Category Archives: Activities

What Are You Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

One of the most interesting conversations currently taking place around Donald Trump’s surprise victory in our Presidential election has been the role that fake news peddled and promoted in Facebook news streams may have played in swaying voters.  Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook’s charismatic founder — has called the notion that fake news is a problem on his site “a pretty crazy idea” and argued that a clear process is in place that allows users to flag suspicious or hateful content for further review.

But that position was openly challenged over and over again all week long.

Buzzfeed, a popular online source covering digital media and technology, opened the criticism by publishing the frightening results of an analysis of the election stories generating the most engagement — think likes, shares and comments — on Facebook in the final three months of the election.  Here’s what they found:

NPR went on to interview Facebook executives and employees to gain insight into just what happens when suspicious or hateful content is flagged for review on the site.  

Turns out, the process isn’t consistent, thorough or reliable.  It’s true that every piece of content is reviewed by a human being, but those human beings are mostly working in other countries simply because Facebook has subcontracted the work to save money.  Worse yet, while every decision is supposed to take the complete context of a situation into consideration before decisions are made, employees are evaluated based on the number of pieces of content that they review in a single day.

From the NPR article:

“Current and former employees of Facebook say that they’ve observed these subcontractors in action; that they are told to go fast — very fast; that they’re evaluated on speed; and that on average, a worker makes a decision about a piece of flagged content once every 10 seconds.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Say a worker is doing an eight-hour shift, at the rate of one post per 10 seconds. That means they’re clearing 2,880 posts a day per person. When NPR ran these numbers by current and former employees, they said that sounds reasonable.”

Perhaps the most interesting article was this Washington Post interview with Paul Horner, who writes fake news stories for a living.  Horner reports making close to $10,000 a MONTH off of the clicks on advertisements included on the fake news sites that he maintains.  Every post that he writes on his slick looking ABC News ripoff website, for example, can make him rich, as long as it goes viral on Facebook.  And what does Horner think of the people sharing his content over and over again?

It’s not pretty:

“Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Scrutiny of Facebook’s treatment of fake news and the hefty rewards paid to peddlers of lies by companies like Google who rely on advertising revenue have pressured both services into much-needed action:  They are working to develop policies that will effectively ban fake news sources like Horner’s from access to corporate advertising programs in an attempt to dry up the revenue streams that provide the motivation to pollute the web with hoaxes and lies.

But I think that’s the wrong solution to Facebook’s fake news problem.

We don’t need new policies and tools from tech companies to identify sketchy content on the web.  Instead, we need to develop citizens who take careful steps to verify that the information they are reading anywhere on the web is reliable.  That’s a new literacy in today’s complicated media ecology — and it is a new literacy that we give too little attention to in schools.

The good news is that teaching students to identify sketchy content isn’t all that hard to do.  

There are simple questions that kids can ask when evaluating the reliability of a web source that can turn them into top-notch bunk filters without needing any help from Facebook or Google.  Here are three:

How believable is this story to me?  

The first lesson that I try to teach my students when spotting sketchy news stories is that their common sense is the most powerful tool that they have for fighting back against misinformation on the web.  If a story just doesn’t seem plausible, it’s probably fake — and the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of fake news stories really ARE that easy to spot.  People with good common sense don’t get fooled very often — as long as they are willing to trust their intuition.

Try that with two recent headlines on Horner’s fake ABC News website:  Obama Signs Executive Order Banning National Anthem at All Sporting Events  and Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegience from All Schools Nationwide.  Do either of those headlines seem even a little bit believable?  Would a person who served as President of our country REALLY want to ban things like the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance?  No matter what you think about the people or parties leading our nation, chances are that they care enough about our country to protect our national symbols.  That’s just common sense.

And double-checking your common sense is super easy:  Just take questionable headlines and drop them into Google.  In most cases — including the notion that Obama is banning the Pledge of Allegiance — you’ll see that reliable sites like Snopes and FactCheck.Org that are committed to debunking lies on the Internet have already reviewed the claims in question.

What do I know about this news source?

I also try to teach my students that spending a few minutes researching the author and the website of every piece of news that they are exploring can help them to spot sketchy news stories.  Does the web address look reliable?  What can you learn from the “About Us” or “Contact” links found on the page?  What kind of search results are returned when you Google the name of the author of the article that you are reading?

Asking those questions about Dan Horner’s ABC News website would identify it as a fraud in no time.

