Category Archives: Understanding

Today’s news: Real or fake? [Infographic]

Today Students have a blizzard of information at the ready: on devices in their pockets, at school, in their homes, by their bedsides on their wrists… It’s almost a constant information “on” world.

Information and content floods to their eyes and ears in never-ending streams, torrents, downloads, feeds, & casts. How do they determine what is real an what is not. What matters and what doesn’t? Here’s a cheat sheet to help out.

At a time when misinformation and fake news spread like wildfire online, the critical need for media literacy education has never been more pronounced. The evidence is in the data:

  • 80% of middle schoolers mistake sponsored content for real news.
  • 3 in 4 students can’t distinguish between real and fake news on Facebook.
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 students are skeptical of biased news sources.

Students who meet the ISTE Standards for Students are able to critically select, evaluate and synthesize digital resources. That means understanding the difference between real and fake news.

There are several factors students should consider when evaluating the validity of news and resources online. Use the infographic below to help your students understand how to tell them apart.

Click on the infographic to open a printable PDF.


Learn more about teaching K-12 students how to evaluate and interpret media messages in the book Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom by Frank Baker.


Supporting Students Efforts in Determining Real from Fake News

Our students use the web every day—shouldn’t we expect them to do better at interpreting what they read there? Perhaps, but not necessarily. Often, stereotypes about kids and technology can get in the way of what’s at stake in today’s complex media landscape. Sure, our students probably joined Snapchat faster than we could say “Face Swap,” but that doesn’t mean they’re any better at interpreting what they see in the news and online.

As teachers, we’ve probably seen students use questionable sources in our classrooms, and a recent study from the Stanford History Education Group confirms that students today are generally pretty bad at evaluating the news and other information they see online. Now more than ever, our students need our help. And a big part of this is learning how to fact-check what they see on the web.

In a lot of ways, the web is a fountain of misinformation. But it also can be our students’ best tool in the fight against falsehood. An important first step is giving students trusted resources they can use to verify or debunk the information they find. Even one fact-checking activity could be an important first step toward empowering students to start seeing the web from a fact-checker’s point of view.

Here’s a list of fact-checking resources you and your students can use in becoming better web detectives.

A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the nonpartisan, nonprofit says that it “aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” Its entries cover TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Science teachers take note: The site includes a feature called SciCheck, which focuses on false and misleading scientific claims used for political influence. Beyond individual entries, there also are articles and videos on popular and current topics in the news, among a bevy of other resources.


From the independent Tampa Bay Times, PolitiFact tracks who’s telling the truth—and who isn’t—in American politics. Updated daily, the site fact-checks statements made by elected officials, candidates, and pundits. Entries are rated on a scale that ranges from “True” to “Pants on Fire” and include links to relevant sources to support each rating. The site’s content is written for adult readers, and students may need teachers’ help with context and direction.


The popular online resource Snopes is a one-stop shop to fact-check internet rumors. Entries include everything from so-called urban legends to politics and news stories. Teachers should note that there’s a lot here on a variety of topics—and some material is potentially iffy for younger kids. It’s a great resource for older students—if you can keep them from getting distracted. is a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in U.S. politics. On the site, users can find informative tutorials on topics such as the basics of campaign finance—not to mention regularly updated data reports and analyses on where money has been spent in the American political system. While potentially useful for fact-finding, the site is clearly intended for more advanced adult readers and is best left for older students and sophisticated readers.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

This one isn’t a site that performs fact-checking. Instead, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a tool you can use yourself to fact-check things you find online. Like an internet time machine, the site lets you see how a website looked, and what it said, at different points in the past. Want to see Google’s home page from 1998? Yep, it’s here. Want to see The New York Times’ home page on just about any day since 1996? You can. While they won’t find everything here, there’s still a lot for students to discover. Just beware: The site can be a bit of a rabbit hole—give students some structure before they dive in, because it’s easy to get lost or distracted.

Want to take your students’ knowledge of fact-checking a step further? Engage them in discussions around why these sites and organizations are seen as trusted (and why others might not be trusted as much). Together, look into how each site is funded, who manages it, and how it describes its own fact-checking process.

via Edutopia

Jigsaw variant – Pulsing

Pulsing is a jigsaw variant that allows students to benefits from the “hive” mind, but also insists on individual accountability in terms of project and task completion.

