Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hoaxes and History: Welcoming Students back with Fake News!


Clinton ordered the Benghazi attack.

Spider monkeys on Mars.

We live in an age of fake news and, as a recent study by the Stanford History Education Group found, students are ill-equipped to differentiate between legitimate sources and hogwash.  To begin our second semester of school, I introduced students to some fake news stories from late 2016 and had them test their ability to sort the wheat from the chaff.

I rely heavily on primary sources in my 7th grade American history course and frame the study of history as detective work.  For example, we began first semester with an activity requiring students to sift through primary source clues left at a crime scene (complete with caution tape, evidence bags, and scene lighting) and determine how they all fit together.  This was a great way to see how students interacted with primary sources and each other, as well as showing me student strengths not revealed through standardized testing.

I wanted students to practice applying the skills they've developed for analyzing primary sources to modern news.

Click here for a PDF of the lesson plan

The basic lesson structure is from "The Lowdown" blog.  I added captions to images pulled from Snopes and made questions for each one.  After students reviewed the pictures to determine whether it was real or a hoax, we discussed as a class and I revealed the story behind each one (to great celebration and dismay).

I added an additional component to the lesson for my honors students in History Lab! that involved a fake news story posted by Mount Vernon.  I also asked students to compare Disney's Pocahontas to historical fact and determine the motivations behind her transformation.

Click here for a PDF of the honors lesson plan

All in all, this was a fun way to kick off the new semester and to teach an increasingly valuable lesson on the importance of flexing those thinking muscles.


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