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Using College and Career Ready Standards to Solve Blind Faith in the Internet

Recently, my high school science students had an incredible international experience, without leaving the classroom! They participated in a climate change project involving more than 250 classrooms spanning 65 countries. Koen Timmers, a technology teacher in Belgium, challenged students across the world to complete a project and then Skype their findings. We had Skype sessions with students in New Jersey, Guatemala, and India.

As awesome as this project was, I noticed something unsettling as my students were completing the research stage. They never validated the online research they found. They never asked themselves if the data were from a credible source or if the data were validated by a second source. To my surprise, they held a blind faith in everything they read online.

I wanted to teach my students how to be skeptical of authors and their data. I turned to the College and Career Ready Standards for inspiration in writing my lesson plan. I began by providing a blog written by Steven Crowder titled NASA Report: Antarctic Sea Ice is Actually…Growing by Billions of Tons?. Crowder’s blog referenced an article by NASA declaring that the ice in Antarctica is growing, which is clear evidence that climate change is a hoax. After reading the article as a class, my students answered four simple questions that required they include text evidence to support their answers:

1. What is the author’s opinion about climate change?
2. What is the author’s purpose in writing this article (entertain, inform, or persuade)?
3. Who is the author’s intended audience?
4. What questions do you have about the author’s data?

During our class discussion regarding NASA’s data, as it was presented by Crowder, my students started asking great questions such as, “Does NASA’s data really say the ice is growing?” and even simpler questions like, “Is there really a NASA article?” I challenged them to create a plan to find answers to their questions. They scrambled to get out their Chromebooks and phones. They moved with the same urgency that I typically only see when students are packing up for class! In less than a minute they found NASA’s article. One astute student observed that if Crowder had wanted us to read the NASA article, he would have linked it to his blog.

The kids found NASA’s article, which they ferociously read. My classroom was teeming with energy of enthusiasm and curiosity. After reading NASA’s article I suggested they treat both forms of media in the same manner. They decided they should answer the same four questions they had answered after reading Crowder’s blog. By doing this, my students were using of multiple sources to verify data.

Then, we had an intense class discussion regarding the validity of the Internet. My students had experienced firsthand how an author can cherry picked data for his own purpose. He omitted NASA’s data about the extensive loss of ice in the Arctic. My students also witnessed how an author’s tone is used to portray messages to a reader. Crowder’s tone was full of sarcasm and hyperbole because his intention was to entertain those who don’t support climate change science. But NASA’s article had a much more serious tone filled with dense content, because their purpose was to inform the public of recently found data.

Several students noticed that NASA was truthful to a fault. NASA scientists admitted they only had theories to explain why Antarctica’s ice is growing; they couldn’t use current data to explain this phenomenon. My students felt as though this transparency made NASA more credible than Crowder.

By using the College and Career Ready Standards, my students learned a valuable lesson in reading online media. They must be skeptical and validate what authors present as facts while determining their purpose. At the end of the class period, I asked, “who do you think Mr. Crowder is?” Several students guessed a scientist. I showed them his biography, which revealed he’s a political commentator, actor, and comedian who has no science experience or post-high school science education.

My students learned much more than the causes and effects of climate change during this incredible international research project. They also learned how to approach online media with a healthy level of skepticism and how to research and validate data in one source with a secondary source. These skills are invaluable for our students’ futures because just as the climate of our world is changing, so is the climate of the internet.

All student projects can be found at www.climate-action.info.

 

About the Author

Tara Dale is an Ecology Teacher at Desert Ridge High School in Arizona. She was Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador of Excellence in 2014.