I use pulsing a lot for research…. I have attached an example I used with a grade 7 class doing an inquiry on creating a fully functional island with government, a people, culture, population  centre, etc… .

My belief is that structures such as this address the following learning structure considerations…

  1. Student Voice
  2. Accountability
  3. Broadening Perspectives
…and are vitally important in an educational landscape. See below.

Intentional by Design: We Build in Opportunities to Learn in the Presence of Students, by Risking Our Own Significance and Demonstrating Instructional Cycles

Interesting look at conversations around intent sharing, co-creation of criteria, & learning along side students & how it affects the learner and their process….

In January, we identified hallmarks of a structure that we use when working with a system or school over time. The following is the fourth of seven posts that serve to illuminate those hallmarks.

As leaders, we know that the most important relationship in schools and school systems is the instructional relationship between teachers and their students. We talk and write about the primacy of this relationship and, yet, it can be easy to simply do that – talk and write about it.

Because the learning that takes place “at the desk of the student” is so critical, we often find ourselves in classrooms teaching a group of students whom we have just met and often at a level or in a subject area that is unfamiliar to us. It certainly would be far simpler to share examples and images of students engaged in learning; however, the potential benefits far outweigh the moments of doubt as one begins a lesson in front of a group of 18 or more educators. (In a subsequent blog, we will more clearly articulate the role of those educator observers, but for now, let us reflect on some recent experiences.)

The body of writing in the area of ethical leadership often refers to leaders who “risk their own significance” and we know of no better way than to model a strategy or an instructional sequence for others. Certainly, this can be done in a learning session where only adult learners are present. That is, we can engage in a strategy or series of strategies and then discuss classroom adaptations and applications. Nevertheless, inviting others to observe a strategy in action with a group of student learners allows us to watch intentional instructional design unfold and to mitigate sentiments such as, “Well, this is a good idea, but I can’t imagine how it would work with a group of Grade 10 Science students.”  

A group of 17 teachers gathered in Debbie’s classroom to observe a process of co-constructing criteria with Grade 11 Pre-Calculus students. In two or three minute chunks, I solved math problems for the students, by not only modelling, but by engaging in metacognitive talk along the way. Students gave me immediate feedback in the moments between the modelling chunks and identified what they noticed me doing and saying that would inform the criteria. At the end of approximately 40 minutes, we had, together, created robust and comprehensive criteria to answer this question – What counts, what matters, and what is important when we solve a math problem completely? The details of the criteria included statements like, “Clear your mind before solving the problem so that you can focus.”, “Think about a problem that you have done before that is similar.”, “Draw on prior mathematical understanding.”, “Take a brain break, if you need it.”, and “Determine what the problem is actually asking you.” At the end of the lesson, I invited one teacher to meet with a group of two students to discuss what he/she had learned about instruction, as a result of the observation. The discussion was not about what the students had learned or what the teachers had learned about the students. Rather, the focus was on that which the teachers took from the demonstration to inform their next instructional steps. In this way, the teachers are making their learning public to the students and modelling the adage that is often repeated – We are all lifelong learners. And perhaps more importantly, the teachers are risking their own significance by talking about something that they now know more about than even an hour earlier.

For two years, teams of K-8 teachers observed every day for four days as I taught writing in two classrooms. At 8:30 each morning 25 to 30 of us gathered for half an hour, digging into the learning destination, discussing evidence we might collect, and, after the first day, considering what the evidence suggested as next steps for tomorrow’s lesson. During those two years, I did the teaching, simultaneously working with students and teacher learners for an hour twice a morning in classrooms ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8, with students I did not know, and on topics negotiated with teachers in advance, based on what they were studying at the time and their students were deeply interested in. I did not impose the topic to make it easier for myself. My only requirements were that we find something that would be authentic and meaningful for the students and connected to outcomes, content, topics, genres, or big ideas already under study. After each lesson we met to make sense of our evidence – the conversations, observations, and products from the classroom. At the end of the second year, the divisional Literacy Leadership team asked for pairs of teachers to become hub teachers, each planning a writing lesson study week and inviting four to six teachers from schools new to the project into their classrooms. Fourteen teachers opened their doors and made their practice public, using the structure I had modelled and the big ideas of assessment and instruction in the writing workshop that had been the focus of our two years together. In year three, while I began the work with a new team, fourteen teachers took a leadership role, benefitting colleagues from their own school and other schools in the district and making the learning their own. When they repeat the process next year, the hub teachers have suggested that they would like to include time in the visiting teachers’ classrooms. Their feedback has inspired more teachers to volunteer to become hub teachers.