The web address — http://abcnews.com.co/ — is the first giveaway.  Why would a major news network add a “.co’ to the end of its web address?  What’s more, the contact information on the site shows that the headquarters of ABC News is a Tudor style home in Topeka, Kansas — and just a few minutes of digging into the background of Dr. Jimmy Rustling, one of the lead authors on the site, brings up this tongue-in-cheek bio of the author and this set of Google Search Results explaining that “Jimmy Rustling” and “Rustle my Jimmies” are slang terms for evoking strong emotions.

Can I spot any loaded words in the piece I am reading?

The final lesson that I try to teach my students is that loaded words and phrases — descriptions that imply a strong emotion and/or position — are signs indicating that the author or source is trying to push readers to feel a certain way about a topic instead of simply reporting the news in an unbiased way.  They are an easy way to spot opinions instead of facts — and while opinions aren’t automatically wrong, they need to be questioned by readers instead of accepted at face value.

What’s interesting is that Dan Horner’s fake news site avoids loaded words for the most part — which is one of the reasons that it is so successful at generating attention.  Each piece sounds like an unbiased reporting of fact — even if those facts are impossible to believe.

But you don’t have to go far to find loaded words in news sources.  Can you spot the loaded words in these headlines from Fox News and the Huffington Post:  Arizona Presidental Electors Being Harrassed, This is What it Means to Imprison a Whole Category of People.

In the first headline, I’d want my students to notice that “being harassed” is a loaded phrase that could mean a heck of a lot of things.  Good readers would want to know what that harassment looked like before making a decision about the importance of the event.  In the second headline, I’d want my students to notice that “imprison a whole category of people” is a phrase designed to elicit fear.  Good readers would want to unpack that.  Are newly elected officials REALLY trying to imprison entire categories of Americans?  Or is “imprison” a metaphor?

In many ways, this is my favorite lesson to teach because kids LOVE looking for loaded words and phrases.  Spotting the sneaky ways that authors are trying to influence readers — and then trying to decide if the evidence in the article actually supports the author’s opinions — is like a scavenger hunt to them.

I’ve pulled all this content together into a handout that you can use if you are interested in teaching your students how to spot fake news sources.  You can find it posted online here on my Teachers Pay Teachers website.  

Does any of this make sense to you?  More importantly, are you taking active steps to teach your kids the skills necessary to spot sketchy news stories?

#youshouldbe

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If teaching students about managing information, thinking critically and engaging in collaborative dialogue resonates with you, check out Teaching the iGeneration — Bill’s book on using digital tools to introduce students to essential skills like information management, collaborative dialogue and critical thinking.  

 

Tool Review: Quizlet Live

So here’s an interesting confession:  I am NOT a huge fan of teaching vocabulary.  I get that it is important — particularly in a content specific field like science where understanding individual terms is essential for fluent communication.  I just don’t like doing it.

Which is one of the reasons that I’ve tinkered with Quizlet over the years.  Quizlet has always made it easy to give kids multiple opportunities to practice their vocabulary.  Teachers create word sets by entering terms and adding — or selecting — definitions.  Quizlet does the rest, creating four or five different kinds of activities for student users that range from working with digital flashcards to playing a speed based matching game called Scatter.

Need an example of what this all looks like in action?

Check out this word set that my students are currently practicing with and tinker with the tools available to learners:

https://quizlet.com/_2f8q39

Quizlet upped its game recently by releasing a new activity called Quizlet Live that is pretty darn amazing.

Quizlet Live makes it possible for students to participate in a competitive vocabulary review game against their classmates from any device.

What makes Quizlet Live unique is that students compete on randomly assigned teams of three or four students.  Even better:  The correct answer for each question asked during the game appears on only ONE group member’s screen.  The result:  When a question is asked, teams need to first figure out what the correct answer is and then figure out which partner has the correct answer on their screen.

Here’s a short video introducing Quizlet Live:

We played it for the first time in class on Thursday and I’m sold.

Not only did my students enjoy practicing with their vocabulary words — something that middle schoolers rarely look forward to — but they enjoyed practicing with their classmates.  They worked with students they normally wouldn’t choose to work with, recognized that there were other experts in the room who could help them learn, came to rely on one another because they had no other choice, and celebrated victories together.

In many ways, Quizlet Live is a perfect blend of two other tools that I’ve experimented with over the years:  Kahoot and Socrative.

Like Kahoot — which I review here — my kids LOVED the competitive element of Quizlet Live.  They loved racing against other teams, trying to be the first to answer every question and to get bragging rights over their peers.

