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Teaching Fake News: How to prepare students for alternative facts

Teaching Fake News: How to prepare students for alternative facts

Every other thinkpiece these days is about the epidemic of “fake news” and its implications on the legitimacy of the presidential election and the future of democracy as we know of it. The very concept of public education in the 1700 was developed as a means not to create good workers or scholars, but to develop good voters, since democracy doesn’t function well if voters are un- or ill-informed. And yet, students are demonstrating increased inabilities to discern the trustworthiness of a source, identify potential biases, and verify the factuality of a statement. A detailed study out of Stanford noted that, particularly with infographics on facebook and twitter, parsing out what’s believable eludes students completely. Many couldn’t articulate, for example, the significance of the blue checkmark that appears next to some users’ handles.

Some schools have taken the “abstinence only” route to teaching fake news; that is, rather than addressing the issue and helping students learn to chart a course through all the memes, graphics, and splashy headlines that appear on their social media accounts, the schools simply block social media in the building altogether and continue teaching the basics of finding news from the early 2000s — advice like, “don’t trust wikipedia.” This teaching style has two serious problems. Firstly, wikipedia is not the worst source. All of its information is cited, and when it’s not, it’s flagged for review by other users to verify the claim. Secondly, and more importantly, the “just ignore it” teaching style sends young people into the world with no knowledge of the terrain of modern journalism. According to Jon Ronson, the internet designed to spread the truth — it’s designed to spread, and spread it has.

Now, arguably, the term “fake news” has already outstayed its welcome. The term “fake news” has a number of definitions, each of which is nuanced just enough that the expression is nearly meaningless. The most obvious paragon of “fake news” is straight up incorrect information. Articles that look like news but “report” such facts as “Obama and Bush Conspired to facilitate 9/11” are just wholly false — unarguably “fake news.” Similarly, blogs or news organizations that purposely dupe viewers into thinking they’re another more revered source are usually unarguably “fake.” Some twitter accounts, for example, will use a Fox News logo and send out information that people think is from the verified Fox News account.

The term “fake news” has also been co opted to describe lazy journalism and writing that is not necessarily false but certainly misleading, inflammatory, and click-baity. Sometimes, in their fervor to break the next Watergate, journalists will publish a piece without thoroughly investigating the story and publishing half-researched unvetted information. Furthermore, articles written by organization who swing strongly in a certain political direction might not tell outright lies, but they will often select those facts that only support their viewpoint and write in a tone that shames or discards the opposing stance. Such articles will also violate some classical logical fallacies that aren’t necessarily lies, but

So how do we combat this? Some classrooms are now teaching News Literacy, which helps students learn how to cross-check information, explore the veracity of sources, examine the issue being discussed from various viewpoints. The classes help students identify bias, avoid clickbait, check for the beliefs of those funding an article, and come to their own conclusions about what’s true and what’s not. Instructors encourage their students to question everything, from the history of the writer to the writer’s sources to what appears in the comments section.
For the sanity of the nation and the integrity of our democracy, it’s urgent that schools take a stand and help young people figure out the truth in the muck and mire of lies, deceptive news, and selective facts. By teaching critical thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism, we can ensure that the plague stops here.

3 Ways Teachers Can Recharge Over the Holidays

Just making it to the holidays is an incredible feat. A lot of teachers hit the holidays and crash without even considering ways of recharging their batteries, a necessity to avoid teacher burnout. It is important to plan on spending some time to actively refocus your mind, rest your body, and get emotionally, physically, and mentally ready for the next semester. Here are three fantastic ways teachers can recharge over the holidays and go back to class at their best.

Schedule Some Totally Selfish “Me” Time

The Holidays are busy. Between family, friends, and community responsibilities, a lot of teachers don’t find any time for themselves. However, a little me time will go a long way toward helping you find the strength to go back to work at the end of the break. Make it a selfish activity away from responsibility. If you have kids, get a sitter. Find something wonderful you’ve wanted to do. Then, schedule it in and make it a top priority.

