Save the tree octopus!

Can students use technology to learn new things if they lack a base of knowledge? Core Knowledge Blog asks readers to consider 21st century skills and the Tree Octopus Problem.

Seventh graders used a set of guidelines — a rubric on the 21st Century Skills map — to evaluate the validity of web sites, such as one on the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

The rubric also tells us we are research pros if we “look for copyright information or ‘last updated’ information” in the source. Very well: The tree octopus site was created in 1998 and updated within the last two months, so it must be a current source of tree octopus information. We are also research pros if we ”look for the authority behind the information on a website because I know if affects the accuracy of the information found there.” Merely looking for the authority tells us nothing about its value, but let’s dig deeper. The authority behind the site is the “Kelvinic University branch of the Wild Haggis Conservation Society.” Sounds credible. It is, after all, a university, and one only has to go the extra mile to be a Level 4, or “Totally Rad Researcher.” The Tree Octopus site even carries an endorsement from Greenpeas.org, and I’ve heard of them (haven’t I?) and links to the scientific-sounding ”Cephalopod News.”

Students won’t get the hoax unless they “actually know something about cephalopods — such as the fact that they are marine invertebrates that would have a tough time surviving or even maintaining their shape out of the water,” writes Robert Pondiscio.  Knowing that the haggis is not a wild animal might be a clue too..

All 25 students who used the rubric said the tree octopus site was credible. Told it was false, they couldn’t figure out why.

Some of the students still insisted vehemently that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus really exists.

Do kids need better online searching skills — or more background knowledge?

The web site for Kelvinic University (Thermodynamic Education for the Mind) is a hoot. Anyone who’s ever seen a college web site would know it’s fake, even without the Department of Turkmenistic Folklore. There’s not a single photo of three students (one black male, one Asian or Hispanic female, one white male or female) walking across a greensward past leafy trees and lofted Frisbees.