Fake News Friday Lesson Idea

Below is an idea for a brief four or five-minute lesson on fake news that teachers can consider using in their classes this Friday, right before the weekend when we “spring” our clocks one hour forward for Daylight Savings Time.

Somehow float the story that the president is issuing an executive order dictating that agencies of the United States government are no longer going to observe Daylight Savings Time and will not be moving their clocks forward this weekend.  Tell students that he just tweeted that he sees daylight savings as just another government regulation burdening American business – part of a liberal European agenda to tell people what time it is.  Speculate that you don’t know what the cell phone networks like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will do because it is their networks that send the time to people’s cell phones.  Google and Microsoft will have to decide to either listen to the president and update their systems or not.

You can back the story up by dropping in a few authentic references to show that you know what you are talking about.  Mention that White House lawyers have been ordered by the President to draft an Executive Order that mandates that agencies controlled by the President will no longer observe the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (which amended the Uniform Time Act of 1966).  This will change the office hours of the every federal government office in the country, including the Immigration & Naturalization Service and Veterans Affairs, etc.

You can tell them that fundamentalist groups are hailing this as a return to “God’s Time”.  (This has a shade of authenticity as well – God knows more about time than [the government] does.)

What about TV networks?  What about college and professional sports?  Will the entire NCAA Final Four tournament have to change their schedule?  And what’s going to happen to flights on Sunday when the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t move their clocks forward?

This story should sell itself, it has just enough fact and believability to take advantage of students’ slight knowledge (ie. the President tweets and is making lots of waves with summary judgments and announcements), ignorance (they don’t really follow current events), and naivete (they will believe anything their teacher tells them).  A little creativity in how you start the discussion and a dash of embellishment should get them going.

If the ruse launches well, the students should they start talking about it, throwing around their own insta-judgments, asking questions and making comments.  Let it stew for a bit, answer a few of their questions, speculate yourself, spice up the stew of their conversation to rile their interest.

Then tell them that they’ve just been played.

Explain how you have taken advantage of their slight knowledge, ignorance, and naivete to sell them a story that you just made up.  You’ve shown them how easy it is to do.  In the process, you’ve helped show them why our public discourse seems to be drowning in news stories, headlines, tweets, posts and updates that are a tangled mess of truth, half-truth and complete falsehood.

Tell students that asking questions, checking for sources, and thinking will help them untangle that mess.

If you are interested, TimeandDate offers a quick timeline summary of Daylight savings time. Shouldn’t take more than a minute or two to scroll it., it’s a super-quick read.  Snopes does this as well.

Time magazine offers a two-minute video. of the history of DST.

The Pedagogy of Video Game Tutorials

Who teaches more skills to children – teachers or the video game industry?

For those of us whose childhood game experience wasn’t much more complicated than the four blinking colors of Simon or the slowly creeping aliens of Space Invaders, the current childhood experience of video games is more than just alien, its inexplicable.  When I hear my four boys trading their gaming exploits like my friends used to talk about baseball, I can’t even follow what they are talking about.  Their games are vast, complex universes, overflowing with creatures and characters.  Each with its own layered narrative of challenges, embedded within the unique context unlimited by anything but the human imagination.  Which is by definition, unlimited.

Imagine a teacher designing lessons for 9th graders on the causes of the Civil War, and in the process having to teach close reading, synthesis of primary and secondary sources.  How should she approach that process if her students have to write a well-reasoned and organized essay that proves its thesis with adequate evidence?

Most of us wouldn’t have to think too long about that process before we find ourselves trapped in the world of traditional pedagogy, blending our own variations of plans and programs, or picking a flavor-of-the-month technique we saw at our last conference.  

Now imagine yourself in a back-office of the $40 billion a year behemoth of the video game industry, designing a series of tutorials and lessons that will not only introduce twelve year-olds to a vast, complex universe, but capture their interest in the narrative so well, that they commit themselves to hours of self-instruction to navigate their way through it.  

How are you going to tell them about the “laws of nature” in the world of the game?  How about the characters, their abilities, and their goals?  How about the inventory of “physical” objects in the game, what players have to get, how they keep track of it?  Not only do you have to teach your player-students the “soft” knowledge of the game’s world, but you also have to get them to master the “hard” skills of navigating the game’s countless screens, consoles, and button clicks.  

To keep the hypothetical in context, you have to also imagine that the company you work for already invested $30 million in game development and it’s success or failure rests on your shoulders alone.  By the way, you can’t really “teach” the lessons you design, you embed them in the game and walk away – they have to teach the players completely on their own. Your player-students must succeed in reaching the learning objectives without getting confused, bored or giving up.  They must be so enthralled with your teaching that they don’t even notice it because they’re so immersed in the game’s narrative. They have to leave your classroom triumphantly punching their fists in the air and begging their parents to buy your sequal. 

One last thing, the “school” you’re competing with, just sank $265 million into their “course”.  With a team of developers and an entire company-floor dedicated to player instruction and tutorial design, how can you expect to compete with them?

Well, that tired teacher trying to put together the Civil War lesson is competing with both of those companies and the entire video game industry at the same time.  Not to mention, facebook, YouTube, teenage angst and hormone infections.  Instead of overweighting her PD sessions with the edu-babble of our industry’s latest book-of-the-month, why don’t we show her how to break the shackles of traditional instruction and do it like the best in the business?

Do yourself a favor, and watch the 7 minutes of this tutorial development video. The professional development advice it provides to game developers designing player tutorials would serve teachers well.