Tag Archives: research

The MARS Challenge – Week 1

Two elementary classes embarked on a new challenge this week – design and build a school for people who will colonize MARS.  What will it look like?  How will you keep students safe?  What subjects will they learn?  What will be the same as school on Earth and what will be completely different?

Here’s the overview of the challenge:

This project introduces students to design thinking through the student-friendly LAUNCH process.  What we love about this process is it highlights the fact that students will make “Glorious Mistakes.” From those mistakes, they will adjust and learn, until they reach success.

So far, students have gone through the first 3 stages of the design thinking LAUNCH Cycle – Look, Listen, and Learn, Ask Lots of Questions, and Understand the Problem (Research).  Next they will Navigate Ideas with a brainstorming map and sketches of their proposed school.  Then they will Create the prototype of the school using basic materials such as cardboard, duct tape, and straws.  During that process, they will Highlight what is working and fix any problems with the design.

Above, students work with their LAUNCH teams to brainstorm questions and list them on large chart paper.  Teams then rotated among the other posters to learn from the other groups and make note of any questions they missed.  What did they come up with?

  • How will we breathe?
  • What is the terrain like on Mars?
  • What will we need to be able to withstand?
  • Is Mars hot or cold?
  • What technology will we use on Mars?
  • What subjects should we learn?
  • How will we get food?
  • And many more…

Students then researched and put together a notes document with answers and reference pictures to help them build their schools.

What did we observe as students worked?

Students were engaged and excited about the process.  They sometimes needed guidance to be sure all ideas were being heard in a group and that they didn’t get stuck on just one idea, but they were working mostly independently with basic guidance from the teachers.  Great research-based ideas were emerging, such as:

  • Maybe we should build part of our school underground to protect from the cold and dust storms on MARS.
  • We will have an astronomy course since we will be learning from a completely different perspective.
  • We could use a greenhouse to grow food.
  • There should definitely be a slushie machine  🙂

We look forward to seeing what the students build and will share more with you next week!


Fake News – Highlighting the Importance of Evaluating Information

How do you get your news?

Do you enjoy a cup of coffee over your morning paper?

Follow a few blogs and news sources that you check daily?

Click on links and posts on various social media sites?

The amount, quality, and way we consume information  has changed drastically in the last couple of decades. As a society, our willingness to pay for unbiased, high-quality journalism has waned, and free, flashy, clickbait-y news has gained prevalence – especially on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  With the way our feeds are curated, much of this news tends to confirm our own point of view (confirmation bias), which makes it more likely that we will believe it.  Beyond being biased, many of these articles are flat-out completely fabricated, and yet get shared, re-tweeted and referenced again and again.

Because of this, it is more important than ever to think critically about the news we consume and not take everything at face value.  As teachers (and especially librarians!) we have always known the importance of teaching students to critically evaluate information sources for accuracy and bias, but recent research suggests that students are not very good at doing this.

Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds

The article highlights a Stanford study that assessed students’ ability to assess information sources.  The results were described as “bleak.” Here are a couple of highlights, but the entire article is worth a read.

  • Most middle school students can’t tell native ads from articles.
  • Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them.
  • Many high school students couldn’t tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.
  • Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group.
  • Most Stanford students couldn’t identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.

What can we do?

We need to be deliberate about teaching students information and media literacy skills.  It needs to become second nature for us and our students to think critically about the information we consume – even more so when it fits in perfectly with our own narrative.

At the high school, many English classes have begun using the CRAAP test as a process to evaluate information.  This walks students through a process of determining:

  • Currency
  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Accuracy
  • Purpose

Some of the most crucial questions in relation to recent fake news articles include: Is the information supported by evidence? Where does the information come from? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?

These questions about information can be reinforced any time students are gathering information – whether for a formal research paper, a personal interest, in social studies, science, or any other discipline.  We teach students about reliable sources of information, including library databases, but the truth is that all of us curate our news from many sources – including social media – where fake news abounds.  Instead of shying away from those types of sources, we need to teach students how to also critically evaluate information that comes at them through social media.

At the younger levels, students can learn about advertising and how companies use techniques to persuade them to buy certain products.  When middle school students are researching, we need to explicitly teach about native advertising and how it deliberately is made to look like legitimate news articles.

The library media specialist in your building is a phenomenal resource for this (and is already teaching these skills when possible!).  Not sure where to start in your classroom?  Use her to find resources, lessons, and activities or partner with her on a mini-lesson during a research unit.

The article states that the solution “is to teach students to read like fact checkers.”  We teach them to think like historians or scientists, and while gathering information, they must also read like fact checkers.  Being an informed citizen is part of engaging in democracy and it is our responsibility as educators to help our students in that task.


Bookmarking Digital Resources

Information comes to us from so many different sources – online newspapers, social media sites, emailed from colleagues – how do you keep it all organized?  Online bookmarking tools can help you stay organized.  As you find articles and videos, you can tag them to easily find them later.

Here are two to consider.  Pocket is a fairly simple save and search system, while Diigo provides many more options for searching and collaboration.


Pocket allows you to save anything from the web into your account and tag it to easily find content later. It integrates with google Chrome so you can create and sign in to your Pocket account with your Google account.  It also has a Chrome extension, so saving an article is super easy.  When you find an article you’d like to save or read later, you click on the pocket icon and add the tags you’d like.  That’s it.  There are iOS and Android apps as well, so you can bookmark and access your bookmarks from any of your devices.


Diigo takes bookmarking to the next level.  In addition to tagging articles that are saved, users can highlight and annotate the pages they bookmark.  Make notes for yourself directly on a webpage as a reminder of how you plan to use that information or thoughts that come to mind as you read.  Each piece of information can be easily shared and there are collaboration features to share repositories of information with a group.

Diigo has a Chrome extension which allows you to save, annotate, and share information right from the browser bar.  Toolbars exist for Safari and Firefox as well.

A good tip when tagging is to include a tag by media type.  Did you come across a great video you might use to show cell division?  Tag it with biology, cell division, and video.  When you want to find it, you can combine tags in your search to find exactly what you were looking for.

The video below was created by a science teacher who uses Diigo to organize her teaching resources.  She is using Safari, but the Chrome extension will have the same features.  This can also be a powerful research tool for students to help them organize information or collaborate with others.