In Lesson 1.3, students are introduced to claim testing, a skill that is fundamental to Big History. The activity “Claim Testing: What Are the Claim Testers?” is the second in the practice progression for this skill. Through this activity, students are introduced to the claim testers and get a broad overview of the four types: intuition, logic, evidence, and authority. As students progress in the course, they’ll be exposed to focused activities for each claim tester, which will allow them to build their knowledge and skills. Students like claim testing (maybe because middle schoolers are often opinionated and passionate—in other words, they love to argue). How do you harness this natural skill and passion in the name of intentional learning? Read on for ideas from veteran middle-school teachers of BHP that will have your students reasoning their way out of any argument in no time.

Devon Rose, BHP Teacher (Sixth Grade)

Claim testing is a vital skill in the BHP course, but one that may challenge middle school students. Introducing and practicing claim testing early on and often throughout the BHP course will help students develop critical thinking and analysis skills. This Lesson 1.3 activity—”Claim Testing: What Are the Claim Testers?”—is engaging, hands-on, and collaborative, which reinforces the practice of claim testing.

Prior to beginning this activity with my sixth graders, we watch How Do We Decide What We Believe? in Lesson 1.3 a few times together as a class. I find it necessary to watch the introductory video more than once to help my students internalize the content. In addition to using the classroom claim testing posters (download them here!), I also have students make informative posters of their own in small groups, which gives them another opportunity to understand claim testing. Each small group will highlight one claim tester and include examples and counterexamples. Once completed, students will do a gallery walk to see their peers’ visual representations for each claim tester. I plan to hang the posters in the classroom (or hallway) as visual cues for claim testing work later in the course. My sixth graders will be equipped with the background knowledge to do the “What Are the Claim Testers?” activity because they will have had three unique exposures to claim testing; watching the video, working in small groups to create claim tester posters, and participating in a gallery walk.

Zach Cain, BHP Teacher (Sixth Grade)

Our students are highly skilled in identifying and making claims, but are not yet able to support or test claims.  At the beginning of the year, we focus on teaching students the idea that an opinion is simply just a claim without any evidence, but a claim that has credible and reliable evidence becomes a fact.  This activity is essential because it bridges the gap between the skills our students have and the skills they need for effective critical thinking, writing, and discourse.

To make claim testing accessible for our sixth graders, we find it important to have students engage with claim testing in multiple mini-activities before starting the “What Are the Claim Testers?” activity in Lesson 1.3. In our mini-lesson, we begin by introducing the claim testers by reading “Claim Testers: First Contact,” and having students fill out a graphic organizer to record their thinking. During the first read, students will record the names of the claim testers, identify examples of the claim testers, and classify specific words or phrases that may be linked to each claim tester. Once students have a firm understanding of the claim testers, they will create “trading cards” that represent each. This extension helps students move from simply identifying the claim testers to being able to apply them to the BHP narrative.

After the mini-activities, students are ready to tackle the “What Are the Claim Testers?” activity. We scaffold this activity for sixth grade by reformatting it as a gallery walk. Each of the claims will be located around the room and students will move in small groups to each statement. At each statement, they write on a sticky note which of the four claim testers is the best fit. At the end of the rotations, we revisit each statement as a class and look to see if we have a consensus. If we do not reach consensus, groups will explain their reasoning for their chosen claim tester, and then determine as a class which is the best fit.

I anticipate that the elevation claim will be most challenging for my students. I think my students would benefit from having a diagram or a physical representation (a small ball) of the Earth. That way they can visualize the claim before using the claim testers.

Jami McLing, BHP Teacher (Seventh Grade)

“What Are the Claim Testers?” provides essential groundwork for effective and high-quality writing. This type of work is especially important at the middle-school level where many kids are delving into evidence-based writing and claim testing for the first time. I find that my students are passionate and opinionated, which can be harnessed in their writing when they develop the skills and knowledge to evaluate and support claims.

Before we begin the activity, we watch and dissect Lesson 1.3’s How Do We Decide What to Believe? video. We pause it often and have class discussion to make sure we have a clear idea of what claims are. Then, we modify the “What Are the Claim Testers?” activity to involve movement and work through it as a whole group, which helps students identify their own misconceptions in real time. We put a claim tester on each wall of the classroom and read the claims about the shape of the Earth aloud. Students will decide which claim tester is the best fit and move to that wall in the classroom. After each round, we have a class discussion about the outcome of the round. For our seventh graders, it seems most effective to cover fewer claims deeply rather than more claims followed by shallow discussion. We do deliberate “checks for understanding” with struggling learners to understand the misconceptions or misunderstandings they are facing with the activity.

Next time, we want to incorporate an exit ticket after the class game as a gauge for which individuals have yet to master claim testers. That way, we will be able to support students where and how they need it.

Gwen Cracknell, BHP Teacher (Seventh Grade)

After 14 years teaching various grades at the elementary level, I had the opportunity to move into a middle school history position at my private school. The first year, I stuck to the textbook while I gained familiarity with the age group as well as the content. As I was scrolling through social media, I came across the Big History Project. At the end of that first year of middle school I chose various activities from Units 7 through 9, as they aligned with the content I was teaching.

The next year, I ditched the textbook, completed the online PD course, and implemented Big History as a year-long replacement for seventh grade medieval history. I knew it was the best choice for my students because it would stretch them far outside of their comfort zones to gain more critical thinking skills than a typical compartmentalized version of history, period by period or event by event.

Claim testing is an essential component of critical thinking. BHP provides a multitude of activities to build and practice critical thinking skills. There are claim testing activities sprinkled throughout the units. However, I love how Lesson 1.3’s “Claim Testing: What Are the Claim Testers?” activity provides more of a hands-on experience with the basics of each claim tester. I also think having the kids get in small groups and defend their reasons for choosing one claim tester over another is putting them to use in a more concrete structure.

Rob Gourlay, BHP Teacher (Sixth Grade)

As a sixth-grade teacher, I began using the elements of BHP course in my classroom this school year. In my classroom, one of the instructional techniques that I use often is a version of the scientific method. I will have the students predict or form a problem statement, use material to research what we are studying, form a conclusion, and use the material to support their conclusion. The students will usually tell me that this is supposed to be a social studies class, not science. I explain that both classes are interrelated. Next year, I plan to use the claim testing activity as a part of the process. The students assigned to small groups. Before starting the activity, I will explain how the claim testing will work and show the students the video that goes with the activity (How Do We Decide What to Believe?). I’ll walk through one claim testing example as a class. The students will be given a series of statements and have to decide where the statements fit and be able to explain why they put them in that column. The class will come together to put together a class chart. Once this is completed, we’ll review the answers as a class. The most important part of this activity is not whether or not the students get the correct answer, but whether the students can defend their answer. Another spin on this activity would be to turn the class review portion into a Socratic seminar. Each group would have to be able to defend their position by answering a series of questions that the teacher would ask. My students love Socratic seminars, and this would make it possible to combine both activities.

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