Dubiousness AND Non-Dubiousness Sought
November 13, 2016 6:36 PM   Subscribe

My 7th graders need to learn how to fact check on the internet in a productive way. So what researchable (fairly) low-controversy examples (both true and false - I want a mix) could they fact check in a short amount of time? This list has some examples of what I'm looking for, though some are not 7th grade appropriate.

I've seen stuff like Mike the Headless Chicken, the Velcro Fields, Spaghetti Trees, and many more, which I may use if I can't find better examples. However, these are also used in lots of canned lessons and by other teachers, and I'd like this to stand alone if possible.

If you're interested, I'll be using this as a warm-up. I'll post the "fact" and they have 5-7 minutes to find the Best Source either supporting or refuting it. We will repeat this every day until I'm satisfied that they can Google Search well and can fact-check well.

They will be turning in a screenshot of their search history to help me figure out how to help them improve.

If you have lesson suggestions or resources that build these same skills, feel free to offer those too!
posted by guster4lovers to Education (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I spend my life researching. I have 30 years experience. Professionals have different resources that a 7th grader (and 99% of the public have. For the average American the best resource is a well-trusted source.
There are some public records that have made it possible for me to debunk wikipedia, etc, but most of those Snopes examples are difficult to confirm or debunk.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:51 PM on November 13, 2016

You could focus on old wives' tales and pop-science instead of politics. The "archives" tab on Snopes has a lot of these:

Does chewing gum stay in your stomach for years if you swallow it?
When you shave, does the hair grow back thicker and darker?
Is canned pumpkin actually pumpkin?
posted by Mchelly at 6:53 PM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

Also, the fake animals that australians mention online like the drop bear.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:00 PM on November 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

So ReluctantViking, what would you do instead? Or how would you structure this to give the average person (who doesn't have access to professional databases etc.) better search tools?

For reference, when my students have a question they type the whole freaking thing into Google. If they see it on Twitter or Instagram, they believe it.

I want them to at least have practice telling fact from fiction. And if they can't, then we can have a conversation about it.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:02 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I trust snopes and politifact. Unfortunately lots of right wingers say they are biased and not to be believed. I wish I had a solution.
Researching together how many untrue claims there are may be just as effective.
posted by ReluctantViking at 7:10 PM on November 13, 2016

Do you have a school librarian? This is literally their job. They are likely to be delighted that you are asking for their help.

If you don't have a school librarian, you will have far more luck searching for lesson plans with 'teacher-librarian' and/or 'information literacy' and/or 'evaluating information' in your search. Information literacy is a librarian concept and it's what you're looking to teach your students.

Tasha Bergson-Michelson is a former Googler, current K-12 librarian, and I'm sure she'd have some great tips for you.
posted by librarylis at 7:23 PM on November 13, 2016 [12 favorites]

They will be turning in a screenshot of their search history to help me figure out how to help them improve.

Considering how search engines may present results tailored to one's search/web history if you're doing it incognito, would comparing screenshots in class be a useful exercise, where the same exact question got wildly different results?
posted by oh yeah! at 7:30 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wikipedia's List of Common Misconceptions is a great place to start for lots of ideas.

(Snopes is referenced 28 times on that page.)
posted by tempestuoso at 7:35 PM on November 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a teacher myself, I applaud this urge.

Unfortunately I think you have to go far beyond "finding sources" and instead walk them through the whole process of using their logic and reason to evaluate between them themselves. Because otherwise it just turns into a battle of throwing links at each other, which is basically what happens in most unproductive internet dialogue.

So if it were me I'd probably do something more like this, using drop bears in Australia as an example.

Question: are drop bears real?

I'd have them google this. In my experience the exact terms don't matter much. Your students will probably come up with links like some of these:
Drop Bear - Australian Museum
Drop Bear - Wikipedia
10 Terrifying Facts about Dropbears - Buzzfeed
Drop bears target tourists, study says - Australian Geographic
Australia's Real-Life Drop Bears

Some of these are really reputable-looking sources that suggest drop bears are real, like the first (a fake scientific article about drop bears). Others say that it's a hoax but of course the ones saying that they are real say that it is falsely claimed to be a hoax. So what is the confused reader to do?

