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Saving Summer: Googling.

Recently a post on social media got to me to thinking: (well, overthinking? *shrug*)

After a thread and reflection, I am trying to answer some questions:

  1. Does context play a role in teaching (anymore)?
  2. Just about “everything” can be “Googled” – how do we navigate and help students find the correct information?
  3. What is the nature of teaching with abundant access to information and misinformation?

A post from the New York Times, “In an Era of Fake News, Teaching Students to Parse Fact from Fiction” discusses the challenges of teaching context.

One can, indeed, Google context about a topic. How deep down the rabbit hole should we go?

I get the statement: it’s intended to be for Depth of Knowledge Level One Yes/No kinds of questions, Costas’ level one knowledge, bottom rung of Bloom’s. However — these days the strata of misinformation abounds, and even yes/no questions can result in horrific results. And these days, it is life and death.

I needed my help from my friend Sharon to help ME get some context for this post, and she came to the rescue:

I tried a little experiment, suggested by my husband. I Googled “What are vaccines?”  and “Are vaccines good for you?” both level one questions that should result in facts or a yes/no.

Here is what I got with this first search statement:

(Note: most results are sound.)

 

Here is with search terms my husband tried:

This is when we start going to CrazyTown.

Questions, even with yes or no answers, can be inherently biased. People seek the answers their cognitive dissonance and biases want. “Google” Benghazi, Alex Jones, Pizzagate, etc. Heck, look up “president handshakes.” No, never mind. Don’t.

Google does its best to filter and promote factual information with its complicated algorithms and data. But Fake News is a violent, dangerous issue. I wish we could go back a decade at least when we could, with reasonable critical thinking skills, discern fact from opinion/fiction.

Here is something Sharon and I can fix, so look for a Part II. In the meantime

  1. Use DOK questions first to create an understanding and close reading of Google results. That way, when students are told to “Google it,” they must come away with a minimum of three credible sources.
    • Close Reading:
      1. Look at top searches
      2. Look at the date published
      3. Look at the publisher and media format: is it a credible news source? Blog? Credible Youtube channel or ‘just some dude?’
      4. Look at links and pingbacks
    • Know how search engines work
  2. Tap into the best Social Studies teachers you know — make sure any lesson on search engines include conversations about primary, secondary, and tertiary documentation and artifacts.
  3. Call upon the best ELA teachers you know to discuss point of view, perspective, fact, opinion, and truth
  4. Call upon the best Science teachers you know to help promote scientific research and how bias creeps in.
  5. Call upon your best Math teachers to discuss proving factual knowledge and a variety of algorithmic paths.
  6. Oh, and never forget Electives, PE & Health to talk about false and factual information that spreads on the internet. The arts and the curated effect of beautiful and lasting resources on the Internet for one and all.

So yes, don’t spend a lot of time teaching if it can be Googled. But teaching how Google works is teaching time well spent.

Oh, and I found this, and of course, can find its origins:

But don’t stop the nerd love:

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Structure Series: Essays for the 21st Century

 

Writing a quick paragraph on social media is good practice.

The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.

Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?

Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.

Some close reading/close writing ideas:

  • Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
  • Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
  • Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
  • Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
  • In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?

Quora

Medium

Flipboard

Op-Ed Pieces from NY Times, Washington Post:

The Right Call: Yale Removes My Racist Ancestor’s Name From Campus

No, Robots Aren’t Killing the American Dream

In contrast, posted in Medium:

A warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking

There is always more to the story. Consider what perspectives or voices are not being heard, what are the perceptions, and what is ‘stochastic terrorism’ —

From Quora:

Read Chris Joosse‘s answer to What is it that conservative voters just don’t get yet? on Quora

 

These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.

 

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 9: Parody & Satire

I think I would cease to function if I didn’t have my sense of humor.

Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but…

Humor is one of the most difficult mediums to write. One way to allow students to access their natural silliness is to introduce them to parody and satire.

Parody: intended to spoof by using humor based on an existing piece/genre

Satire: intended to criticize something or someone, often with humor, but not necessarily.

Is Monty Python Satire? (Click for a PDF)

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History (did I list that one, too!?) did a show on satire. The upshot is we Americans do a pretty terrible job at satire–it’s McWeaksauce sometimes–but is still important. I wonder what it says about the nation who invented stand-up can’t do satire as well? Hmm. 

Media Literacy: Middle School Kids Love Parody

How would we go about introducing students to parody and satire? They are well-versed in memes and Youtube channels that provide so many examples and are masters at consuming media/humor. But how to create content? Perhaps I would pose the question to them: what angers, frustrates, or annoys them, and how would they like to create their own parodies? It’s important to point out parodies are not mean-spirited or bullying. What rules do they think are silly or goofy (I think the beloved yellow safety vest hall pass might their first target)?

And yes, while I think this is terrible, from a jester-level sense of humor, it is kind of funny:

Article Link in Cosmopolitan

From a historical standpoint, how has parody and satire changed the world? And it has, no doubt. Mocking rulers, institutions, sacred cows and laws, parody and satire help us all laugh so we don’t cry. And that makes us stronger.