And like Socrative — which I review here — Quizlet Live encourages students to find the RIGHT answers to questions instead of rewarding random guessing by forcing teams that get wrong answers to start the entire game over AND to spend five seconds reviewing both the missed definition and the definition of the incorrect answer given.  My kids figured out quickly that there’s some truth to the notion that you have to go slow to go fast.  Thinking through answers together and being right — even if it took a little longer — was often the difference between finishing first and finishing last.

Are there limitations to Quizlet Live?  

Sure.  Probably the biggest limitation is that it is REALLY difficult to play the game productively if you don’t have a ton of devices in your classroom.  Even when students share devices with one partner, teams of three or four quickly swell to teams of six to eight.  That’s unproductive simply because it leads to some students doing a ton of work and some students sitting quietly, hitchhiking instead of participating.  I’m also not convinced that Quizlet Live can handle questions that move beyond simple recall and review of core facts or vocabulary words.

But my kids were JAZZED the entire time we were playing and BUMMED when our class period ended.  For a lesson designed to review essential vocabulary, that’s a pretty darn good outcome.

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Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Kahoot

Three #edtech Tools Worth Exploring Right Now

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

Tool Review: Blendspace by TES Teach

One of the challenges of teaching science to sixth graders is that many of the most common lab procedures and processes are new to them.  Everything from identifying constants and variables to using lab equipment properly can lead to a slew of questions and slow groups to a steady crawl.

That’s why I started tinkering with Blendspace — a digital tool that makes it possible for users to create a landing page filled with content that users can consume.  I figured that if I could point students to one site that could answer all of their questions, lab time would be more manageable for me and more productive for my kids.

Need to see a sample of Blendspace in action?  Check out this one, covering important information for a lab we are currently completing:

http://bit.ly/6sciptlab

Each tile on the Blendspace represents a piece of content that will help students to successfully complete their lab.  Students can work through the space in order from beginning to end by hitting the “Play” button at the top of the screen OR they can click on the icons in the bottom right hand corner of each tile to explore individual resources answering specific questions.

Creating my Blendspace was a breeze.

After planning out all the content that I thought my students would need in order to successfully complete our lab, I sat behind my cell phone camera to record and upload my videos directly to YouTube.  Adding those same videos to Blendspace tiles was a one-click process.  The other content — links to online tutorials or videos, links to individual Google Docs, text-based slides sharing directions and/or information — were just as easy to add.

Putting this Blendspace together — recording videos, organizing content, adding tiles, making a short link with Bitly — probably took about 90 minutes from start to finish.  That’s TOTALLY worth it if it helps students to answer their own questions during our labs AND if I plan to use the same lab in future years.  Better yet, my Blendspace will help other teachers on my learning team who are teaching the same lab — saving everyone a ton of time and energy.

I see potential in Blendspace because it’s a tool that solves a specific problem for me.

Providing students with recorded directions and organized sets of materials for every lab promotes independence and frees me up to interact more meaningfully with the kids in my classroom.

Whaddya’ think?

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Related Radical Reads:

Tool Review: Screencastify

Tool Review:  Google Expeditions

Tool Review: Edpuzzle

I’m Planning a Pokemon Go Rally for My Middle Schoolers

I have a confession to make:  I spent the first two weeks of July rolling my eyes as I read article after article in my social stream about the “transformational power of Pokemon Go.”  I had the app on my phone, I’d caught more than a few Pidgeys, and hit up more than a few Poke stops — but to me, there was nothing truly transformational about it.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I’d delete the app before school even started.

But then I showed it to my seven year old daughter, and she was hooked!

Something about the clever monster names, colors and actions caught her attention and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has enriched our lives.  Each day, the first thing she asks me is, “Dad, want to go for a walk and catch some Pokemon?!”  Those moments together are worth everything to me — including the extra $25/month I had to plunk down because I blew up my data plan.

And when my sixth graders started school on Monday,  I realized that I just couldn’t ignore Pokemon this year.  As soon as I mentioned that I was a Level 16 trainer with a pretty hyped up Vaporeon, stories started.  “Oh yeah?  Well I have two Snorlaxes!” said one girl.  “My dad wasted like 15 Poke balls on a Pidgeotto.  He stinks” said another.  Needless to say, catching Pokemon is well and truly a middle school craze — and that makes it worth exploring.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I STILL don’t think there’s anything transformational about chasing imaginary pocket monsters around.  Pokemon Go ISN’T the silver bullet that we’ve all been waiting for to save education.

But I have hatched a plan to use it as a fun team building activity.  In just a few short weeks, I’m going to host my first ever Pokemon Go Rally.  

