South Orangetown Central School District

Distinguishing between fact and “fake news” can be a real challenge, even for digital natives. At South Orangetown Middle School, Library Media Specialist Kimberlee Landgraff trains students in the Research and Debate Explore class to sharpen their critical thinking skills so that they can be more discerning digital citizens.

Today, students engaged in a rigorous debate, as part of a small group lesson. “Each team has a student who is a cybercitzenship expert responsible for teaching their teammates to assess the credibility of research,” said Landgraff. “Students must look at relevancy, authority, details, currency, appropriateness and bias (using the acronym “RADCAB”) to evaluate whether or not a resource or piece of information is reliable. They also learn to look for multiple references on topics and must cite those sources when they deliver their debate. Reliability supports a more persuasive argument overall.”

“The most reliable information comes from websites that end in .gov or .edu because they are connected to government, scientific research or universities,” said seventh-grader Kaitlynn B. “Anything from a wiki site is not as credible as it can be changed by anyone, including an unreliable source. It may be more opinion than fact.”

Since students report that they rely on social media for news, Landgraff developed a “Meme Madness” exercise to help them recognize and avoid spreading misinformation on social media platforms. Students were presented with memes (images or videos intended to be funny) loaded with inaccurate information for their immediate reaction, then guided on a deep dive to fact-check their visual and written content.

Seventh-grader Julia S. investigates information first-hand to verify its authenticity. “Otherwise, it’s just rumor and to include this in your debate would just perpetuate the fake news.”

These are important, real world skills. “Students should realize no matter where they get their news, they need to trust the source,” Landgraff added. “The goal is to translate what they learn here to day-to-day life.”

Students sitting around table with teacher in library.