Caveat Lector: The Perils of Critical Thinking for Today’s Students
Posted: Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
by Kevin Raskoff and George I. Matsumoto
The world has changed remarkably for our students, with information more readily available, easier to find, and of increasingly poorer quality than at any time in history. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) topics are receiving more attention in the classroom and the new Next Generation Science Standards1 (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards2 (CC) focus on deeper understanding and application of concepts rather than memorization. Critical thinking and problem solving have been outlined as essential components of both NGSS and CC, and being able to demonstrate understanding by asking and answering questions is core to these new benchmarks.
In today’s fast-moving world of the internet and social media, the time spent in libraries researching material has disappeared except, perhaps, in the minds of educators. Textbooks are increasingly shifting to electronic versions and students are being flooded with information – but how do they learn to evaluate this information? Caveat lector is Latin for “let the reader beware.” Many students have learned to visit fact-checking websites like Snopes, Politifact, and Skeptical Science to learn if a rumor or story that they have read is based in fact. However, it is surprising to find how naive some students are in terms of believing what they read on the internet – especially given the finding that students (8-18 years) are spending enormous amounts of time with electronic media – averaging more than 7.5 hours a day3.
Despite this familiarity with media, students often are surprised to find that there are purposely disingenuous websites when they are asked to evaluate websites for veracity or bias4,5. Add to this the finding that more and more jobs, at all levels – not just science – require knowledge of STEM6,7. All of this points to a need to train students to critically evaluate what they are reading, to be able to find, identify, and understand primary literature, and realize that publicly edited resources, such as Wikipedia are not a valid primary reference (although they can be a good place to start for many STEM topics). In an electronic culture where gut feeling or “Truthiness8” reigns, what we need are students who will strive to question the sources of their information– especially for topics that are not clearly defined or understood, or are being “debated” due to some bias (political, economic, etc.). We would like students to be able to engage in a multi-step process to evaluate the merits of any information. Many similar recommendations can be found on academic websites worldwide9,10,11,12. Here is one proposed set of recommendations that can be easily modified by instructors at any level to fit the needs of their students.
The student should evaluate any source for:
Credibility– Who is providing the information, what are their credentials? Why should we believe them?
Bias– Is the information presented in a balanced way, or is there a strong point of view? Does the strong opinion presented match the evidence behind the claim? Identifying the biases inherent to any author or reader is crucial.
Audience– Who is the information written for? Is the goal to simply inform, or is it to sway, convince, or otherwise influence?
Accuracy– What is the valid (peer reviewed) evidence to support the information being given? Is it fringe or mainstream? Is the information cherry-picked and/or misrepresented?
Currency– Scientific understanding can change quickly, and references should be recent enough to present an accurate view of the current state of knowledge on a subject. A reference from 410AD might be adequate for a mathematics proof, but a six month old reference on climate change data may be too old.
Relevance– Does the source present information that is relevant to the topic? Does the source add to your understanding, or is it too peripheral to be of appropriate direct use?
An amusing and interactive training site for students that addresses many of these issues can be found at the Internet Detective13. Although primarily designed for college and university students, we encourage high school and even middle school students to try it out as well.
As educators in any field and at any level, helping our students become more accomplished critical thinkers should be at the forefront of our learning outcomes, whether explicitly stated or not. Our jobs in the classroom are getting harder in this endeavor as the sources and types of information streaming into our student’s heads is vast in quantity but of unknown quality. Whether trying to produce successful science students, or trying to produce successful citizens, our society’s need for a population that can critically evaluate sources of information has never been more urgent. As our state, country, and planet deal with increasingly challenging environmental, social, and economic issues, our best tool is a critically thinking mind. Starting in the formative primary grades and continuing through to the end of their university training, our students need to be trained in these important tools and they should be practiced often. The incredible flow of information in today’s age is a double-edged sword. The world is at our fingertips, often literally sitting in our pockets, but knowing how to process and filter that wondrous flow of information is a skillset all of us need to mindfully practice.
Kevin Raskoff is Department Chair for the Department of Biology at the Monterey Peninsula College; George I. Matsumoto is a Senior Education and Research Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. They were invited to write by CSTA member Valerie Joyner.
1Next Generation Science Standards (http://www.nextgenscience.org/next-generation-science-standards) (accessed January 3, 2015).
2California Department of Education. Common Core State Standards (http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/cc) (accessed January 3, 2015).
3Generation M2. Media in the lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. January 2010.
4Bradley, P. (2012) Fake websites or spoof websites. Examples of false sites to aid in evaluating internet resources (http://www.philb.com/fakesites.htm) accessed December 26, 2014
5Rao, A. (2012) 11 Hilarious Hoax Sites to Test Website Evaluation. (http://teachbytes.com/2012/11/01/test-website-evaluation-with-10-hilarious-hoax-sites) accessed December 26, 2014.
6Lacey, T.A., and Wright, B. (2009). Occupational employment projections to 2018. Monthly Labor Review, 132(11), 82-123. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2009/11/art5full.pdf
7National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Committee on Highly Successful Science Programs for K-12 Science Education. Board on Science Education and Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
8American Dialect Society. (2006). Truthiness Voted 2005 Word of the Year. (http://www.americandialect.org/truthiness_voted_2005_word_of_the_year) (accessed January 3, 2015) Truthiness- the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”
9Kennesaw State University. (2014). Evaluating Websites: Helpful tips for evaluating websites. (http://libguides.kennesaw.edu/evaluatingwebsites) (accessed January 3, 2015)
10Cornell University Library. (2014). Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools (https://olinuris.library.cornell.edu/ref/research/webeval.html)(accessed January 3, 2015)
11The University of Edinburgh. (2015). How to evaluate website content. (http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/library-museum-gallery/finding-resources/library-databases/databases-overview/evaluating-websites) (accessed January 3, 2015)
12Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Evaluating internet information. (http://www.lib.vt.edu/instruct/evaluate) (accessed January 5, 2015)
13Place, E., Kendall, M., Hiom, D., Booth, H., Ayres, P., Manuel, A., Smith, P. (2006) “Internet Detective: Wise up to the Web”, 3rd edition, Intute Virtual Training Suite, [online]. Available from: http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/detective/
Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
What follows are several opportunities for science teachers to work with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) on various projects that have direct or indirect implications for the implementation of NGSS in California. Please consider applying to one or more of the following opportunities.
CSET Field Testing Opportunities
Field testing opportunities for future CSET Multiple Subjects and Science tests are available beginning Dec. 5, 2016. Participants will have the choice between a $50 Barnes and Noble eGift Card or a $75 test fee voucher that may be applied to future test registration fees. For more information, including how to register to participate, please visit: http://www.pearsonvue.com/espilot/cset.asp. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.