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While half of the eighth grade was device-free on the annual Chesapeake Bay trip, the rest of the class was plugged-in as they explored the topic of freedom of the press. The two groups switched places and by the end of the week of October 15, the entire grade had learned the importance of discerning, “What is truth and how do you know?” It was all part of their preparation to write a research paper.
The first step in the eighth grader’s quest for understanding was a trip to the Newseum in Washington D.C. where they had an up-close look at the First Amendment and the power of the press. The following day, they spent the morning taking a deeper dive into the topic through three sessions focused on using credible sources as resources. Humanities teacher Craig Copeland explained, “All eighth graders will be doing a research project and they have to use articles from the web. They need to know how to evaluate websites and to determine if they are credible and useful.”
In one of the sessions, an interactive virtual classroom lesson, an educator from the Newseum spoke about the importance of seeking trustworthy news sources. The class ended with a challenge that encouraged the students to look beyond the headlines and a single source to determine if a story is credible.
Next, with basic knowledge of how to discern reliable web sources, the eighth graders were asked to evaluate the usefulness of websites about Haiti, created by students in John Wood’s tenth grade history class. “The sophomores put a lot of work into their sites,” Wood explained to the middle schoolers. “They want to know what you learned and if you felt the website actually worked.”
Copeland added that exercise was like “quality control” and told his students that they were taking the sites “on an educational test drive.” He explained that their authentic feedback on sophomore’s websites would be taken seriously by the older students who planned to make adjustments based on the comments shared.
The eighth grader’s knowledge base continued to grow as the idea of credibility and utility was applied to the research paper they soon will be writing and the tools they will be using. Copeland summed up the significance of the lesson saying, “Our goal is to help the kids become competent filters of information as they become life-long learners.”