Can They Read 21st Century Media?

What’s the most pressing issue for our students–our young citizens?

I’ve been considering this for awhile and I believe that it may very well be how effectively they digest, process, and evaluate information in the 21st century.

Take for example the recent case of the ‘barrage of online misinformation’ that started springing up only 20 minutes after the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. We are not simply faced with a sheer large volume of information, but also the complication that some of it is deceptive by design. Outright lies. Some harmless; others much less so. This goes way beyond the ‘media bias’ angle.

For decades schools have taught students–young citizens–how to evaluate sources of information and it’s worked, for the most part. Consider the approach in IB Diploma History: students analyze and evaluate sources by considering the values and limitations of the origin, purpose, and content of primary and secondary sources. Works great in the context of historical settings, but what about in our uber-fluid modern world?

The sand is shifting, thanks to the internet. In fact, a recent study by Stanford found that the skills of a historian (who we would normally associate with credible source analysis) may becoming eclipsed by the skills of fact checkers, who use very different techniques. Is it time for schools to rethink?


[labeled for reuse]

We don’t want our students to fall victim to the gullibility of the cynic; that is, if nothing can be trusted (it’s all ‘fake news’) then we’re more likely to fall for anything. As the author of this blog post notes, ‘if everything is compromised, then everything can be ignored, and filtering is simply a matter of choosing what you want to hear.’ [my emphasis]


Many of us came up in an era when the sources were ‘curated’ for us. There weren’t that many to choose from and they were mostly very reliable. I grew up in a small town and we read a couple of local papers, and my parents occasionally watched PBS Newshour or Brokaw. Quality sources–limited in breadth, but strong in depth.

In contrast, our students today are coming up in a fantastic environment of information and opinion dissemination, but I wonder to what extent we, as schools, need to actively empower them–in I&S, L&L, math, science, art–with ways to thinking about where they’re getting their information.

I’m not proposing anything beyond letting our subconsciouses dwell on this matter and perhaps bring us around to some interesting conversation in our professional learning communities. I’ll leave you with some wise words from a colleague’s email I received a few months ago: all articles and statistics vary in the author’s “version” of the facts. All articles must be viewed, researched, and evaluated within the light of differing perspectives for reliability, accuracy, and truthfulness. We all find “shocking facts” to be impressive; but if they are not accurate they may engender harm rather than good.



A space to call their own (part 1)

I want to spend some posts discussing the spaces in which we teach and learn. And I want to keep these posts short because, well, life, and I’d like you to actually read them and not skim, scan, browse, sweep, or any of the multitude of reading skills our brains have perfected in the age of social media.

So…we’re asking our students to spend 8+ hours each day in our spaces and it seems to me that any discussion of student agency should include those tangible walls, floors, and ceilings.

At my school here in southern California we’re in the midst of a space makeover with an eye on emphasizing 21st century learning and interdisciplinary units. In this backdrop, a couple of recent experiences has me thinking about how our spaces could be used in a way that truly foster student voice and agency:

  1. I had the opportunity to visit High Tech High, a K-12 school in San Diego. If you’ve seen the documentaries Beyond Measure or Most Likely To Succeed than you already have an idea what this school is all about — intense PBL, no letter grades or report cards, and student empowerment. In terms of space, High Tech High’s minimalist, no-frills approach is a refreshing (and, quite frankly, jarring) departure from the often manicured setting that classrooms can become. There are no posters or bulletin boards that no student ever looks at, and no collection of dusty books that no student ever wants to read. There is lots of white space, lots of empty physical space. Lots of opportunity.
  2. Dovetailing nicely on this visit, I picked up The Space by Rebecca Hare and Robert Dillon. It’s a wonderfully concise and thoughtful book that challenges teachers and administrators to consider the goal of every inch of the classroom. Like High Tech High, the authors preach minimalism, and they also emphasize student voice in designing and maintaining the space. I highly recommend this book.

So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about how our teaching and learning spaces can promote student agency. I’d love to hear your ideas, especially if they are concrete, tangible risks you’ve taken in your own spaces. For example, here’s one simple thing I did recently: I asked our head custodian to create a white board desk for me–I call it my ‘brainstorming desk’– out of a broken white board and an old desk.


I’m not totally satisfied with the results, since my 8th graders often just want to doodle on it, though I think with more modeling and emphasis on how it connects to the ATLs (Use brainstorming and mind mapping to generate new ideas and inquiries) it could be the start of something really special. One message that both The Space and High Tech High have made abundantly clear: more writeable surfaces!