Ms. Chappele’s Student Site

Examples of Satire in Candide/Seattle PI Education Site

And of course: (PG 13 language)

This is something I’m going to try on very soon. We all could use a good laugh.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel good to be the butt of a joke.

 

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Cooped.

ryanlerch-the-mad-hatter-800px

This–this is why I am not sure I can be a History/Social Studies teacher anymore, and why I should be more than ever…

Ah, Internet. So bountiful, so giving: it allows students from all over the world to communicate, to understand and empathize with all kinds of species, including their own.

But a few weeks ago I hit a hard truth: sometimes I teach students whose values, beliefs, and systemic ideas take root in the worst examples of rhetorical blunderings. (Translation: I don’t  agree with them, and have to check my own biases.) While I adamantly defend a students’ Constitutional Rights and remain effectually neutral, I am not sure I have the will or the strength to fight this brand of illogic: the conspiracy theorists.

I see you...
I see you…

Students love to bandy about The Illuminati, and shouting “Illuminati” is their go-to punch line, a warding off of evil juju, much like my ridiculous practice of tossing salt over my left shoulder. (Yes, I do that, and knock on wood. Stop it. You don’t know what calamities I’ve prevented!) Some theories are fun, such as these literary ones. (Well, I think they’re entertaining: and I think that Poe one being Cooped has merit.)

A student's conspiracy theory on Drake, chicken wings, Blake, money, and the Illuminati. And some math, too.
A student’s conspiracy theory on Drake, chicken wings, Blake, money, and the Illuminati. And some math, too.

What is the real danger in believing a conspiracy theory? Those enduring ones, from the moon landing was fake to Obama’s birth certificate linger, and then get re-branded. Consider the Ted Cruz eligibility for being President. One legal argument from Mary Brigid McManamon says fairly clearly and logically, and more important,t legally, no, he’s not. This may have been in response to Jonathan H. Adler’s piece, also in the Washington Post prior to McManamon’s piece, that yes, Ted Cruz is. The author of this article provides an update and revises some of his original nuances or misinformation, so I give him credit for that:

UPDATE: Several readers object that this post simplifies what is, in actuality, a very difficult constitutional question. The precise original public meaning of “natural born citizen” may not be as clear as my post or the Katyal-Clement article suggests. For reasons why, see this 2010 essay by Lawrence Solum.

In contrast, McManamon states:

Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to naturalize an alien — that is, Congress may remove an alien’s legal disabilities, such as not being allowed to vote. But Article II of the Constitution expressly adopts the legal status of the natural-born citizen and requires that a president possess that status. However we feel about allowing naturalized immigrants to reach for the stars, the Constitution must be amended before one of them can attain the office of president. Congress simply does not have the power to convert someone born outside the United States into a natural-born citizen.

But is this a conspiracy theory? No, it’s a legal clarification and debate over wording and intent in the Constitution. That’s what our justice system does.

So how do we describe the difference between conspiracy theory adoption and critical debate and speech? What is the danger in ignoring these nuances? The danger is allowing Fear to sit at the table and take all the food. Fear is my current personified monster that is at the root of all heartache. Fear is the student who thinks an author is a Nazi, and then denies herself the joy of reading his works. Fear undermines the mother whose child has Autism and in desperation wants to believe in Jenny McCarthy versus the decades of science and people of medicine. People we used to hold in high esteem and trust. Fear breaks parents’ hearts over and over again when someone doubts their loss. 

But, Fear gets a punch on the snout by Buzz Aldrin:

In this article, Here’s how scientific misinformation, such as climate doubt, spread misinformation,

The researchers conclude that the diffusion of content generally takes place within clusters of users known as “echo chambers” — polarized communities that tend to consume the same types of information. For instance, a person who shares a conspiracy theory online is typically connected to a network of other users who also tend to consume and share the same types of conspiracy theories. This structure tends to keep the same ideas circulating within communities of people who already subscribe to them, a phenomenon that both reinforces the worldview within the community and makes members more resistant to information that doesn’t fit with their beliefs.

 

Confirmation bias holds the key:

Confirmation bias is the tendency of individuals to pay attention to or believe information that confirms the personal values and beliefs they already hold, rather than allowing their beliefs to be changed by new information.

People tend to believe in the theory that fits or is relevant to their situation of culture, race, religion, etc. Stress (and my monster Fear) team up to push us toward our lizard brains, abandon our front cortex in fight/flight mode. The problem with all of this is the “real” world is doing a dandy job of being nut-job crazy coco puff bananas. If a conspiracy theory is meant to explain, all it ends up doing is deflecting.

Just what Fear wanted all along.

So how do we truly help students, and ourselves, sort fact from fiction? Is it even possible?

My husband told me last night that the tapes of the moon landing were “lost,” and we were the last generation to witness the moon landing, and the memory is only in our minds. I had not heard about this, or even thought about it, because moon landings are in my own memory bank, clear and present. How is anyone going to believe us now?

Keep teaching. Keep learning. Keep connecting. And try to be a credible source.

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