Monday, May 30, 2011

How do you know it's true?

I plan on writing all about my experience at the CLA (Canadian Library Association's) conference in Halifax after I digest it a bit more (and recover from the minor jet lag). In the meantime, I wanted to share my thoughts on a couple of lessons I conducted with some grade 5-6s students on a tricky question: "how do you know it's true"?

If you recall my Justin Bieber themed post, you'll know that the classroom teacher and I were able to take advantage of a teachable moment to go over critically evaluating information we read. I realized, however, that one lesson on this wouldn't be enough to absorb the idea. While peeking over the shoulder of some grade 7-8 students while they worked/played on the computers in the library at recess, I found this press release about Google Motion - the latest innovation from the same team that brought us Google Maps and such.

We have two grade 5-6 classes. I showed the video to the first group. Only two students looked disturbed / mistrustful. When we clicked the "try Google Motion" button and discovered it was an April Fool's prank, there was lots of discussion. I asked the students why they believed it and why the few doubters suspected it wasn't real. I actually took notes on what they said and here are some of their responses:

Why did you believe it?

CG - They made it sound convincing and they had people talk about it and they had proof

ST - They had many reasons and they interviewed a scientific person for scientific reasons. They had a diagram.

BV - It actually showed someone using the Google Motion and then it showed when he was moving how it worked.

SB - Paralanguage sounds scientific so you don't know what the word means so you just try it out ... because they are adults, we trust them.

PA - We know technology is improving, we know about X-box Kinect and so we know some things are possible.

Why did you suspect this wasn't real?

PA - Isn't it impossible-ish to type everything using your body?

KC - How do you say no when shaking your head means backspace?

A few weeks later - the delay was due to things like field trips and track meets - I did the same lesson with the other grade 5-6 class. Immediately, the loudest student in the class started proclaiming "it's a fake!" Here's an abbreviated transcript of what this group of students said:

How did you know it's fake? Why might you think it's true?

AS - When the person was doing the actions, simple words appeared like the ands - how would you show that? Pxxxx (name of boy in other class) told me that it was fake. Pxxxx is my friend.

MS - Pxxxx said that Mrs. Mali showed that it was an April Fools joke tot he class. It said on the Internet.

FZ - You know it was fake from using common sense and logic. Like how Axxxx said, those easy words, plus there's a lot of words in the English language which would be hard to make actions for every single one of the words.

VD - Normally when they have something about technology and it's really new, they'd show it on TV. I didn't see it - it's not very like big.

VJ - Like for this commercial, usually it shows what the product does and they have experts explaining so they think it's real and they go for it - watch carefully and use common sense.

NH - It might sound fake. They might be fake experts.

HX - One of the little clips of the guy doing it gave it away because he just bent and a whole bunch of words came up. That's kind of impossible. If someone saw it on April Fools, they might not believe it because it was April.

What I found fascinating was the differences between the two classes and how they actually talked about lessons among themselves - "sharing notes", so to speak. When they knew it was a fake, the second group was so much more confident, almost cocky in their assertions - "use common sense". The challenge is that the voice of doubt doesn't always speak up in the students' minds when they are "just reading". I want them to apply this lesson, not just to things they read on the Internet, but textbooks, lectures, even things their parents say.

One of my grade 3 students was working on a project on contributions by First Nations culture to the modern day. When his classroom teacher and I looked at his dot-jot notes, we were horrified. Some offensive stereotypes were written as "facts". We knew that the resources we had directed him to use during class and library time did not contain information like this, so we asked him where he got these ideas from.

"My parents told me."

Grade 3 might be pretty young to encourage children to defy their parents to their faces, but what I want to teach is that even our parents aren't perfect and that we need to think about information we are given, the biases they may contain, and determine what's true.

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