Today’s students have always known the internet. They have grown up in a world where much of the information we read each day comes from online sources. With this it’s important for them to learn how to evaluate websites and decide which ones are credible. For that – try the tree octopus!
Yes, yes – you’re probably thinking I’m ridiculously insane right now if you’ve never heard of this before. However, go do a quick search on the tree octopus. All sorts of sites show up! This phenomenon has been around long enough that sites show up with the word “hoax” prominently displayed. However, with a little ingenuity (or a class website) you can still set up a great lesson!
- Send your students to the site http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/
- Have them take notes about the tree octopus, and let them know they will be sharing these with the class. I recommend limiting the amount of time necessary for this. You don’t want one of them catching on to the fact this animal is fake, and you also don’t want to spend too much time on this lesson. After all, the point of the lesson is to teach them to EVALUATE websites – not honestly learn about the tree octopus.
- Have a class discussion about what they learned. In my experience, they are going to enthusiastically share what they have read because they find it so fascinating. Slowly start questioning them. Ask things like, “Have you ever heard anything like this before?” or “Do you think it’s too crazy to be true?”
- Hopefully at this point they are beginning to question what they read a bit. Guide them in the direction of realizing they should do more research. You should pull up a Google search that look something like this:
- Point out the words I’ve circled in red. Not that Google is perfect, but the students should realize that seeing multiple words like this should at least raise question marks in their head.
- How far you go with the discussion is your call. However, I always used this as an introductory lesson for research projects and internet use. I wanted students to realize that they had to put some critical thinking skills to use when using the internet.
The moral of this lesson that I always hoped my students understand is that just because they find something online does not mean it is true!
If you want to take this lesson even further, you can also try these sites: The Dog Island or Buy Tigers.
What do you think your students’ reactions to this lesson would be? How do you plan on using this in the classroom? Please let me know in the comments below!