By Bridgette Byrd O’Connor, OER Project Team
If you happen to have a TikTok account to keep tabs on your kids (I can’t be the only one, right?) or maybe to spend some time zoning out after grading essays, then you may have stumbled upon creators who use the app to test outlandish claims. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know whether pouring Red Bull into a home drug test will reveal the presence of Schedule I drugs?! Spoiler alert: It doesn’t, according to the guys who run a popular claim-testing account. (And, you know, common sense.)
Now I’m not making fun of these people. A ton of pretty crazy claims get made daily on social media, and these creators are actually making money by testing them, while (arguably) performing a public service. The lucrative nature of these videos is certainly a selling point to get your students interested in how they too can become viral claim-testing TikTokers. But if they want to apply for that job, they should probably first learn how to perfect their offline claim-testing abilities, and that’s where we come in.
Here at the OER Project, we go all in on claim testing. In the Big History Project, students are introduced to claim testers in the first unit, and it’s one of the core concepts in the course. In the World History Project, students refine their skills through a series of activities that ask them to test the claims our historians make, find evidence to support those claims, and then find more evidence to support a counterclaim. As they master this skill, they also get to make their own claims about historical topics (backed up by evidence, of course).
A selection of OER Project claim testing resources.
Why are we such claim-testing fanatics? Students who perfect the art of claim testing improve a range of skills, not only the ones that are useful in their social studies class. They also become better at analyzing nonfiction in English class and evaluating lab results in their science class. Being able to test claims using evidence that supports, extends, or challenges those claims is an essential skill both for school and in life, no matter what your career. But that’s not the only reason we concentrate on this skill.
Students who can test claims are also better prepared for the challenges of the digital world. In an age when misinformation and disinformation turn up with every click of a mouse or swipe on a phone, claim testing has become essential. And students who have had a chance to practice, know how to evaluate claims using not only their intuition and logic but also their research-backed assessments of an author's credentials and sources.
So students will not only be able to determine if the latest viral claim floating around TikTok or Snapchat has any merit, but more importantly, they'll also be critical readers of news articles as well as skilled evaluators of primary and secondary historical sources. (And if you’re looking for how to help students claim test data specifically, check out our materials in Project X!)
We’d love to hear the innovative ways you use to get students practicing their skills testing and making claims. Share your lessons in the OER Project Community, or get inspired by conversations about claim testing such as this one, in which teachers shared resources, or this one that has students claim testing poetry.
About the author: Bridgette Byrd O’Connor holds a DPhil in history from the University of Oxford and has taught the Big History Project and World History Project courses and AP US government and politics for the past 10 years at the high-school level. She currently writes articles and activities for WHP and BHP. In addition, she has been a freelance writer and editor for the Crash Course World History and US History curricula.
Cover image: Girl with smart phone filming teenage friends dancing in living room at home. © Maskot / Getty Images.