Danger on the Internet: A Lesson in Critical Thinking

By Brent Vasicek on February 9, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Arguments on Jerry Springer, cat fights on Jersey Shore, WWE wrestling — the line between reality and manufactured entertainment is forever being blurred. My momma always said, Don't believe everything you read. Don't believe everything you see. These phrases are more true today than ever before. With all the recent technological advancements, it is increasingly difficult to tell the real from the fake. We must arm our students with critical-thinking skills so they can separate the fact from the fiction and use the Internet safely.

Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono.

 

So how do we do that? It is a constant battle. Below are my favorite critical-thinking/Internet safety lessons to do with my 5th grade students.

LESSON ONE:  Banning DHMO

  • I ask the students, "What would you do if a substance that caused thousands of deaths each year was found in your neighborhood?" I pause as they debate their favorite solutions to the problem.
  • "What if it was found in your home?" I pause again as the emotions are cranked up a notch. Water Image 2
  • I then ask them to go to this Web site that discusses banning dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) (aka water). I read some of it to them. I let them read and share facts with each other. The facts are true, but they don't realize that this one-sided story is manipulating them.
  • "What if I told you this substance was found in our school today?" 
  • I then send them to this more professional looking DHMO Web site to gain credibility.
  • "What if I told you that our principal purposely has this substance pumped into our classroom?"
  • We visit one last DHMO Web site.
  • I pop open a water bottle and drink it. I lick my lips and say, "Ahhhh, this is good stuff. Why would you ever want to ban it?"
  • We discuss how we were fooled into banning water (facts, data, professional looking Web sites, multiple sources).  We discuss phrases like "two sides to every story." We discuss the importance of using our brains. And the dangers of the Internet.

 Photo courtesy of Idea Go.



LESSON TWO: Save the Tree Octopus

A few weeks later I want to see if they really understood the DHMO lesson. I authentically talk about the Core Democratic Value of the Common Good. I suggest we raise money for a good cause.

  • Later that day in the computer lab I propose the cause of the endangered tree octopus.
  • On Google they type in "tree octopus" and this Web site is (or should be) the first one. It looks real enough. It even sells products! It must be real!
  • Some students go down that path of manipulation. A few students are wise and watch their friends forget everything they learned a few weeks before.
  • Again, we debrief just as we did in the previous lesson.



LESSON THREE:  Follow Up

As a follow up, each April Fool's Day, Google creates some sort of hoax. Some of them are worth presenting to the students and some are not. If the annual hoax is not quality, I let the students investigate the validity of other hoaxes at www.snopes.com.

What fun ways do you get your students to realize they need to THINK?

2I2 Trademark 2010 Vasicek Think twice. Act once,

Brent

www.mrvasicek.com

2i2 is a trademark for Mr. Vasicek's classroom that means do your best and live with integrity every day.

 

Comments

Oh my gosh, what a great way to teach a lesson and get their minds fired up. It is so very important to have the students understand the importance of being a critical thinker. Mom's saying has never been more important in this technological age.

This is a teriffic article. I am running our spring celebration which is Tech Week, and I'll be using some of these things during the week. Thanks for sharing! Jeanine

You are very welcome! ~Brent

Brent,

Great activity on banning DHMO! The websites - especially the second - were pretty convincing. Even the URL was good! Great idea for middle school students.

Can I drink my water now? lol

Brian~ Thank you. :) ~Brent

I love these ideas. I teach fourth grade, and when I return from maternity leave, I will suggest these activities to my grade level colleagues. Our students really do believe everything they see on the internet just because it is there. Awesome ideas!

Laura~ Thank you for the comments. It is important that we arm our students with this knowledge early! Thanks for helping to promote critical thinking!

~Brent

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