Tag Archives: Social Studies

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

This post was originally published on  Daily Genius you can check it out by following the link above.

Whether you call it “fake news”, “misinformation” or the more innocuous “spin,” and whether you see this as an entirely new problem or the continuation of an already existing problem (think “War of the Worlds,” “Yellow Journalism” and “Dewey Defeats Truman”), one thing is clear: there is a powerful and pressing need to prepare our youth to make sense of the constant flow of media information that they consume everyday.

As teachers, we need to be aware of how students are consuming their information.  Recent studies have shown that 69% of Americans get their news from Facebook, while other research suggests that social media such as Snapchat and Twitter are how millennials are staying up to date with current events.  Yet a study from Stanford University suggests that a majority of young Americans cannot accurately identify what content on a web page is news and what is advertising or paid content.

Have we as teachers moved to adjust how we instruct our students to evaluate information as the sources for that information have changed? This isn’t always easy, especially since the trends in social media are fluid and changing.   While there is no one silver bullet website that can resolve this issue, many helpful resources exist. Here are a few to help you get started in constructing your curriculum.

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

The Stanford History Group: The Stanford History Group is well known to history teachers. Recently, they published an executive summary entitled EVALUATING INFORMATION: THE CORNERSTONE OF CIVIC ONLINE REASONING.  It provides a summary of the research they conducted in 2015-16 and includes samples activities geared towards middle and high school students designed to teach students to evaluate articles, comment sections, News on Social media, and website reliability.  It is a must read for teachers at any level.  The sample activities will have you thinking.

Allsides:  Allsides allows readers to evaluate the bias of news articles collected from across online news sites. The site also features the ability for readers rate news sources and individual articles as LEFT or RIGHT leaning. Students can explore the overall ratings of sites or choose articles specifically from one perspective or another.  The site is great for making comparisons of topics from several sites.

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Politifact:  Politifact is the Pulitzer prize winning fact checking website created by the Tampa Bay Times.  It uses a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate the accuracy of politicians and parties.  During last year’s election, Politifact live tweeted during debates, quickly evaluating statements and statistics.  It was a helpful tool for class discussions. The site allows you to search for topics or individual politicians.  For each rating, the site offers an explanation of how they arrived at their conclusion.

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Factcheck.org is a project from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  In addition to evaluating the truthfulness of political statements, Factcheck has a viral spiral feature that addresses internet rumors, a SciCheck page that evaluates scientific claims, and an “Ask Us” feature that allows questions to be submitted for fact checking.

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Google Custom Search: If you can’t find the tools that work best for you, you can make your own.  Google Custom search allows you to select and curate websites that will be searched by your students.  Classes can create a standard for what sites they will use for a lesson or for research assignments and then add them to their custom search if it is determined that they meet the standard. This allows the class to be active and engaged in building a collection of trusted sources.   Individual students can construct a search engine for their projects, allowing them to go back and search sources again as their research evolves.   Teachers can save a variety of different searches which can be shared with students or embedded in websites.

It should be noted that Snopes.com is missing from the list above. The site has been evaluating online news, stories, and urban legends since the 1990’s. I omitted it not because it lacks any value but because while it is useful, it is so compelling that when I take students there they can sometimes get lost down the rabbit hole.

However you are preparing your students, one thing is clear — it is critical that we, as educators, consider how our students are accessing the news and information and how we can help them actively process all that is pushed to them through social media throughout the day.

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The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Textbook! What 1:1 is doing to Traditional Classroom Resources.

Yep I said it. The days of the traditional textbook are over.  The moment I brought devices into a classroom the textbook fell from its revered place as a THE respectable source of information and was revealed for what it is, a simplified and incomplete narrative of the past.

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Teachers need to accept some blame for the fact that textbooks ever had this status in the first place.  While we brought in primary resources, we necessarily relied on the textbook because of its convenience.  We overstated the accuracy, thoroughness and status of the textbook because its structure gave us comfort and a place to turn when we were absent.  We basked in the glory of being able to provide historical facts beyond the book.  This made us seem really smart. The enticing worksheets that came packaged with the text provided neat questions and a structure that was perfectly mirrored in the text.  Our students grew comfortable with this and while we all knew that it should be different, and though we often did make great lessons that spat upon the folly of the worksheet, at some point, we found our way back.