Here’s the handout:

Handout – Pokemon Go Rally

The basic plan is to invite parents and their kids to work together in teams to catch Pokemon at a local hot spot that offers free Wifi.  My guess is that our first rally will happen at the local mall, given that it is like 105 degrees outside here in North Carolina.  To make the game more challenging and to encourage strategic thinking, I’m limiting:

  • The time that players have to capture Pokemon.
  • The number of Poke Balls that they can use during the rally.
  • The extras — incense, lucky eggs, lures — that can be used to increase capture rates.

I’m also awarding bonus points for a range of different captures.  Participants who hatch the most eggs or catch the most Rattatas can earn a huge bump to their final point tallies. 

All of these limiting factors will force participants to think critically about their choices.  If you have only 60 Poke balls, can you really burn four of them trying to catch a Pidgey with a Combat Power of 30?  If hatching an egg is worth 100 bonus points, would walking further be a better strategy than hanging out at a Poke stop where a lure has been set to catch whatever happens to show up?  Will staying in the well-trafficked areas of the Rally Grounds be a better strategy than traveling as much ground as possible to get away from the other teams who are playing?

In the end, I’m hoping to get a ton of parents and kids to come out and play together for an hour.  If it works, it will be an easy way to build a bit of team spirit.  Better yet, it will be easy to replicate.  All I’ll need is a list of public spaces with free Wifi!

Can you see my unique technology lens here?  What matters to me is building a classroom community by bringing people together for a shared experience.  Pokemon Go makes that possible.  My goal is driving my technology choices — not the other way around.

Technology is a tool.  Not a learning outcome.

So whaddya’ think?  I know this isn’t transformational, but is it worthwhile?  Is it something you’d think about doing?

Looking forward to your feedback.

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Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

More on Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks.  Not your TECH Geeks.

 

 

 

New Feedback Activity: Unit Analysis Forms

If you’ve been reading the Radical for any length of time, you know that I’ve been wrestling with the role that feedback plays in my classroom.

What you may not know, however, is that most of that work was inspired by a single quote from this article written by assessment experts Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis.  They write:

Thus, the essential school improvement question from an assessment point of view is this: Are we skilled enough to use classroom assessment to either (1) keep all learners from losing hope to begin with, or (2) rebuild that hope once it has been destroyed?

Stiggins and Chappuis are right, aren’t they?  In traditional classrooms, our feedback strategies — think providing a single grade for every handout, project and test that comes across our desks — leaves struggling students feeling hopeless simply because they rarely see evidence of their own successes.  That breaks my heart.

The solution is a simple one:  Any grade that you give in your classroom should be paired with structured opportunities for students to spot the progress that they are making regardless of the final marks that they earn on an assignment.

What can that look like in action?

In my classroom, it looks like this Unit Analysis Form, which students fill out after a unit test has been passed back:

Handout – Scientific Method Unit Analysis Form

Unit Analysis Forms include three essential components: (1). A list of all of the outcomes that students are expected to master during the course of a cycle of instruction, (2). A list of the specific tasks completed during the course of a cycle of instruction– quiz questions, test questions, classroom assignments – that students can use as evidence of mastery, and (3). An opportunity for students to reflect on the progress that they have made over the course of a cycle of instruction.

Unit Analysis Forms also ask learners to decide whether their struggles are a result of conceptual errors or simple mistakes.  “Typically, we make mistakes through lack of attention,” write Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, “But once they are pointed out to us, we immediately recognize them and usually know the corrective action to take…Errors, on the other hand, occur because of lack of knowledge.  Even when alerted, the learner isn’t quite sure what to do to fix the problem.”

Unit Analysis Forms are powerful tools for helping students seek and effectively deal with feedback primarily because they make it possible to spot differing levels of mastery across all of the outcomes covered within a unit.  That means students can see exactly which outcomes they have mastered and which outcomes they continue to wrestle with.

For students who struggle, this kind of targeted feedback can be a source of encouragement. 

Instead of feeling like failures after earning a low score, they are likely to spot concepts and skills that they were successful at mastering.  More importantly, Unit Analysis Forms can help struggling learners and their classroom teachers to be more efficient, spending time revisiting genuine errors instead of wasting time correcting simple mistakes (Fisher & Frey, 2012).

So let me ask you an uncomfortable question:  How often do your students get to examine outcome specific feedback after completing major assignments?  It really is the first step for rebuilding hope in struggling learners.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity:  Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

New Slide:  Turning Feedback Into Detective Work