March 22, 2013

Opening the lid: A tale of fleas and information literacy

Filed under: creativity,gifted,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:41 am

I saw a reference to this YouTube video about Training Fleas in a tweet, questioning the actual source of the information (thanks to Stephen Ransom, @ransomtech). The video itself bears no identifying information about the speaker.  Nor does the YouTube poster’s profile say much. There are no references to support the information presented as fact. It is not discussed on Snopes, either.jar

As a former teacher (and lifelong advocate) of gifted students, my antennae went up. Of course, I love the message of the video as an analogy about the plight of students held in a “jar.” That analogy has apparently been widely used among members of NAGC and  in various presentations on gifted. I also enjoy the irony that adults — even those who should be critical consumers — seem to accept this source.

My question: Could gifted kids (or any kids) do a better job of digging up the source(s) and validating or refuting the information? Unable to immediately toss the challenge to students of my own (since I no longer have any – sigh) , I emailed two colleagues who have gifted kids in class every day. (At least I could enjoy “watching” the results vicariously.)  The first round of results  from a HS group during a “club period” (with thanks and full credit to teacher PJ for sharing with me):

A great group of four kids who are incredibly creative thinkers, as well as being smart. They jumped in head first and had a great time with this, although in the 40 minutes they had to work on it, they didn’t find anything conclusive.

They researched:

Could fleas live in the jar for 3 days with no air and no food? What percentage of the fleas’ lifespan is 3 days, and how would spending those 3 days in the jar affect their ability to reproduce?

They looked critically at the video itself and wondered why they couldn’t see any flea eggs in the jar at the end? Or any dead fleas?

They did get distracted (as they often do) with trying to research whether fleas are subject to peer pressure, whether fleas have families or gender roles, and a number of other things…

It was great fun watching them churn through the possibilities and ideas for researching, but also very frustrating to watch how our District’s poor tech support (we could barely get the video to run because of buffering issues–and it’s only a minute long) and the fact that they kept bumping up against blocked websites.

So I share the lessons I learn as a teacher from PJ’s anecdotal observations:
  • A challenge based on “debunking” an issue of interest may be the best motivator for students to think critically and  collaborate to develop research strategies. It might be even better if it’s on YouTube?
  • Students can generate some really interesting questions very quickly.
  • Students do not look first for the “scholarly” issues, such as the credentials of the author, to support online information.
  • Students may get distracted, but the tangential questions they generate could be valid learning experiences in themselves.
  • Students will persist — at least for 40 minutes– despite the annoying roadblocks imposed by web filtering and bandwidth throttling (sigh).

What do I do next? I am thinking of pulling together some of the web sources that even we adults typically accept and offer them as fodder for students to debunk, thus building information literacy skills while possibly showing us, the “educator” adults, how gullible we are. Yes, loads of sites do this already, but I think mining YouTube could be especially fun.

Have any similar informational videos to nominate for student review/debunking? If you try this with your students. please post about it (and give me the link) or comment here to share!

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