Thursday, January 29, 2009

CES: Usefulness and Truthfulness

Coleytown Elementary...
Sarah Spencer, LMS, Pam Syndercombe, technology teacher and Lori Buskey, 4th grade teacher, just completed a 3 session unit of study on determining the usefulness and truthfulness of websites. The lesson began with a focus on a popular hoax site, introduced at the ITL Summer Institute in a workshop on New Literacies presented by Greg McVerry and Ian O'Byrne from UConn. The convincing website elaborately describes the habitat and physical qualities of the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

The students prepared for the lesson in the classroom by getting some background knowledge on the "traditional" octopus that lives in oceans. In the computer lab, with the technology teacher, library media specialist and classroom teacher, the students congregated near the smartboard to look at the website together, where they determined to use the online dictionary to look for the meaning of difficult words and to ask for help from their peers or adults if they needed. Their task was to work in pre-selected pairs to find the usefulness of this website and determine if it should be used in a unit on endangered animals for other students in the school. Students were asked to extract 5 useful facts from the source and write them down. Even though they came across some unbelievable pictures and facts, none determined the Northwest Tree Octopus to be a figment of anyone's imagination! The findings were shared on the Smartboard resulting in many USEFUL facts about the N.T.O.
The next day students returned and discussed how to determine if a website is truthful. After brainstorming some ideas (check other sources and look for the author) students returned to the computers and searched Destiny for books, websites, World Book Encylopedia articles, and database articles about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. After lengthy searching, and some frustration, no one found even ONE other site about this rare endangered creature. (One child had also consulted and researched with her mother the night before and was literally exploding with the TRUTH, but after sharing it with every adult in the room, was able to hold it a little longer!) After much discussion it appeared as if something was wrong with the information. The child who KNEW exposed the horrible truth -- this site was a well-known HOAX site and the N.T.O. was not real! (Many students did not believe it at first.) The students were asked to think about WHY the teachers, who knew this was a fake website, did not tell them the truth.

The following week the group met for the 3rd time. They reviewed the process and stated their thoughts about why they were "lied" to. They said, "To become better researchers; To learn to read more carefully; To make sure you are careful and you don't believe everything you read!"
The group said that identifying truthfulness was more important than determining usefulness, since if you think it is useful and then you find out it is not true, all of your work is for nothing. They then worked on creating a list of things to look for to determine the truthfulness of a website. They took those rules and visited another hoax website to see if they could prove it was a hoax. They investigated the Dog Island website and wrote down 5 ways they could determine its truthfulness.
There were many funny findings on this page including contradictory statements, impossible songs and pictures, and a hidden disclaimer at the bottom of the page. The students felt like they were on the way to being real researchers, able to respond to criteria that they had established to determine the truthfulness of a website. Next they are going to do the same thing with the concept of usefulness using a real and truthful website.

These were three exciting lessons that will not soon be forgotten by anyone involved!

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