Using CER to consider claims on social media

Cap / No Cap - Claim, Evidence, Reasoning framework

Have you ever watched a video that claims amazing “science” only to question who would ever actually believe this stuff? Have you ever then had this same video shared with you or mentioned to you by friends or students referencing the “science” that they just learned from this said video? This began happening more and more during the pandemic when my own children and I started doing little daily science experiments and posting them online. Friends and students would send us videos of things that they saw and want us to repeat the experiments to explain how they worked. Video 1 is an example of one of the videos I made along with my daughter, Mackenzie. 

Video 1: Science with The Sorensens. Episode 2, Karen Sorensen YouTube Channel, April 11, 2020. (accessed Nov. 15, 2022)

 

The first video series that made me question my entire social media existence was a video about the incredible things that Red Bull energy drink could do when added to everyday items.1 The video shows several experiments where the energy drink is added to various foods and completely changes the properties of these food items. Your fruits and vegetables and even cooked eggs can become super stretchy and rubbery!! “Amazing and scary what this does to the inside of your body” was a common quote accompanied by this video when friends/students would share this with me. The same energy drink could make the end of a hammer become flexible, but completely shatter a coffee mug. Students that I had taught, people I went to college with and friends that should have just known better were all falling for these tricks. And tricks they were because the guy in the video was a known YouTube magician. 

This all got me thinking about how my students receive more of their “science” information from social media platforms than they will ever get from me. I wanted to find a way to use these different videos and “life hacks” to get my students to start questioning and evaluating what they see and read. CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) has become a negative acronym for my students, as many associate this with lots of writing and a royal pain. The process involved with CER is the exact method that students, and adults for that matter, need to use when viewing these questionable videos. My idea to take these videos and incorporate CER lead to Cap/No Cap Wednesday! Why Cap/No Cap? Because I am the mom to a tweenager that has to constantly tell me that his sisters are “capping”. If you have not been privy to this terminology it means Fiction/Fact, Lying/Truth, Crap/Fact, etc. The first Cap/No Cap of the school year was the infamous Red Bull video. My students had to choose two of the various experiments within the video, make their claim if it was true or false (No Cap or Cap). They would then provide some evidence and finish with the reasoning to back up their stance. It was amazing to hear them convince themselves how and why this "science" could be true. After students presented their arguments, I would give the real science behind each experiment.

Each week a different video is introduced. What I noticed early on was that when the science was real, the students often could convince themselves that the videos were fake. Even if it was based off of concepts that we had recently performed labs over and assessed for understanding. For instance, Tom Kuntzleman’s diamond with liquid oxygen video created a great controversy in my classroom. See video 2. My students made observations that helped them find every reason that it was false, even though we had just covered phase changes, endothermic/exothermic processes and combustion reactions. Although their claims were incorrect, my students were performing CER with good scientific practices. They watched the video intently and made observations, discussed how those observations backed up their claim and determined possible solutions for how the video was created. 

 

Video 2: A diamond is NOT forever, Tommy Technetium on Twitter (@pchemstud), Sept. 12, 2022 (accessed Nov. 15, 2022)

 

We spend about 10 minutes on each video, but sometimes longer if we go into the lab to experiment. For instance, I presented the students with a red solution that I claimed was a voice activated solution.2 The red liquid was a very dilute phenol red solution that will start to change orange-yellow when students breathe CO2 into the solution. Yelling and whispering “sweet nothings” to the solution produced the best results! The students used their observations and results to create their CER. This has been a great way to introduce certain phenomena that in previous years students have experienced difficulty explaining.

What I have noticed about this little activity each Wednesday is that the students look forward to each week’s challenge, have started writing pretty darn good CER’s and have become better at evaluating real/fake science. The evidence that they use to back up their claims is tied to concepts or labs that we have covered in class. They look at everything presented to them with a more scientific eye. Most importantly, they are bringing videos that they have found on Youtube, Pinterest or TikTok for me to use because they want to know if their instincts are correct about the presented information. Not all of my students will go on in science, but they will have a lifetime of incorrect science knowledge being presented to them. As long as I can get them to question, investigate and appropriately research for answers, then I have helped them find that value beyond school. 

If you have any videos or activities that you think would be great for Cap/No Cap, I would love to hear from you.

 

  1. https://youtu.be/ZllrCdy88fk (accessed 11/14/2022)
  2. , Libretexts Chemistry, August 2020 (accessed 11/14/2022)