I'd have them read the articles, looking for points that appear logically inconsistent, that don't make sense as a coherent whole, or use obviously doctored photos.

The "10 Terrifying Facts" article has obviously doctored photos and ridiculous points like drop bears are less likely to attack you if you have an Australian accent or sing an Australian song. The Australian Geographic makes the same points and in extremely tiny font at the bottom indicates that it is an April Fool's article.

The first link is most confusing but if analysed in conjunction with the others it becomes clear that it's a hoax. There are weird things: the species name is plummetus which sounds funny, and a cursory google indicates is only found in articles about drop bears (rather than articles about, say, the closest relatives of koalas, which should document drop bears if they are real). It appears to link to a real scientific article, but that is the article that the Australian Geographic link makes clear is a joke. All of them use the same small set of photos.

Bottom line is: you can't determine something is true or false by just reading it in isolation and not thinking through the implications. I think the only way to demonstrate this kind of critical thinking is by walking kids through this entire process (and having them try to go through it themselves) multiple times. Unfortunately that is difficult -- which is why so many adults have trouble with it -- but I think it's the only way.

Bravo to you for giving this a go.
posted by forza at 7:43 PM on November 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

This Martin Luther King Jr site (martinlutherking.org) is a very good one to use- it comes up in the top 5 search results, and is actually owned and run by a white supremacist group. You could ask students to compare it to the real MLK site.
posted by momochan at 7:46 PM on November 13, 2016

These searches would be on class sets of iPads from a cart, and the number they would get is randomised, so it's unlikely that students' personal search histories would make screenshots less useful data.

I also know that random searching in isolation is not helpful for changing search habits. But the purpose of doing this as a whole class is to have lots of chances to talk through the process and have them identify TONS of sources. It's the repetition that's important, and the instruction is built into the debrief process. Most teachers give students a handout and have them do this ONCE and think that's enough. Having little search challenges with what seems like true information is meant to help them build those skills over time.

We do have a school librarian. She is an excellent resource, but unlikely to have examples for what I'm asking.

Maybe I'm asking this question wrong or maybe it's unanswerable. I feel like there are a lot more responses questioning the premise of my Ask instead of responding to the question.

I'm looking for things that sound true but that you can determine are false based on google searching. The list of common misconceptions from Wikipedia are good - many of the historical ones are things we've talked about in class (life expectancy in the Middle Ages, Viking helmets without horns, etc.). Also, if you're suggesting something, please make sure it's not already been mentioned in one of the links in my post.

So let me try the question again:
Can you think of some examples of things you've heard recently that sounded true until you fact checked? Like "20k people wrote-in Harambe for president." [bonus points for that, because my students are obsessed with Harambe]. Or "The Simpsons predicted a Donald Trump presidency in 2002".

Unless someone else has a direct question, I'll back away from responding now. Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.
posted by guster4lovers at 7:50 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe false health food claims like "sesame seeds have more iron than milk" or "spinach has more protein than chicken"?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:53 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I rather like the one about Abraham Lincoln on quotes on the internet.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:04 PM on November 13, 2016

I've been googling a bit for recently misreported stories that are still mildly challenging to research. Here's just one question: "Were fewer than 10% of Viking women warriors?" If you plug that into google, you get a mix of misreported vs. likelier answers, and you have to make choices about which ones are better sources. Your students might not like that the answer is unclear, but they'd definitely see that there was misinformation about it out there, and they'd probably discover reasonably positive/interesting stuff about it too.

I happen to know of a Harambe one, but it will take them into uglier corners of the internet and might require a great deal of explanation: "Did Florida State University declare that a Halloween costume based on Harambe is a form of cultural appropriation?" I don't see anything out there that declares it false, but if you dig into the right-wing sources for it, you'll find that probably some undergrad swapped out a piece of paper on a dormitory bulletin board as a prank. Another reason not to use that one is that the students could also turn up the similarly gross myth that Clemson University officials banned Harambe memes because of their connection to rape culture (spoiler: that's not what happened).
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:07 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Weird true things that sound fake:
Octopus have 3 hearts and blue blood
Cats can't taste sweetness
Wolves don't have alphas
Crows can remember human faces
posted by Orca at 8:12 PM on November 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ten percent use of the brain myth?
Toilet flushing spinning in Northern vs. Southern hemisphere?
posted by ellerhodes at 8:21 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The moon astronauts didn't float away because they had heavy boots seems to be a popular unquestioned facebook "fact".

