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Proceed with Caution

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Teach Students to Separate Fact From Fiction When Researching Online

Critical thinking helps students conduct more reliable online searches.

posted January 5, 2011  |  Appears in the February/March 2011 issue of EdTech Magazine.

Today's students complete most of their homework on a computer and do the bulk of their research online. When tasked with learning something new, they often equate research with “Googling”; assume that the information they find online is true; and produce cut-and-paste work that reflects little original thinking or regard for accuracy. Because the Internet provides direct access to huge volumes of information, students must learn how to filter and analyze their search results to distinguish reliable content and credible sources from incorrect, incomplete or speculative information.

Lesson Description: For this lesson, students will go on a treasure hunt for information on a website dedicated to world explorers, only to discover that the facts provided on the site are wrong.

Begin with a group discussion about students' preconceptions of the Internet. Next, explain that they will be studying world explorers, and ask them to Google the phrase “all about explorers” to gather information on the topic. Have students browse the first website in the results list (allaboutexplorers.com), and then ask them to click on the “Treasure Hunts” tab near the top of the page.

Divide students into pairs to research one of the 12 explorers listed on the “Treasure Hunts” page. Each pair should research and answer three questions about their explorer using the resources provided. Pairs researching the same explorer should then discuss their findings and answer “The Big Question”: What were the similarities and differences in the information you found on the two sites?

Students typically are astounded to discover that there's erroneous information on the Internet – especially when it comes from the first source provided in Google's search results. Follow this revelation with further discussions about where to find trustworthy information and how and why to examine a website before trusting the information found there.

Subject Area: This activity focuses on digital literacy and social studies subject matter and can be adapted for all grades.

Curriculum Standards: This lesson addresses curriculum standards set forth by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the International Society for Technology in Education's National Educational Technology Standards for Students.

The standards challenge students to:

  • explain and analyze historical sources (PDE 8.1.6B);
  • use and understand a variety of media and evaluate the quality of material produced (PDE 1.2.5B);
  • locate information using appropriate sources and strategies (PDE 1.8.5B);
  • evaluate and select information sources based on appropriateness to specific tasks (ISTE 3c); and
  • collect and analyze data to identify solutions and make informed decisions (ISTE 4c).

Resources:

Grading Rubric: Students should be evaluated on their:

  • quality of discussion and insights;
  • critical responses to teacher questions;
  • ability to compare and contrast the two sources of information they researched;
  • ability to locate erroneous information when revisiting the All About Explorers website; and
  • verification of all facts with both print and online sources.

Teaching Tips

  • Register, free of charge, at allaboutexplorers.com/user/register before beginning this lesson to access and download related lesson plans and follow-up activities.
  • Have younger students do some preliminary research on the explorers using an encyclopedia so they will have background information from which to draw during the lesson.
  • Save time by loading Treasure Hunt pages on student computers before they arrive for class.
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