Our research unit: urban legends
The goal is to help students recognize fake news.
They need the skills to determine what to believe.
They need to know how to search well.
They need to be skeptical.
So, what better way to pursue that goal than to research stories.
I say urban legends, but really any modern story counts.
A few kids are looking at conspiracy theories or fake news.
Some are looking at persistent myths like Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster.
Before we started, my colleague created an introductory activity.
Students were given printouts of on-line articles.
Their job was to investigate the veracity of those stories.
It was hysterical to watch them.
After they finished, they shared their findings.
Most of them came to appropriate conclusions.
A few are clearly still too gullible.
I will reteach some search skills and speak with them about falling for things too easily this week.
But that is for another post.
Anyway, our next task was for students to compile a list of as many stories as they could find.
They posted all their findings on a Padlet.
They could see each other's postings and they had a lot to say.
One conversation I overheard:
Student A: Did you know there is pee in Arizona tea? It's like clean, but it is in every bottle.
Student B: Nuh uh! I drank that yesterday. (Insert adorable blush here)
Student A: It's true! It is.
Student B: Well, I'm never drinking that again.
Student C: That's not true! Look it up, prove it.
Student A: I will then.
A few moments of frantic typing later:
Student A: See! Here it is. It says there is pee in the tea!
Student B: Lemme see that! Ugh!
Student C: That's snopes, man. Snopes proves stuff wrong.
Student A: Not all the time!
Student C: Yes it does. Read the article and see.
Silence descends as they all start reading the screen.
Student A: See, it says the claim was made that there is pee in the tea.
Student B: Yeah, but it says "False" right there. (pointing to the actual rating).
Student C: Look, it says the article came from Hutzler's website and that is sa-tir-i-cal.
Student B: Ms. Hirsch, what does that word mean?
Me: Look it up, guys.
Student A: Satirical means fake to be funny. Oh, um, well, I still think it's true.
Student B: No. Not me. But I'm still not drinking that tea anymore.
Student C: It's a fake story.
Student B: Yeah, well, just in case.
Student A: I still think it could be true. I'm gonna research it some more.
Not laughing might be the hardest part of my job.
Aside from the obvious hilarity of this whole conversation, it was a huge win.
These three boys used their ability to search, their understanding of valid websites, and their logic to have a relatively intelligent and completely civil argument.
So, the conclusions might still be a bit wobbly.
They learned what satire means.
They are trying.
They are engaged.
And I didn't have to do a dang on thing but listen.
So far, though there are little tweaks needed here and there, this research project is a stunning success.
Even if there are problems with the next stages, this was awesome.
It was a genuinely good thing!