In a tiny corner of the Northwest United States their lives a creature so rare that few have ever come face to face with it. I refer, of course, to the Northwest Pacific Tree Octopus (Octopus Paxarbolis.) The reason for it being so endangered is due to pollution, destruction of its natural habitat, and the fact that it is a prized fashion accessory, adorning hats of the rich and famous. Thanks to the hard work of Kyle Zapato and his campaign to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus there is a small chance that this creature may survive, that is if the remaining few are not devoured by their natural predators bald eagles and sasquatches. At least, this is what I tell my students before asking them to evaluate the website and check for reliability.
I love teaching this Brainpop lesson about website evaluation for two reasons. The first is that students get really excited when they realize that this is a hoax website and start compiling evidence that proves the information is not true. The second is that I find the conclusion to the lesson, the fact that there is misinformation online, really powerful and it’s always interesting to hear the students’ takeaways from this. They really start to question what they are seeing online.
Thinking prior to posting
The most widely used form of social media in China is WeChat. It’s used for everything from chatting with friends, paying for groceries, booking train tickets, and even dating. It perhaps comes as no surprise then that students cannot wait to get their own WeChat account and start hanging out with their friends online. One of the big ideas I try to push is that whatever you post online sticks around. We only need to look at celebrities who have had tweets come back to haunt them as to why students might want to avoid leaving this kind of smoking Gunn. Teaching the acronym T.H.I.N.K to students is an important part of digital literacy and something everyone needs to be aware of.
At this point, my question is how can I ensure students are THINKing before they post anything online? My students last year were an awesome group and I thought I had impressed upon the importance of using T.H.I.N.K before creating posts online. This year, however, temptation got the better of a few of them and they started “roasting” one of their peers online. Fortunately, the student who was being roasted did the right thing and let his teacher know and it was stopped before it could get any worse.
I don’t want to use scaremonger tactics and have them thinking that having an online presence is a terrible thing, but I also don’t want them to create posts that have a negative impact on others. Throughout this unit I am consistently coming back to the conclusion that students need to have more exposure to social media platforms as part of their digital literacy curriculum. Furthermore, I feel that the platforms they use in class should be the same platforms they are going to be using at home. By incorporating online realia into the classroom we can help students make good decisions online and help to keep them safe.
One way I am thinking of doing this came from reading Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.) In the article there is a mention of Byrd Middle school using a MySpace clone to create social media accounts for historical figures. I am already thinking of how this could be adapted next year to pair with our unit on biographies. This could potentially allow students to interact in character and let them role play different ways of responding online.
I think encouraging students to question what they see and hear is a start. Being able to evaluate sources for bias and going as far as to understand the differences between domain suffixes can help students gauge whether a source is reliable or not. We also need to allow students opportunity for experimentation, to make mistakes and be encouraged to learn from them. To me, I feel as though the classroom is the best place this can happen.
On a final note, as more schools are reopening what is everyone doing to continue to support students who are out of the country? I have three students who are unable to reenter China as they are not Chinese citizens. I am still setting work for them to complete with the rest of my team, however it feels a lot more like setting homework assignments rather than teaching. I talk to my students after school each day and try to give them feedback on their work as well as touch base with how they are doing. I have also been having students from my class call them and discuss work and strategies for solving maths questions. I am wondering if anyone else has had success with supporting students who cannot return to school for any reason after school has reopened?