My Matrix, Red Pill moment came last year. It started with a lesson called “Fact Checking Your Text Book.” The assignment was exactly that. Use the Internet to check the facts, see what is missing, look for bias, and assign a grade to a passage from your book.  It looked like this.

I expected students to find some problems but overall I just hoped they would at least give the textbook a good deep reading.  Yet my class found our textbook, a book that to this day I think is a good textbook, to be riddled with problems.  As groups presented, our unit became a discussion of bias, perspective and viewpoint.  It was amazing.

This year, my classes equipped with iPads, I set out to create other lesson frameworks that would also generate a discussion in class and if possible get students excited about digging deep and experiencing history.

I wanted to start by letting the students look for sources on a topic and then discuss how good they thought those topics were. I had no rubric or framework so I asked students to rank them 0-5.  Students worked in groups to discuss what was a good source and what was not.  I was impressed by how they are savvier than we give them credit for.  The assignment looked like this.  The students eventually found and evaluated over 250 sources.  But they needed an anchor. When set loose they had nothing to build upon or out from.

My next framework grew out of that last assignment.  We outlined the textbook and then researched online to do “Historical First Aid.”  We included what was left out.  We gave breadth to what was simplified and we expanded on value judgments that the book made.  The Topic was Good Emperors and Bad Emperors during the Roman Empire.  We set out to give it the paddles and breathe life into it.

By this point in the year I had started to struggle with how to unify all of the varied learning that takes places when students are researching and pulling together sources that I am not entirely familiar with.  I needed to get control, or at least enough control to bring the lesson together and drive home a point.

My solution was to have each group of students work together to create a thesis statement that summed up their overall impression of the topic.  It was a serendipitous stumble into success.  Students shared the grade they had given the book and discussed the discrepancies that existed between them and the sources they had found.  Then they finished the presentation by writing their thesis statement on the board.  As the bell rang we had our 6 thesis statements and a better sense that the history of the Roman Emperors is bigger than the one page of the book could effectively contain.  It looked like this.

My next framework was “Textbook Smackdown.”  Using copies of old textbooks I put them into direct competition.  Students collaborated to summarize two versions of an event.  Then they debated which was better.  They said things like, “how could we know?” But they had already started to revert to their past research activities and were checking facts.  Choosing the winner was not always easy. The books were selective in the narrative they told and they weren’t typically “wrong.” They often just took different paths through the events.  Sometimes they chose to focus on a different part of set of events.  Other times they chose to focus on different themes.  Ranks were given but it wasn’t always easy.

Students were getting their hands dirty doing real research. They were elevating events from the 2D versions in their books to something closer to the 3D reality.  They used the textbook as a launching point.

And then it hit me like a brick to the face.  Despite my assault, the textbook was still just as much a part of my class as it used to be.  I had smashed the pedestal and knocked it to the ground and gotten in a few good shots. It pages were tattered but it was there no less.

So the textbook is dead.  Companies may try to keep it alive for a bit longer.  They can animate it and insert video, create web links and interactivity, much like they did with pictures and graphs in the late 90’s, but even that will not place it where it once was.  We simply have too much access to too many sources and too many facts.  The world has changed and we can’t go back.

But long live the textbook. In its pages lie beautiful examples of how the age of information is changing the world and I will use them to show just how much we have moved on.  In a way these activities have been therapy for my classes, a transition that demonstrates clearly that they can move on and move beyond.

If a textbook is ever elevated and put upon a pedestal in my class again, I can assure you that it will be because my students have written it themselves.

Footnote A: Further activities are planned.  One I also plan an activity to compare historical versions of events and if possible regional versions that will reveal values in what they choose and choose not to address. Another activity will have the class aggregating the information from a collection of 8 textbooks.  Oh how they do reflect the decades in which they were written. Finally this year, I want to have my students create their own textbook chapter.  If I can pull this off and they can use resources to create their own, then truly and finally, the “Age of the Textbook” will be over. 

Footnote B: My humblest apologies to any of the many textbook producers who may have read through to this point. You performed a public service and took on a difficult task.  You deserve more credit than you will likely get. It was your work after all that created in me a deep love for history. But like the whalers who’s oil lit our country’s lamps through the early years of our nation, shift (and petroleum) happens.  (Ironically, I never learned enough to make that analogy make sense from a textbook. There was no room for it.) 

