Set the Stage
Have students form their teams of 2-3 before getting started.Each team needs to have an Internet-connected device they can use for research.Open the activity by asking students the following questions:
1. What does the word statistics mean? (A definition is provided on the Activity Preparation page for this activity.)
2. Are statistics facts? (No, statistics are interpretations, they are not facts.)
3. Are statistics that are presented in an article or media report generally accurate? (Not necessarily. Informed media consumers know they need to check statistics they read or hear to determine if they are believable.)
4. What does the word plausible mean? (A definition is provided on the Activity Preparation page for this activity.)
Ask teams to draw a table with three columns on a sheet of paper. Label the first column ‘Know.’ Label the second column ‘Want to know.’ Label the third column ‘Learned.’ Team members discuss the questions above, making a list of the things they already know about how statistics are used in media in the first column on the paper. Take a few minutes for teams to share their lists with the entire class. While students will most likely be familiar with the word statistics, their understanding of what it means may be limited. After hearing various teams’ ideas about what statistics are and how they should be handled by consumers, ask teams to list what they want (or need) to learn to understand statistics they read or hear.
Explain that in this activity, students will review multiple claims that use statistics to prove a point. They will decide if these claims are plausible.
Say that we often read or hear a statement that is supported by one or more statistics, but seldom question if the numbers used are believable let alone accurate. There are times when thoroughly checking out statistics cited in an article or media report will be time consuming, but before taking a deep dive, consumers can learn a lot by simply determining if the numbers make sense.
Distribute the Unbelievable! handout.
Point out the 5 questions at the top of the handout that students will use to check each claim for plausibility. Review the questions with students.
Possible Modification: If necessary, walk through verifying the claims as a whole class activity.
Use the example found at the top of the handout to walk students through the five questions to use to check for plausibility. Ask them to record their work as directed in the handout. Walk students through the first three questions.
Claim: There are simple ways we can conserve water used for human consumption. (As answers will vary, accept all reasonable responses.)
Before answering the fourth question, lead a class discussion about how students might find information they could use to verify the parts of the claim they’ve said they need to check. For example, would they look for how much water is used when a person brushes their teeth and then calculate how much a family of four would save in one month? Or, could they try to find at least two articles from reliable sources that confirm the 200 gallons per month savings overall? How might they verify the statistics related to washing dishes by hand or in a dishwasher?
Give students time to research and record answers to questions 4 and 5.
Teams determine the plausibility of the five claims on the handout, using the same process. Depending on their skill levels and the amount of time required to provide instruction, students may need a second period to complete the assignment.
Possible Modification: Assign one of the four claims to each team. Ensure that each claim is reviewd by at least two teams. Review teams’ conclusions about each claim in a whole class discussion.