Ideas
Warm-up activities

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.

  1. 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 we can 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.
  2. 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.
  3. There are at least two ways to approach this type of warm-up.  Select the one most appropriate for your students.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 from belief and opinion.  In addition to helping them define those terms, you can use it to help them explore other concepts like truth, validate, affirmassertion, data, evidence, and proof as they apply in your discipline.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. George Washington was born on February 22, 1732.
  2. Betsy Ross created the first U.S. flag.
  3. "Dorky" made its first recorded English appearance in 1983.
  4. Someone is likely to shoot at students in my school.
  5. The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.
  6. Christmas Day always falls in winter.
  7. NASA faked the Moon landings.
  8. Every year since 1950, the number of children gunned down has doubled.
  9. The U.S. Constitution's 2nd amendment protects the rights of Americans to own firearms of any sort.
  10. Voltaire wrote, "I may disagree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
  11. William Shakespeare authored a play titled "King Lear".
  12. Evolution is both a theory and a fact.
  13. Glaciers have been growing, not shrinking as Global Warming proponents claim.
  1. 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
  2. On August 20, 2011, I presented a session at EdCampSFBay titled, "Truth: What is It?" Here is my flowchart for that session.
  3. 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.
  4. Click here if you're looking for "facts" to validate, or if you want to see reason in action.
  5. Exploring the concept of truth can get complicated.  Two books to help you negotiate the maze are:

read an excerpt from the book

  1. 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 challenge.
  2. Do you need a list of good online reference works?  Look no further.
  3. Related activities

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original web posting: Tuesday, February 22, 2000
last modified: Monday, August 26, 2013