 

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A Call for More Blogging

When I first became active on Twitter I would have put the odds that I would ever Blog solidly at Zero.  I had no desire to put work out there for criticism, nor did I feel that it was my place to share what I was doing in the classroom as if it was a standard to be achieved.  I simply wanted no part.Fast forward a few years and now I find blogging to be a powerful part on my own professional development. The thought process in organizing a post and the thinking that goes into sharing it helps me to organize future lessons and review others that I have taught.  Sometimes when I am teaching a lesson that I wouldn’t share, I ask myself “why not?” and then try to make it so.  It tends to elevate my work.

Similarly, I have really grown from reading about what others have done in their classes.  I have found inspiration in blogs that I would have laughed at before.  I teach high school, but it is amazing what you can learn from the blogs of elementary teachers.  I teach in the US but I find the blogs of teachers around the world help me to teach viewpoints and opinions without my own patriotic bias. I teach Social Studies but have improved the integration of writing and technology by finding people who have streamlined procedures in their classroom that worked for me.

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So I would like to make this plea for the teachers out there who have hesitated to do so to start a blog.  Share to your level of comfort. Post what inspires you.  Don’t feel obligated to post daily or even weekly.  Your growth can help others to do the same.

The following are two google docs that will help you follow others. Feel free to add to them and find others to follow.  I look forward to hearing your voices.

Education Blog Master List
The #SSchat Blog List

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What is #sschat? I’m glad you asked.

Since I have been a part of #sschat I am frequently asked “What is it that you do?” or “How does this group work?” I love the opportunity to answer these questions because I am so proud of our little “can do” group. The short version of my answer is “We help teachers to get what they need and to make their lives easier.”The long version goes more like this: “#sschat is a collaborative group of social studies teachers who work together to create materials, discuss teaching, integrate technology and problem solve. We learn together and talk about the direction that education is moving, talk to experts, crowdsource materials and share our best lessons. In the last two years a culture of sharing has developed. Imagine if some of the most passionate teachers you know were to get together and share the best materials they have. That’s #sschat.We meet on Twitter every Monday night at 7 pm est. If you would like to join us just follow the hashtag #sschat. New participants are welcome to join the conversation. Some people feel more comfortable just following along with the conversation but that isn’t necessary. Each #sschat is dedicated to a particular topic. and all participants share their thoughts on the topic, relevant links and their experiences. If you would like to get an idea of the topics we discuss, we keep our archives here, on the #sschat Ning website.

We have become well known for our crowdsourcing. Members vote electronically on a specific topic and then during the chat share all of their best resources and methods for teaching that topic. The end result is an incredible compilation of materials. These online crowdsourcing documents are better than any google search because they are teacher tested and honed over years before they are shared. I have heard many times from #sschat participants that before they worried about finding materials to use. Now they struggle with which of the amazing lessons that are shared best meets their needs. Here are are a few examples of crowdsourced topics:Cold War Crowdsource
World War II Crowdsource
Best Tools for Social Studies Teachers

What is truly amazing about #sschat though is the support that is offered on a daily basis. It has grown into a community that goes far beyond our simple one hour chat. It is a constantly available source of answers and advice. There is always a conversation happening. Whether you are a new teacher creating new materials or a master teacher looking to try something new, #sschat can help.

Being apart of this organization has taken my learning to new places. It is the most powerful professional development I have ever experienced.

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Reflection on EdCampss

I am fresh back from #edcamppss in Philadelphia.  I am a bit tired, a lot proud, and really energized to make what I have learned tangible in my classroom.    It’s satisfying it was to meet people who are working hard to make their classrooms a better place.  It was surreal to see an event so long in the making become real and to get the other organizers again.

I wish that I had more time to talk to all of the other attendees.  That is the downside to organizing.  You miss many of the chances to stop, chat and know the people beyond a 140 character limit.  This is my one regret from the day.

I must offer my thanks to @nesticos @dontworryteach @becky_ellis_ @irishteach @gregkulowiec and @ron_peck for all they did to make the day happen.  They inspire me beyond what they know.

I want to thank so many of the others who attended, too many to list , for sharing their work and ideas so freely.  Together we make a difference.

I really want to thank @mseideman who was for me the #edcampss rock star.  Her clearly articulated and well thought out ideas were exactly why I go to #edcamp’s .  I will follow here more closely on twitter and I really think she should moderate an #sschat in the future.

I also want to thank @jharaz for sharing a story that makes the working on #sschat and sharing on twitter worthwhile.

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