As leaders we deliberately build opportunities to learn in the presence of students and risk our own significance by demonstrating instructional practices. It is our experience that this modelling inspires others to try something that may not have been attempted before.

Risking your own significance is contagious.

In our next post, we will further examine the fifth hallmark that we outlined in January 2017- We use the gradual release of responsibility model not only with student learners, but with adult learners as well.


Written with my colleague Brenda Augusta

via Sandra Herbst and Anne Davies

Computational Thinking Revisited

Computational Thinking
Computational Thinking

I have been thinking more about what the important steps embedded in the process of programming… There are really two cycles within the process: one that follows a design or inquiry-like sequence & one that addresses computational thinking. I have tweaked this model over and over and have done so again below to show where I think the computational thinking fits in.

Blended Processes: Computational & Design Thinking
Blended Processes: Computational & Design Thinking

It’s fascinating to watch students tackle this head on. I was at Wellington School the other day working on a coding and I was amazed on a number of fronts:

Wellington Students
Wellington Students Coding; Posted with permission
  • Students were unfazed by the coding challenges put in front of them: the challenges were hard but the students were highly motivated to solve them
  • Students struggled initially with establishing social sharing of the tools: needed to provide some strategies here
  • They successfully collaborated in their teams
  • They creatively collaborated across teams
  • The focussed completely on the coding problem & trying to solve it
  • It didn’t matter that Math, Science & ELA outcomes, strategies & content were being dealt with in order to solve the coding problem at hand: students shifted between these areas with ease. The blended nature of the content was authentic and natural to the students
  • Students were creative in their solutions to the coding problems that were being solved
4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

What stands out is that with little help the students were practicing the 4Cs meaningfully across content areas. This reaffirms that coding can be curricular glue, but more than that, it allows for students to engage in two authentic and worthy processes: inquiry/design & computational thinking.

Are Smartboards Still Smart?

Smartboards Vs iPads
Smartboards VS iPads

I have been having some interesting conversations with distressed schools regarding Smartboards, Epson short-throw projectors – their high costs, the amount of training or lack of training associated with these devices, and whether they still the “smart” way of doing business.

These are loaded questions from the “get-go” because they make a number of assumptions that we in Educational Technology and the Innovation realms have been striving to address for years:

  • The adage “learning first/technology second” shouldn’t be just an adage!!
  • Devices don’t improve educational outcomes as a general rule
  • Best teaching and learning practices DO improve educational outcomes
  • In an age of fiscal responsibility, we need to be sure that the technology we DO purchase addresses the needs of students and fits with what we consider are solid teacher and learning practices.

It concerns me when I hear of expenditures based on grants secured or monies raised with little consultations regarding trends, best practices and the needs of learners in general. And this brings me to the main point of the post… Are Smartboards still smart?

The answer is it depends. It depends on how they are being used. I am going to dust of the the SAMR continuum again to demonstrate how Smartboards or EPSON Interactive short-throws MIGHT (and this is a rather important qualifier) be used effectively. The real issue with these devices, large and small, are that they are essentially single or double touch devices. Now before the masses jump on my back and say there are “multi-touch” devices available, ask yourself how many of these are actually in service in your District? I know in our Division, this number is VERY small – most are single touch, large screen, wall mounted Smartboards! We also have a growing number of wall-mounted short-throw Epson Interactive Dual Touch projectors.

So we have a large expenditure, a great deal of fuss setting up, lots of time creating notebooks for essentially a one-at-a-time student experience, however that happens to be structured. I have seen this occur in a number of ways in descending order of popularity:

  • Large group presentation and lecture; primarily used by teacher
  • Large group centre(s); calendar and day startup routines in primary
  • Digital worksheets or activities
  • Centre work
  • Small group work

Recreated SAMR Model/Continuum
Blended SAMR Model/Continuum (KS)

4 Cs: Above & Beyond
Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking , Creativity

If we recall the SAMR continuum and the 4Cs model briefly from some earlier posts and we apply it to Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors we essentially arrive at the same conclusion… The teacher & students have a bit of careful thinking and planning to do BEFORE they embark on deciding how best to use these types of devices. Otherwise there is the real danger of a lot of money having been spent on a very large & glossy projection tool for the teacher to show YouTube videos on.

