Tech, Teaching and Me

Trying to turn off my brain by writing it down

0 to 20 million (webpages) in .14 seconds…

on February 28, 2012

Teaching my students to analyze, process and critically evaluate information in their world is no small task. When I was a young student, and given an assignment to research for a topic,  I had two choices. If I was lucky, the topic was in an encyclopedia we actually owned. I remember being assigned the state of Georgia in 3rd grade. We didn’t own the “G” encyclopedia, so I went to the neighbor’s house to borrow theirs. If no one on the block, had the necessary encyclopedia, it was off to the library. The copier, a bunch of dimes, and a few hours on a Saturday, usually with some friends, was the main part of my research.

Today, as I tell my students, they can input a topic into Google and in .14 seconds, receive millions and millions of pages of information. That is a daunting thought! How do they process all of that information? How do they learn to evaluate it critically? How do they learn to dig through it and find what is credible, what is accurate, and what is relevant to their discussion? Honestly, there are times, I am overwhelmed with all of it. Isn’t it understandable that 8, 9, & 10 year old students would be as well?

My answer to how do they…. is simple. They do it. They do it again. And, again. It is my job to teach, model, and reinforce learning how to decipher all of that information that is at their fingertips in .14 seconds. One lesson I enjoy teaching is the Tree Octopus Lesson. Students are directed to the website http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ I create a Google Form ahead of time complete with questions they can easily find on the website (http://tinyurl.com/sggstreeoctopus).

This is not a new lesson, by any means. It is an effective lesson, though. The website looks credible, professional and organized. The information is easy to understand and “packaged” to appear valid. Students are quickly pulled into the world of tree octopuses and many don’t question the existence of the animal at all. I usually add a few youtube video clips (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wt-dqIulGU).  In fact,  as you know, there is no such creature.

This is just one of many opportunities to teach critical evaluation of information on the internet. Students need to learn that “just because it is on the internet, doesn’t make it true”. Students also need to evaluate and analyze where the information is from, or is it based on fact or opinion. Is a personal opinion on a blog, a valid source? How do you tell the difference? A great tool for research evaluation is http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html. The categories for evaluation were very helpful; What can the URL tell you?, Scan the perimeter of the page, looking for answers to these questions, Look for indicators of quality information, What do others say?, and  Does it all add up?

Teaching memorized, recited facts to our students who will live in a world with information at their fingertips seems unnecessary. Teaching how to gather, analyze, evaluate and use that information is not only important but critical to their success.


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