Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fake news: Fact or opinion?

The following blog post first appeared on my Discovery Education blog in February of 2019, and is re-published here with permission.

Becoming a good digital citizen commonly includes the mastering of a multitude of skills. I like this image, created by Wesley Fryer and Marcia Moore, which provides a visual overview of the components.

Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
The Digital Classroom Starter Kit from Common Sense Education provides digital citizenship activities and lessons as part of their classroom technology use ideas. They also provide a wonderful K-12 digital citizenship curriculum with the scope and sequence found here and have recently started updating their curriculum. You can visit their News and Media Literacy units here.

There are also many other sites which outline the nine elements of digital citizenship in detail as you can see from this Google search. Although these elements are all important, the element of digital citizenship I am most passionate about is the information literacy element. This great poster, in a post on ISTE’s site, describes it best:
"A good digital citizen applies critical thinking to all online sources and doesn’t share non-credible resources, including fake news or advertisements."

But how can a student, searching the Web to learn something new, know if they have landed on a non-credible site? Without a knowledge-base in the topic, it may be hard for them to determine incorrect information. I have been working with critical evaluation of Web material since the inception of the graphical Web. As I created my Guide to Educators back in 1995, I realized early-on that determining credible information was difficult. I have critical evaluation worksheets on everything from Web pages to podcasts located here to help students think carefully about a site they are viewing or a podcast they are listening to.

However, non-credible information used to be more about accidental mis-information by someone who did not know enough about a topic or the unsure decision about the credibility of the author, not the intentional trickery, as it is seems to be today. We must work with students so they can both recognize biased information and know the difference between a fact and an opinion. These skills are life skills, not just Internet information skills!

Recognizing bias

Kimberly Moran, in her blog post on WeAreTeachers, provides seven tips for teaching students to recognize bias. Moran includes some great ideas and lessons, too. Here are a few of her suggestions.
  • Help students understand what the terms “fake news” and “news bias” really mean.
  • Provide an explanatory overview of each.
  • Give your students information that seems real and have them evaluate it. Here is a list of some sites I have identified as useful for student critical evaluation practice.
Moran also suggests teaching your students how to cross-check information. Have them look for conflicting information about the author of the text, images that have been edited, exaggerated claims, and use the “Links to this URL” on Google’s Advanced Search page to see if credible sites link to the one they are researching.

Here are some additional sites and resources to help teach about bias.
  • The Institute for Humane Education provides a list of sites to help educators recognize their own unconscious bias and how to teach students to recognize implicit bias.
  • Teaching Tolerance offers a lesson plan for students in grades 6-8 that “focuses on teaching students to identify how writers can reveal their biases through their word choice and tone”.
  • The MediaSmarts site provides high school students with the skills to recognize bias and point of view in newscasts and newspaper articles based on the language used in the story and also understand the role of subjectivity and perception in the media. This lesson plan includes having students deconstruct a news story based on language, story selection, and story order.
  • This character education lesson, Recognizing Bias, provided by Learning to Give, helps middle schools students, through a simple classroom activity, to understand about personal biases.
  • Discovery Education includes a 2:37 Common Craft video called Bias Detection. This short video demonstrates the importance of recognizing and accounting for bias when evaluating sources of information. It is intended for students in grades 6-12.
  • Humans as Variables (4:47) is another Discovery Education video clip and it is intended for grades K-5. Its purpose is to show students how a person’s bias could have an impact on a scientific study’s results.
  • The Facing History and Ourselves site includes an eleven lesson unit, Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in a Digital Age. This unit is to help students understand and recognize the choices facing journalists, explore the impact of social media on current-day news cycles, and become critical consumers of news. The essential question for the unit is:
"What is the role of journalism in a democratic society, and how can we become responsible consumers and producers of news and information in the digital age?"

Fact or opinion?

An information literacy topic, related to recognizing bias, is that of determining if something is a fact or an opinion. Oftentimes, students mistake well-stated opinions for fact. There are some great sites on the Web with information and tips to give students practice with the skills to know the difference..
  • Media specialists Donna Mignardi and Jennifer Sturge curated a list of resources to help middle school students recognize the difference between fact, opinion, and informed opinions. The sites they include focus on fact-checking lessons and resources.
  • A lesson plan by Scott Ertl is a guidance lesson for students in grades K-5. The lesson includes the comparison of fact and opinion materials in the news media. It also contains a guidance component titled “My Opinion Matters”. In this section, students practice positive responses to not-so-nice opinion statements classmates might make.
  • This lesson, posted on MediaSmarts, for grades 9-12, Fact Versus Opinion, was adapted from a publication by the Canadian Newspaper Association titled “News is not just black and white”. The lesson includes activities for recognizing bias and understanding how newspapers often include both fact and opinion in the same news story.
  • The New York Times Learning Network provides practice in determining fact and opinion in this lesson. Of course, the Learning Network has plenty of material to pick from, and provides links to real articles that students can discuss. The activities include use of pencil and paper, but students could just as easily mark them up on a digital device.
  • This mini-lesson from the Public Schools of Robeson County (NC) is an excellent resource for teaching the younger (grade 3-5) students about fact and opinion. The lesson includes explicit instruction and pedagogical tips for the educators, too! I believe that this min-lesson would also work for middle school students. Some of the components of the lesson can easily be completed using online tools, too.
  • Discovery Education includes materials for support of teaching and learning about fact vs. opinion for students in grades 6-8. The 4:21 video segment, Fact vs. Opinion, provides scenarios to help students recognize both fact and opinion in informational text.
  • The Author’s Purpose, another video clip in the Discovery Education collection, is a 4:24 video for grades 3-5. It helps students evaluate writings and decide if an author is trying to inform (fact) or trying to persuade (opinion).

