Is that true?

Steven Hovan, Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus
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Ask students to research the "truth" behind statements from recent news articles and provide their opinion about what is "true". These assignments can be done as often as the instructor feels appropriate. I tend to use them once every few weeks or when I come across an interesting or questionable "statement of fact" in the media. Examples include statements about increases in hurricane intensity/storminess due to global warming, or perhaps something as general as the Coriolis effect and toilet flush direction, etc.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I've used this activity in both majors and non-majors oceanography and meteorology courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The required skills or concepts vary depending on the "truth" activity assigned. Sometimes there is nothing more students need to do other than explore the concepts and summarize their findings. Other activities may require some Excel/graphing abilities. The instructor can easily modify the activity to fit the current abilities of the class/students.

How the activity is situated in the course

Sometimes I assign this as homework to supplement current lecture or lab topics; other times I have used it to introduce upcoming concepts.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Content goals vary with assignment.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

These assignments can serve a multitude of purposes including a) graphing skills and graph interpretation, b) database exploration, c) critical thinking and data synthesis, d) scientific writing.

Other skills goals for this activity

On some assignments I ask students to work in pairs to explore the concepts and collect internet data and/or library articles. But each is asked to formulate written summaries and conclusions individually. I also ask students to prepare a brief summary presentation and randomly select students to present and justify their conclusions to the entire class.

Description and Teaching Materials

The following MS Word files provide some examples of recent "Is that True?" activities I've used in class. The best examples involve statements from the media involving current events, so I try to keep an eye out for these in news or magazine articles.

Teaching Notes and Tips

These activities can (and should) be updated with statements in new media about current events to have the most impact with the students. The handouts provided give the general concept of what I'm asking students to summarize. In lower-level introductory courses, I usually make these assignments "opinion" articles and do not require students to plot data sets. However, in upper-division courses, students must find scientifically valid data and construct/interpret plots to support their conclusions. The biggest stumbling block I've had with these assignments involves students finding scientifically appropriate data (i.e. scientific articles or scientific web-databases). Thus, I sometimes direct them to a specific website (i.e. state climatologist data repository or national snow and ice data center) to get them started.


I provide 8pts for each assignment as follows:
2 pts for proper administration (deadlines met, spelling/grammar, references, all components included)
3 pts for research (multiple and reliable scientific sources)
3 pts for understanding (does data match conclusion?)

References and Resources