Have a Sick Day

Have one day during your break where you allow yourself to be lazy. Order in, watch TV, wear comfortable clothes, play video games, and avoid work and chores like the plague. Think of it as a sick day without being sick. The idea is to rest your body and your mind to avoid getting sick and to help catch up on a little rest.

Vent

Either go to lunch with a good friend or sit alone with a journal and vent out all your frustrations from teaching. Say it all. Let yourself voice your concerns, and hash the whole career until you’ve said what needs to be said. Then, talk about all of those great reasons why you will stay teaching. This exercise allows you to feel validated in your frustrations while reminding you of the reasons you love teaching.

Teaching is a hard career. You need time to recharge so you have the fortitude to keep doing this valuable work. Your students depend on you to be at the top of your game after the holidays. Take some time to be kind to yourself. Take some time to muster up the strength and courage you will need for the rest of the school year. You are a hero in your students’ eyes, but heroes must take the time to save themselves.

Alternative Learning Styles

The field of pedagogy is continuously evolving as a result of a never ending quest for better education practices. During this search, educators continuously evaluate and reevaluate learning styles and environments. Thankfully, in the pursuit of educational greatness, educators have found that learning is not a one size fits all scenario. Students learn in different ways and at different paces. With that information, there have been many different alternative learning environments created to accommodate all types of learners. Here are just a few.

Homeschooling

Students with social anxieties or unorthodox family environments greatly benefit from homeschooling. The one on one instruction allows for a fluid curriculum and breaks free from rigid “in-class” schedules. Homeschooling is an exceptional alternative for students who find themselves working in the entertainment industry, have parents who have to relocate often for work, or simply because they respond better to a completely customized education track. No matter the circumstances, students who end up homeschooled have opted into it because they are able to receive a better education than if they were enrolled in a traditional school setting.

Hybrid Classes

Increasing in popularity with each technological advancement, hybrid classes are another alternative route for students. Flexibility is often the key factor in deciding to partake in hybrid classes. Students taking hybrid classes receive face-to-face classroom time and instruction through online avenues. This type of education is not for everyone and requires a fair amount of discipline and motivation on behalf of the student.

Independent Schools

Independent schools are not a new concept, but provide students with an alternative choice to public school. Private institutions like charter schools and catholic schools offer a different approach to education. These independent schools have even found their place in the realm of education due to their alternative instruction practices.

Montessori

Montessori schools focus heavily on student-centered education. Students are encouraged to practice self-directed learning. There are many benefits to empowering children to choose how they want to spend their time while in school. With a little direction and guidance, students explore areas that excited them and keep them engaged. Montessori schools also do not prescribe to typical grade level and formal assessment norms. The schools are structured into 3 year age groups and tend to have less influences for unhealthy competition.

Steiner/Waldorf

Steiner, or Waldorf, schools take yet another approach to education. They focus on educating the whole child – body, mind, and spirit. The schools aim to better prepare students for life. They are able to do so by focusing on creativity and social values. Additionally, there is a heavy emphasis on sensory-based learning for all learners up until the age of seven. Although the first Waldorf school opened back in 1919, the curriculum is still utilized as a whole or in part.

EdTech: Professional Development

Integrating new technology into the classroom is no easy feat. Most teachers have to spend time on their own figuring out new technology and then how to use it in addition with their lessons. On top of all that, it’s not enough to just be using the technology. Tech needs to enhance the lesson and, hopefully, cultivate more engagement.

There is a real need for structured professional development. Teachers are asking for more interactive training to teach them how to use the tech so they feel confident using it to take their lessons to the next level.

Technology has always come with a varying learning curve. Younger teachers are at a slight advantage because most have grown up using tech, but older generations of teachers have a lot more to learn. Establishing varying levels of interactive training can help teachers of all levels learn the technology and use it effectively.

The problem is that many districts don’t currently have any type of infrastructure set in place. Training takes time, money, and time away from the classroom. It is no easy fix, but something needs to change.