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

I love Brenthaven!

If you follow this blog, you know I regularly review items from Brenthaven, a great company with an awesome focus on the educational market! Their designs are intended to withstand even the most careless student, with cases that can take being thrown in the locker, to headphones that have a breakaway plug for those students who get tangled up in wires easily. And, although we can try to control how the school's technology is treated while in school, we have little control over the out-of-school safety of the devices, as illustrated below! It is important schools invest in protective and proven device protection of the type Brenthaven offers.

"A mess of wires" by Marshall Vandergrift. CC license: CC-BY-SA. Flickr, 2007. 

Brenthaven allows me to look through their offerings and pick two or three I personally feel are items that would be great for schools! I view their collections with a different point of view each time. Sometimes, as I did in my previous reviews of the Tred Zip Folio and the Edge Carry Case for the iPad, I am considering ways the student devices can be kept safe when in and out of the backpack.

This time, I was interested in reviewing two backpack-- ones that work well for student and teacher smaller devices.


Brenthaven's Tred Slim Pack backpack is made especially for the K-12 environment. I chose to review it because of its smaller size. With many schools supporting a 1:1 laptop initiative and providing students with digital copies of textbooks (with sets of paper textbooks being kept in the classroom), there is no need for students to carry the large backpack of a few years ago that weighed in, with books and larger devices, at 20-25 pounds.

Below is a video I created in 2013 illustrating this transformation of a student backpack because of smaller and more powerful technology tools and apps.

The Tred Slim Pack holds a 14" (or under) laptop or tablet, and the Tred's back zippered pocket is totally padded to keep it protected. The shoulder straps are also nicely padded.

In addition, there are two large zippered outside pockets that can be used for cables and power supplies, snacks, or even a water bottle. There is also a full-width horizontal zippered pocket located on the outside for a cell phone, sunglasses, or a wallet.

Brenthaven has included some specific features on the backpack to support its educational users. First, there is a reflective item on the front, back, and sides of the Tred Slim Pack to keep students visible and safe as they wait for the early morning bus or walk home in the late afternoons. In addition, the rear of the backpack includes a clear card pocket for easy access to gift students easy access to their ID card.

The Tred Slim Pack is very sturdy and protective, but also very lightweight at less than 1.2 pounds. Its external dimensions are 16.5" high, 11.5" wide and 4" deep. I loaded up the Tred Slim Pack with my 13" MacBook Pro, the power adapter and charging cable, my Apple XS Max phone, my headphones, a filled metal coffee travel mug, and a paper notebook. The full backpack weighed only 5.4 pounds!

Band for excess strap

Another nice little feature is the inclusion of a stretchy band to hold the excess from the backpack straps nice and neat. As one who hates those hanging straps, it is a great addition! And, again, it is a safety feature for students who might be riding a bicycle to school or any other activity that may cause loose straps to get caught.

The Tred Slim Pack would be a good choice for students in grades 4 -12 due to its smaller size and light weight! Give it a look, and, if you are considering this backpack which will protect the technology and the posture of your students, request a sample unit of Brenthaven's Tred Slim Pack to review!


Brenthaven also makes a line of bags and backpacks for educators. I am partial to the Collins series, which comes in graphite or indigo, and I already own the ones starred below. I decided I wanted to review the Collins Backpack.

The Collins Backpack is a feature-rich, professional-looking backpack for any educator. It is large enough to replace your "teacher bag" with lots of storage!

The side-load, fully padded and quilted laptop pocket can hold up to a 15.6" laptop. (I actually plan to use that area for books, papers , and a light sweater, since my 13" MacBook Pro fits nicely in the middle section padded, quilted pocket (shown on the left with the iPad in it).

This second full-size zippered section is an organized teacher's dream! It includes a smaller padded and quilted pocket that can hold a tablet, small laptop, or a sheaf of papers. The front of the padded section includes three pockets for power bricks, cables, and  a cell phone. The front flap of this section also includes a half-height zippered pocket to hold additional teacher necessities!

This section of the Collins Backpack is very deep and can hold notebooks, papers for grading, and your lunch bag, too! The dimensions of the entire backpack are 16.6" high, 12.5" wide, and 6" deep. It weighs practically nothing -- 1.8 pounds!

The front of the backpack includes two zip pockets. The top one could hold a cell phone, small e-reader, or a snack for the teacher's room. The second zippered section unzips on the top and right side and provides access to a key fob, a small padded pocket I would use for glasses or sunglasses, a pencil or stylus pocket, and a small slip pocket for a license, ID card, or credit cards.

I love the "vegan leather" bottom on the Collins Backpack since it is easy to sponge off after setting it on a dirty floor. If you load this backpack evenly, the 6" deep bottom will also allow it to stand on its own. The matching integrated handle on the top of the backpack is substantial and allows you another way to tote the bag. However, the padded back and backpack straps make the Collins Backpack comfortable to wear as a regular backpack, too!

If you are looking for a nice backpack to tote back and forth to school, take a look at the Brenthaven Collins Backpack!