Sunday, April 29, 2012

Web Hoaxes

I taught a lesson not too long ago about reliability of sources.

The web is good for this because there is so much that is unreliable.

Take this for example:

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus?  Really?  I had students who were ready to believe this.

I also showed this one:

If you click the other tabs, you'll see the modified photo of a pregnant man.  That usually gets them, even if they accept the notion of a rat with human intelligence.

If they still think the mouse and the man are legitimate, you can google the name of the supposed hospital, and you get articles about the author, including the following from The Daily Scotsman:
Yes, the whole thing – as you will know already if you followed the story at the time – is an elaborate “installation” by the artist Virgil Wong. According to the biography on Wong’s own website,, he is head of web design and development for New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College, which would explain both his knowledge of medical jargon and the painstakingly professional sheen of the Dwayne Medical Center website. He is also an artist and film-maker whose various projects “all revolve around his interests in medicine, technology and the human body”.

I tried googling this in front of the students, where the students could see the computer screen projected.  The results are not entirely clear.  Consider, for example, the article in USA Today about this:

Dwayne Medical Center is listed first as a "hot site."  Is it true?  You can't really tell from this page.  In fact, I'm not sure if the writers at USA Today realized it was a hoax. is a good place to go from here - a website that helps you evaluate good (or bad) hoaxes and urban legends.  There are some good examples of phishing scams there.

The focus, of course, is on developing strategies to verify and cross-check what you read on the Internet.  It also segues nicely into persuasive writing and research.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Twitter in the Classroom?

So, I signed up for Twitter a few months ago, and I've become a big fan.  To my surprise, I was also given a school account by my district.  I was at a loss for how to use it at first, but then I thought about the hashtag concept.

If you aren't familiar, the "hashtag" is a way of making your "tweets" - the things you post on Twitter - instantly searchable.  If you tweet something with a hashtag that others are using, people can watch the feed for a specific hashtag, and they will see your contribution pop up as part of a conversation.  For example, a recent hashtag was #5words.  People tweeted a five-word phrase that they considered important or enlightening, and then tagged it.  Then everyone else could search for that hashtag, and follow the tweets as they came out.

So, it occurred to me, why not create a hashtag and use that to have an ongoing, synchronous conversation with another classroom?  I posted something about this on the English Companion Ning, and I had two or three responses almost instantly.  That was cool, but I had no idea what to do about that.  Now that I have the Twitter account, I don't know that I have the time to insert a text or unit that we can collaborate on with another classroom.  (As is usually the case, at this point in the year, I'm dumping cool ideas that I've been putting off, and trying to jam as many cool ideas and new ideas for next year into the classroom as I can before school is over.  Between the required stuff and the stuff I want, I don't have much room left.)

So, since that didn't work, I just started actually using it.  I felt like I had waited too long, and tried too many different propositions, and ended up wasting time.  So, I just started tweeting "cool sentences" on my school Twitter account.  Students volunteered these sentences, and I tweeted them.  I recently tried the #5words hashtag (though I didn't use the actual tag because I didn't want too much unwanted attention drawn to the school account), and that worked really well.

So, with five weeks left of school, I'm thinking about other ways to use this.

I think the goal for the next several weeks is going to be just tweeting as much student work as I can.  It should be - or it seems like it would best serve as - a student publication tool, of very short student texts.  So, I'm going to publish anything and everything that I can, without breaking district rules.

I would love to hear other ideas, if anyone has suggestions.

Friday, April 20, 2012

April is the cruelest month . . .

So I started something on Twitter that represents a kind of mental fungus that I've been dealing with for several years.  It seems like a lot of bad stuff happens in April.  Perhaps we can blame Eliot's The Waste Land for starting the idea, perhaps not.

Anyway, here is the beginning of a list of things (mostly bad) that happened in April.

April 1st
- Beer Hall Putsch (Hitler's first power grab)
- Marvin Gaye shot and killed by his own father

April 2nd
- Pope John Paul II dies
- Argentina invades the Falkland islands

April 3rd
- Bruno Hauptmann is executed for kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby
- the Unabomber is arrested

April 4th
- Assassination of Martin Luther King
- Second Battle of the Somme

April 5th
- Rosenbergs sentenced to death for spying
- Kurt Cobain commits suicide

April 6th
- US Declares war on Germany and enters WWI
- Oscar Wilde arrested
- Black Hawk War begins

April 7th
- Rwandan civil war begins

April 9th
- Civil War ends at Appomattox

April 10th
- Zapata is assassinated in Mexico
- Bataan Death March begins

April 11th
- Napoleon exiled to Elba
- Idi Amin is overthrown
- US troops liberate Buchenwald concentration camp

April 12th
- Civil War begins
- Franklin Roosevelt dies
- Galileo is convicted of heresy

April 13th
- Amritsar Massacre
- Apollo 13 oxygen tank explodes

April 14th
- Lincoln is shot
- Titanic hits iceberg
- US bombs Libya
- Soviets announce withdrawal from Afghanistan
- Major Dust Bowl storm strikes

April 15th
- Pol Pot dies
- Sacco and Vanzetti receive national press

April 16th
- Virginia Tech massacre
- Lenin returns from exile to Russia

April 17th
- Bay of Pigs invasion
- Ben Franklin dies
- Khmer Rouge seize power in Cambodia

April 18th
- Great San Francisco Earthquake
- Bombing of US Embassy in Beirut

April 19th
- Warsaw Uprising
- David Kuresh and the Branch Davidian compound burns
- Oklahoma City bombing
- Lord Byron's untimely death in Greece

April 20th
- Columbine High School massacre
- Ludlow massacre of striking workers

April 21st
- Battle of San Jacinto

April 22nd
- Germans are first to use poison gas
- Pat Tillman killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan

April 23rd
- Easter Rebellion
- Failed hostage rescue mission in Iran

April 25th
- Invasion of Gallipoli begins

April 26th
- Chernobyl nuclear disaster

April 27th
- Afghan president is overthrown and murdered
- First multiracial elections held in South Africa

April 28th
- Mussolini executed
- Mutiny on the HMS Bounty

April 29th
- Rodney King trial verdict announced leading to riots in LA

April 30th
- Hitler commits suicide
- Monica Seles stabbed
- South Vietnam surrenders

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Ah, research.  How the months have passed already.

I think that's the problem.  Other things happened, and now I'm rushing to finish teaching research methods and still have time for students to synthesize something from the research.

From this point, I'm starting to think about next year already, and planning how to start teaching research sooner.  Like most schools, sometimes there's a crush of teachers and students vying for computer lab time, and plans have to be modified.

I think the lesson here, for me, is that research is something that needs to be separated from computers, at least in part.  Too often research is seen as solely the province of computers, as if it can only be done with the aid of a computer.  Of course that's not true, since it was occurring long before we had these tools.  It does seem a bit cumbersome, though, to a generation of young people who conduct computer-based "research" so often, for so many things, on such a wide range of scales and projects.

Adding another layer to this shifting concept of "research," it seems, takes a little more careful planning and adapting than I had thought.