Fighting Fake and Biased News

This blog post is written by Daniel O’Brien, our 7th-12th grade Media Specialist and originally appeared in the 21st Century GRACE blog on February 4, 2017.

I am currently working with our Senior Seminar classes during a 3-day mini-unit in which we investigate news. As it turns out, many students have a difficult time interpreting the news — but truthfully, who doesn’t have difficulty interpreting news when we are constantly bombarded by sensationalized headlines from all points on the political spectrum every time we check a social media account?

During this mini-unit, we take time to look at how fake news is created. We study the example of Eric Tucker’s tweet that falsely claimed to have found “paid protester” buses at a Trump rally, how it was picked up by message boards, reposted, shared on Facebook, and then re-tweeted by the President himself; and how, despite reaching 16.7 million people, the story was completely false, debunked and admitted to later on. We also examine the article on “Fake News Sausage Factories,” as well as Cameron Harris, examining why websites publish sensationalized, fictitious, and inflammatory stories, and exactly how easy it is for them to publish these stories. (Hint: They want the ad revenue from when you click on the link — it is all monetarily driven). We also talk about tips for evaluating if a story is true, or sensationalized and re-shared opinions.

We then shift gears and investigate bias within news. After talking about what elements of the news contain and portray bias, we take a look at a neutral tragic event, like the San Bernardino or Sandy Hook shootings. We choose one of these events because it is a starting point; everyone can agree that these events are tragedies. Each student is given an article published by a news source, ranging from fairly unbiased to one of the many conspiracy-laden “news” sources on the internet.

After evaluating the article, they try and place the source on the following spectrum:

  • liberal conspiracy theories/garbage
  • left bias
  • left-center bias
  • least biased
  • right-center bias
  • right bias
  • conservative conspiracy theories/garbage.

Students need to back up their placement with reasoning. Next, they take a look at a heavily political article of their choice from the same source and repeat the process. They’re given the opportunity to re-examine and change their minds in light of a heavily politicized and opinionated issue.

After this second round, I introduce them to Media Bias Fact Check. Media Bias Fact Check is a resource that is invaluable when assessing the onslaught of news posts and publications we see each day. Not only do they create and explain a methodology for evaluating the bias of any particular news source and list sources that fall under different biases, they also take into account and inform you of conspiracy websites, “questionable sources” (aka fake news), what sources are least biased, and even provide a Google Chrome Extension that activates and provides this information when you visit a news source.

We then finish by discussing the importance of following more than one viewpoint in the  news, and talk about how to cross-cut your news feed with unbiased sources as well as sources from across the political spectrum — thereby breaking yourself free of the echo chamber that so easily occurs in our normal news consumption and social media curation.

As time goes on it will only become more difficult to determine legitimacy and bias within news, and that it is incredibly important to teach our students that you can’t believe everything you read, and that it is possible to be intentional and smart about the choices they make as they grow up in an age of information overload.

Being Creative vs. Being Original

This post was written by Laura Warmke, 7th-12th grade Technology Coach and originally posted in 21st Century GRACE on January 31, 2017. 

More and more, we’re asking our students to be creative.  It’s one of the 4Cs, it’s the top of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, and it’s a major goal of MakerSpaces, Project-Based Learning, and Design Thinking.

This is, overall, a very good thing.  We’re asking students to apply their knowledge in useful ways, and on any account, that has to be a major goal of education.

However, for some–or maybe even all–of our students, that’s a lot of pressure. I feel it too. Will I be able to come up with something new and better?  What if I can be creative today, but not tomorrow? Creativity can see elusive.

That’s why this quote struck me today:

It’s a reminder that I don’t have to be original to be creative. My ideas don’t have to be entirely new to be worthy.  I can edit, combine, remix (and cite along the way, of course), and this is still creative.  
It also reminds me that learning the basics is a prerequisite for creativity, a point that a book I’m reading (Making Learning Stick) drives home too.  Creativity builds on past knowledge.  It’s hard to be creative in any subject if you don’t know the basics. 
This kind of creativity feels like a much more obtainable goal to me.  I hope that as we all continue to advocate for more creativity we remember: being creative doesn’t have to mean being completely original. We can all take a big sigh of relief for that!
P.S. It appears that the author of the quote is a high school student who just completed AP Physics. This is another example of why students should be blogging: their thoughts can inspire–and not just their fellow students. Original article: “13 Ways Design Thinking is like Physics”

Talon Getting a New Look

Attention all 4th-12th graders! We recently received notification from NEO, the company that created the Learning Management System platform that we use for Talon, that they are implementing design updates that will take place on February 1st.

According to NEO, the content and structure of our Talon interface will remain the same, however the design of the pages will get a facelift. One of the most notable changes is a change from a “list view” of several items to a graphic “tile view.” Additionally, many of the former tiles will undergoing a color upgrade. None of the functionality of Talon will be changing, but with a new interface, it may take you a little longer to figure how where you need to go. Please contact a member of the IT team if you experience any errors or difficulties with the updated interface.