Web literacy: Where the Common Core meets common sense


The second driving force is the Common Core State Standards. Most states will have to rethink their approach to teaching critical analysis of all kinds of information, as the standards require that students be able to:

  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism;
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research; and
  • Interpret mathematical results in the context of a situation and reflect on whether the results make sense, possibly improving the model if it has not served its purpose.

In the interest of preparing for the Common Core and common sense, we will demonstrate an example of a research problem and a solution strategy.

This example is guaranteed to grab your students’ attention and possibly elicit some gasps of astonishment. Visit Google and type in ear mouse. Then click on the “Images” tool in the left-hand margin and choose one of the photos that depicts a human ear growing out of the back of a lab mouse. Wait for the gasps. Now, challenge your students to use their research skills to determine how the ear ended up on the back of the mouse.

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To help your students focus, have them begin by reading two sources with varying accounts of the ear. One of these articles was published by a trusted news source, the BBC. The second was written by a global team of individuals on Wikipedia. In reading both articles, your students probably will find some inconsistencies rather quickly.

The BBC article opens with claims that a scientist was able to grow an ear on the back of a mouse. The Wikipedia article claims that cartilage was grown around an ear-shaped mold that was surgically implanted on the mouse’s back. Additionally, the BBC article explains that the scientist involved is a transplant surgeon named Dr. Jay Vacanti, while the Wikipedia article says that this scientist is an anesthesiologist named Dr. Charles Vacanti. Yet a third source from Australia explains, “In truth, the mouse was not genetically engineered, and the ‘ear’ had no human cells in it.”

When we challenge students and teachers alike in our critical thinking workshops to determine which version is the most accurate, the response is almost always to find another source. But which other source is the most reliable? If the mouse could talk, we would ask!

The next most logical source would be to find research labs where this kind of work is being done. It is essential to teach students to distinguish between a primary source such as a university lab and a secondary source such as an article in the BBC. In various articles, there are references to both the University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Let’s use an advanced feature of Google, the “Site” command, to limit our results to those two universities.

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