Nonprofits and teacher founded companies have begun to emerge in order to tackle the growing problem within technology based education. These companies know what needs to be done from experience and take the time to come up with the structure, tools, and lessons to make it easier for any teacher to start learning.

Some districts are lucky enough to have been tech focused from early on and have created fantastic training programs. The process clearly has worked for some, but we need to get it working for all!

If you are a teacher who will benefit from professional development, speak up to administration. Let them know where you are struggling and how further instruction would help make the new technology even more effective than it has been.

Technology is the future of education and our world. Investing in education to better our teachers will in turn provide a better learning experience for all students. Their jobs will demand the use of technology, so why not make them tech experts as early as possible.

Teaching Coding: Why It’s Important

Coding is Creative

Learning to code is just as much a creative process as it is a technical skill. Coding websites and programs gives students the opportunity to think outside the box. It is a technical skill that involves higher level problem solving, thinking about how others interact with technology, and gives creative control of a digital product.

Coding is similar to learning a new language

Learning to code is much like learning a new language. Coding requires new vocabulary and ways of thinking. There are rules, shortcuts, and slang that all help you achieve the end product of a site. Additionally, like a new language, it is best to learn early on. Children soak up new information quickly and begin applying it. When they are working with the new information regularly and creating digital projects often, they will carry the skills with them through life.

Demand for Programmers

There is a great demand for programmers in the job market, but a fraction of students are following computer science curriculums. The reason less students are following these paths than what is in demand is due to a lack of understanding. Unless students stumble into programming due to pure curiosity, many schools are not teaching them about coding. Interest can be sparked when students are introduced to the programming world. By bringing coding into the curriculum, we will spark an interest in many future web developers.

Increased Future Salaries

Students who complete computer science degrees and seek out programming jobs receive higher starting and overall salaries than their peers. The demand for jobs is high, so the salary matches that. It also takes a great deal of skill to be a brilliant coder, so those who have worked hard at the web development trade for years will be rewarded.

Economic Impact

If we are successful at giving our students the groundwork for thriving careers in technology we can have a huge impact on the economy and world at large. As stated above, programmers make more money, so they will have more to put into and stimulate the economy. Also, our students will one day become part of creating new technologies, companies, or making the online experience better for everyone that uses it. Our students will become a part of pushing tech beyond it’s current limits. We need to provide them with the tools to explore that potential as soon as possible.

Back to School Tech

It’s that time of year again – back to school! When most people think back to school they think about textbooks, pencils, notebooks, and new school clothes. All of those items are part of the essential gear needed, but we often leave technology out of the discussion. I have put together a list of some practical tech to get any student through the school year.

Wireless Mouse

Most students have laptops with built in trackpads, which are not a bad way to navigate through a computer. Trackpads can become difficult when relied on for larger projects or when hooked up to an additional screen or monitor. Grab a wireless mouse that you can easily hook up when the task calls for it. Graphic design projects, web based design, and video editing can be made much easier with the simple addition of a mouse!

Noise Cancelling Headphones

Concentration is key when it comes to producing your best work. Snagging a pair of noise canceling headphones serves two great purposes. You have the option of listening to crystal clear music while completing assignments. You can also simply use the noise canceling to get yourself into a space of absolute silence. This type of flexibility is unparalleled and can really help you out when your study session in bombarded by unwanted noise.

External Hard Drive

External hard drives made this list instead of flash drives for a few reasons. The first being the sheer amount of memory you have at your fingertips. External hard drives have much more storage and this is important for backing up all your work, music, and important files. They also help you free up space on your machine so it can run smoother and more efficiently. It’s worth spending a little extra money for the added security.

Power Pack

Portable power packs are absolutely essential for the student on the go. Between school, extracurriculars, and your social life, you may not find the time to charge your devices. Having a power pack with you can be the difference between catching the bus home or missing it because you were plugged into the wall at the library.