It is not that these tools cannot be used in a way that is collaborative, or creative, or for communication, or critical thinking or in ways that transform learning. They can!

So why is the default to use the substitution level, focusing on lower level thinking skills, essentially addressing the needs of single students? Ease? Time? Lack of training? I am not really sure. But the issue is that teachers seem to regularly rely on Enhancing experiences with technology with little consideration to student input or outcomes achieved.

Let’s look at how this could be changed. The fact of the matter is that Smartboards and Epson Interactive Projectors are expensive tools that allow for a variety of educational experiences to be provided for learners in a classroom. These devices aren’t being leveraged to their full abilities, and truth be told, there are a number of competing tools that are coming on the market that may in fact soon provide a viable and attractive replacement for these devices supporting learners in ways that were previously unavailable… More on that later in the post.

Here’s one person’s take on how a Smartboard could be taken advantage of more fully:


What’s clear is that Smartboards should be looked at as part of an ongoing learning process rather than as as a digital worksheet to be completed. For example, suggestions such as digital portfolios, or storyboard creation during a video or story writing process, part of a design or brainstorming or webbing process are outlined above. Teachers could use these device in small, needs-based groups as a manipulative for collaborative purposes – a few would work through a series of pointed learning problems. Both of these ideas redefine how a Smartboard could be typically used, and demonstrates a move away from the teacher presentation tool model or the digital worksheet for the whole class model typically selected.

What is also clear is that students will need to be involved in this process. We value Assessment for Learning: releasing responsibility to the learner, activating students as the owners of their own learning, encouraging learners to be instructional learners for each other, clarifying Task, Intent and Criteria and the like… are all part of this picture as well. Involving students in both the learning, collaboration/communication, creation, & critical thinking pieces of the learning supported buy the tools at hand (Smartboard, Notebook, websites etc…) is as important as the decision to change how you go about using the tool in the first place.

Five Critical Elements of Assessment
Five Critical Elements of Assessment

I recently did an inservice where I was helping teacher locate sites that they could use with their EPSON Interactive Projector. Their issue was that the school hadn’t paid the Smart Notebook licence subscription fee to use Smart Notebook with their Epson Projector. Therefore all of the Smart Notebooks they had created could n to be used. They were looking for other options… I created a Symbaloo of possibilities – but a caution here!! A teacher and her students really must plan for how the tool will fit in the outcomes. The learning MUST come first, the tools to support come second.

This brings me to some new thinking. For about the same cost of a mounted projector/smartboard combination or an Epson Interactive Projector one might consider a 40 inch HD TV, Media Streamer & 3–4 iPads minis. What’s the advantage? There are many actually:

  • The TV is almost a big as a small Smartboard and has better resolution
  • TV is very portable and doesn’t require mounting to a wall
  • Cheaper to repair or fix TV
  • 3–4 students can touch the iPads at the same time; double that if you work in collaborative pairs
  • iPads can be repurposed for many other activities
  • iPads can function as portable document cameras/ or simply as cameras/video cameras
  • All material from all iPads can be streamed to the TV at the same time and be recorded

These are only a few of the positive advantages for roughly the same costs. These are things that the Smartboard and Epson cannot do.

For those of you who are really stuck on using an app like Notebook there is Explain Everything Collaborative Whiteboard for iPad It provides real-time collaboration, allowing users to work simultaneously on the same project from multiple devices while using all the design, recording, and export features of the interactive whiteboard. This functionality, of course, comes at a subscription cost, but they seem reasonable.

Let’s wrap this up:

Bart Simpson Leveraging the Power of Smart Boards for no goodBart Simpson Leveraging the Power of Smart Boards for no good

Smartboards and similar devices may not be as smart as they use to be, and there are certainly better options available today, but I don’t think one needs to abandon ship just yet. That said, if you are ready to look at replacing an interactive projector, or a Smartboard it might be a good idea to explore some of the other options that exist and see how they fit into the current workflows, or current practices before making any final decisions.