The Story.

Some discussion.

And the urine into electricity bit keeps hitting my facebook feed every couple months. Though it isn't a black and white yes/no "fact".
posted by Mitheral at 8:25 PM on November 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to teach this for a while and I would ask them to verify the fact "The Flatiron Building was once the tallest skyscraper in NYC." It's a tricky one (at least, it was at the time).
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on November 13, 2016

I use the CRAAP test to teach information literacy skills and source selection. Rather than focusing on the content of the information, teach your students to evaluate its context. The CRAAP worksheet walks you through evaluating the currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose of information presented on the web. There are some good resources for teaching this method online with examples from institutions like Gettysburg College, Central Michigan University, University of Arizona. Here's also a post on an educator's blog that is nicely done. University of Albany also has a really good walkthrough on evaluating online sources.
posted by k8lin at 8:48 PM on November 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Last week, a grown man (though young enough to be my son) told me about cow-tipping. I told him that I grew up in a small town, in the epicenter of boredom. If cows could be tipped, we would have done so.

He didn't back down, rather insisted that he knew people who had done so.

Perhaps you can help put this story to rest for the next generation.
posted by she's not there at 9:30 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of medical misconceptions that could work for this, if that's not getting into controversial territory. Things like "Is it a good idea to get a full-body scan?" or "Can laetrile cure cancer?"
posted by lakeroon at 9:31 PM on November 13, 2016

I'm always fascinated by the contrail people. And that might actually be one they encounter in their lives.

Also, you can't tip cows? Mind blown.
posted by Toddles at 10:00 PM on November 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's the one I fell for today on Facebook. I didn't fact check it because it was shared by an art history professor. I failed to notice the publication date.
posted by MsMolly at 12:50 AM on November 14, 2016

The Pacific Northwest tree octopus is a good one, I use that with my 7th graders. I really like your 'a little challenge every day' approach- with the crush of curriculum the pressure is definitely on to 'once and done'.

The ice bucket challenge banned because of drought? I use the Onion, the shovel etc to find "truthy" articles to trick them.

A teacher in the past taught us to key word google using a worksheet- I remember adjusting the search to get info on mustang, horse vs mustang, car. As mentioned above personalised searches have changed how this works.

"The whole thing into google" try being a languages teacher with Google translate. :)
posted by freethefeet at 2:49 AM on November 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing tree octopus lesson plan or any variation - here's a good lesson plan from Kathy Schrock who has good stuff.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:59 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was sure I'd heard that the whole 'average humans swallows X spiders in their lifetime' thing was made up as an experiment to see how fast fake 'facts' spread on the Internet (capitalised, as was the fashion at the time). So I fact-checked.
Last sentence is the punchline.
posted by quinndexter at 3:24 AM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Buzzfeed's Tweet about the Venezuelan protest being passed off as anti-Trump (see the flags).
posted by Carol Anne at 4:50 AM on November 14, 2016

This isn't directly on target, but have you seen this ad that ran in Canada: House Hippo? It's essentially a reminder that not everything that is presented to the viewer is true, even if it looks real. You can tie it in to print and screen media or cut out the PSA bit of the video and use it as one of your warm up activities.

Personally, just about all children that I've worked with understand that video can be "fake" because that's what movies do, really, that would be my launching point to addressing using a critical eye in consuming other media.
posted by eisforcool at 7:21 AM on November 14, 2016

Thanks for all the answers! I've used the spider-swallowing and the voting for Harambe stories, and it's been fascinating in class. Most students have identified the fact correctly, and we've gotten to talk about sourcing and credibility. I feel like it's been far more effective than any version I've done before (and I've taught ONE lesson like this using checklists/seemingly-true fake sites for YEARS) because it's about REPETITION.

Practice is essential. So we will keep practicing with all of the resources you have found. Thanks again!
posted by guster4lovers at 4:55 PM on November 15, 2016

I wrote a blog post about it. Link to my blog is in my profile if you're interested.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:41 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older Vehicle Attrition Rate from 1965?   |   Readings and songs for a Trump presidency Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.