Chromecast

Chromecast is a nifty tool that allows you to broadcast your web browser onto a television. You can turn a tv into a large monitor for presentations, detailed work, or to relax and watch movies at the end of a long day.

Portable Speakers

There are many different portable speaker on the market. No matter what one you chose, they are easy to throw into your bag for appropriate use. You may need to use music to emphasis a presentation, get a group together and focus for a project, or a vital part of your sport team’s pre-game ritual.

Becoming a Google Classroom

Google Classroom is a wonderful tool for teachers and students alike. It’s an excellent way to integrate tech into the classroom that is helpful for all involved, which is exactly how it should be. If you are unfamiliar with google classroom or want to know some cool ways to implement it in effective ways, you are in the right place.

Create Assignments

Within Google Classroom you can create assignments for students to access and complete. Better yet, you can work ahead and schedule assignments out! This way, you will have a peace of mind knowing that all assignments will post exactly when you want. This will be a lifesaver!

Homework Assignment and Collection

Google Classroom is an extremely intuitive way to both assign and collect homework across media. You are not boxed in by certain types of media so you can upload instructions as a video if you want, or assign something in a Google Doc for students to edit and send back. There are countless ways to use the tech in ways that work for assignments and for you.

Post Announcements

You can use Google Classroom to also post announcements. You can let students know if they are going to have a sub before they even get to class, send reminders, or announce a test. Announcements are a great way to keep up reminders for students and keep them informed.

Post a Question

You can use this feature to gather information or even to use as a pop quiz! Another great way to use this function is to gain a general understanding. Students can answer the question without the pressure of getting it wrong in front of the class. Then you can assist them in ways that are not so obvious to the rest of the class.

Grading

Grading is made easy! All feedback and remarks are recorded as you go. You also can hide all of this information from students until you are ready to post the grades. This saves you time and energy. Plus, your students will receive better feedback with the additional time you save from traditional grading.

Google Calendar

Your assignments will sync with Google Calendar now. This is a great tool for both students and teachers. It is a tool for accountability for students. Most of your students will have smart phones that they can sync their calendars up to – so forgetting about an assignment can’t be used as an excuse.
Google Classroom is a great addition to your organization and overall classroom technology integration. Tech within the classroom should be fun and helpful. With Google Classroom, both of those are achievable.

Classroom Technology Revolution

Classroom Technology Revolution

Where is it you ask? It’s already here. Teachers across the country have pushed to revolutionize the classroom making learning more engaging, teaching students skills in a highly technologically driven society, and using it to do what tech does best – speed things up.

1-to-1 Tablets

More and more schools are integrating tablets in the classroom. Students are assigned a tablet of their own to do work on, complete assignments, and use specialized apps for different areas of study. The use of tablets has opened new doors for collaboration as well as increased overall engagement.

Digital Textbooks

Digital textbooks are hitting the market and making their way into the classroom. These textbooks provide easier accessibility and stop “I left my textbook at home” dead in its tracks. Although there has not been a widespread adoption, more and more schools are using digital textbooks to complete assignments and teach lessons.

Grading

There are many different products out there that are making testing, grading, and evaluating authenticity so much easier. Things like online pop quizzes and test that are graded in real time help cut back on hand grading and give teachers more time to plan. Additionally, teachers are using tools to determine if work is plagiarized by having students submit their work to an online platform. The student’s know what percent of the paper is copied directly from other works, so they are able to hold themselves accountable as well.

What to Look For Next

Although the tech revolution is already upon us, there is always more work to be done. It’s one thing to revolutionize how you are doing it, but completely different to scale and quantify it. Like all pedagogy practices, we need to test, retest, and test again. We need to have data to back up what is working, what is not working, and how we can improve or make new products to make teaching with tech even better.

We as teachers also need to remember that the tech is only as good as the one implementing it. It does not matter how great the tech is. If we are not using it effectively, then it is not doing the job and neither are we. We cannot use tech simply just to use it. We need it to be an aid, another tool in our tool belt, and used as a way to solve problems and make learning better. Without it, we will be going nowhere fast.