I reading always good?

We view reading and literacy as a good thing, but is it always a good thing? Do not misunderstand me, learning, reading and literacy have historically been a good thing but something has changed in our society recently. Regardless of political affiliation, throughout this election cycle a very good point was raised in that fake news is running rampant in our society. As educators, we always advocate for things like learning and reading about the world around you, but what do we do when much of the information out there ranges from misleading to blatantly false? Of course books are generally exempt from this, but with the internet being the amazingly accessible resource that it is, this cannot be ignored. The effects can already be seen. A survey of news stories put out during this election cycle revealed that about 20 percent of the stories run by liberal leaning Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading and 38 percent of stories run by conservative Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading. You can see it in the ways that people justify the way that they voted as well, where they often use false news stories as a reason that they voted the way that they did. Heck, even last week there was a shooting (thankfully nobody was hurt) where the shooters motive was based around a conspiracy theory that was candidly false. These false source of information are real, and they have an effect, so can we really say that reading and literacy is always good now?  As educators, what do we do about this?

 

It is important to note that his is not a problem that is confined to the sphere of politics, though the motives for false sources of information can likely be linked to politics. As a scientist and future science educator, an issue that is dear to me, and should be dear to all of us is climate change, and more specifically the immediate threat it poses and the action we should take to combat it. With that being said, I cannot tell you the amount of false information I have heard put forward to dismiss this very real concern; which begs the question, where are they getting this overtly false information from? Clearly people are reading this somewhere, so is all reading good? This is a clear case of reading providing false information that is fueling a harmful narrative that climate change is not real. Before moving on to my final point, I would like to request that all of us do our part as educators to defeat this false narrative, and you don’t need to be a science teacher to do it. I haven’t thought about it too much, but I firmly believe that climate change can be implemented, at least in part, in all subjects. In history for example, you can talk about the industrial revolution and how it effected the world, and the increased carbon emission that resulted from it.

 

I’m sure that false information has always been out there, but now it is becoming mainstream. Another study has shown that 44 percent of people get their news from Facebook. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we stop advocating for learning, literacy, and reading; I would never say that, but we cannot simply ignore this very real problem. Which is why I turn to you all, what do we do next? How do we fight against this very real threat to literacy? What can we do? On a personal level I think we can all do more to support good journalism. Journalism is not free. Those who work in the industry have a very difficult job, they need to travel to get “the scoop”, and I think as a society we have lessened the value of the truth in favor of clickbait articles “You won’t believe what happens next”, “Ten things you didn’t know about…”  and cat videos. I recently reached out to an old friend and teammate who now works as a journalist. He told gave me a list of good, reliable publications such as, The New York Times, and USA Today, but ultimately he said that we should support local papers. In the end, I do not believe that there is any simple solution to this, in fact it seems impossible to eliminate false information entirely, but I think that as educators we can have a significant impact promoting things like good research practices, fact checking, and teaching about confirmation bias. Please let me know what you all think.

Teaching… OUTDOORS!

Teaching… Outdoors!

So this past summer I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in a program where prospective teachers would gain experience in classrooms in and around Dublin, Ireland. My placement was a little unique because it was one of very few secular schools in Ireland. Aside from being a secular school, the school I was placed at was unique from other schools in Ireland and even here in a few different ways; most notably, the school I was placed in had a student centered curriculum. This student centered curriculum was great! It was so refreshing to see student’s interests being taken into account, not only in the curriculum, but in how it was taught; teaching became more of a discussion and a collaborative effort between the teacher and student versus just having a teacher talk students for the day. One more interesting thing about this school was how they taught religion; students were taught all religions equally in school, which is different from how we approach cultural differences in the United States. Additionally, if students want to spend more time on any one religion in particular they were allowed to do so during after school programs.

There is one unique thing about the school I was placed at that I would like to expand on further and that is Forest School. Once a week, students would make their way out of the classroom and up a scenic hill (and that is being modest because it more closely resembled a mountain) where they would do activities and hands on learning for the day; they called this Forest School. Now don’t get me wrong, the field trips that we do here in the United States are great and provide some great learning experiences for our students, but what stuck out to me about Forest School is the frequency at which they get out and do this; once a week compared to maybe once a semester in some schools here in the United States. So you may be asking yourself “What do they do in Forest School?”.  During Forest school students do hands on building projects, reflecting and hypothesizing about things in nature, mentoring their younger peers, and playing and socializing with their classmates.

So all of this thinking about Forest School has me wondering; Can learning outdoors be beneficial for promoting literacy? Seeing the students out there, even though it was a regular occurrence, they were much more engaged and cooperative, so why not try and teach out there? Immediately I started thinking about my own content area of science and biology and the possibilities are endless. For example, I could have students do a mark and recapture experiment to estimate the population of a species, explain why leaves change colors with real life examples, try and identify rocks, or have students hypothesize about why certain trees or shorter than others. Thinking about this some more I came to the conclusion that you could use the outdoors for teaching just about anything, and maybe it was just the fresh open air that made the students more engaged, not the fact that the teaching was specific for the environment. For example, maybe one could teach basic addition and subtraction using rocks and leaves, or read poetry about nature in nature. The point I’m making is that I believe that using the outdoors occasionally may be beneficial to students learning by making that learning authentic and maybe exploring teaching outside of the classroom could be beneficial. Given my limited exposure to teaching in this environment, I am excited to get a chance to try it out.