Who Remembers the North American House Hippo? : Teaching about Fake News in Schools

Written by Sequoia Abbott-Saulteaux

The elusive North American House Hippo. Small, but brave. Resourceful, but with a taste for peanut butter. I remember watching this commercial on tv when I was younger and being very excited, quickly followed by extremely disappointed. I wanted the small hippo to be real, isn’t every kids dream to own a tiny house hippo to share potato chips with? This was my first real memory of “fake news”, and for a long time I thought that fake news was fairly straight forward, either blatantly untrue or true.

“Fake News” today, is a lot more complicated and pervasive than ever before. This is due to a number of reasons including wider access to technology, and a larger variety of news sources. Damon Brown says in this Ted Ed, How to Chose Your News, that “fake news” is a topic was once thought of as a something that solely Authoritarian governments spread, but after a series of political scandals in Democratic countries like America, this idea is losing popularity. The breakdown in trust, led to a surge in alternative news outlets which brought lasting positive and negative effects in accurate information. Brown states that when every viewpoint is magnetized, it can be hard to tell which source to choose from, as “when everyone is a reporter, no one is”.

While it may be easy to think that you can never be fooled by misformation, you probably thought better than to start looking for small hippos around the house, the truth is that fake news is getting harder and harder to spot. In fact, those who spread fake news might be manipulating you in ways that you never thought of before. A NPR article published in 2018, claims that “it’s easier to call a fact, a fact when its one you like”. The line between fact and opinion may be blurred sometimes, and this may be intentional. Some fake news is spread with much regard paid to how it will manipulate the person that reads it, attempting to encourage strong emotions to meet a greater goal. This brings us to the question, how can we tell when we are reading something accurate on the internet? How do we know when we are being manipulated?

Diana Laufenburg has made an amazing fake news activity, that includes a chart of the 7 Types of Mis- and Disinformation to keep in mind when we are searching for accurate information. This is a great resource into understand why someone(s) would want to manipulate us through misinformation. The categories of content allows us to gain a better understanding of what look out for when looking for accurate or misleading news sources.


Implications in The Classroom

Now that we have come to the conclusion that “fake news” is more illusive and commonplace than once thought, where do we go from here? If there are still plenty of adults falling for fake news, how do we teach our students to know when they see accurate information? I propose, that we offer them tools and the knowledge of manipulation. This is a quick example of what a “fake news” lesson could look like in a high school Social Studies class. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg as digital literacy should be taught intertwined throughout the school year.

Social Studies 20: Unit 3 Environment

Know that effective problem solving requires the ability to define and understand the problems clearly and accurately.
Know that resources are are those parts of the environment considering valuable because they meet human needs.

Objective: (Digital Citizenship Continuum).
Understand that both finding and evaluating information is necessary

Quick Lesson:

  1. Have students brainstorm, “what is a natural resource”?
  2. Ask students how natural resources get their value
  3. Introduce students to the introduction of the diamond ring
  4. Have students group up and discuss how fake news can be used to manipulate consumers
  5. Ask students to watch “Why People Fall for Misinformation” video.

Think you know everything about fake news? Try out the Spot the Troll quiz and tell me how you did! It may be harder than you think!



  1. Hello Sequoia!

    I totally thought that the Canadian house hippo was real when I was younger too! I REALLY wanted one and I remember my parents trying to explain to me that they weren’t real but I just thought they didn’t want me to get one LOL!


  2. Fabulous topic Sequoia! And I love how intriguing your headliner was, I totally remember the “House Hippo” commercial! Lots to consider in the age of literally never ending access to information online, and thank you for the helpful tips!


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