[As Curriculum Librarian for Years 6-11] I was approached by the Head of Chemistry on 12 September 2018 to discuss new GCSE specification that current Year 9s will be the first to undertake. At a subsequent meeting:
We found out that the new AQA Chemistry specification has a requirement for pupils to explore how scientific developments are portrayed in the media. This is not an area that has formed part of chemistry courses at this level in the past and is therefore not something teachers have experience of.
We were asked for advice on where to find suitable examples of scientific reporting at an appropriate level for this age of pupil; and on how pupils might go about comparing what they had learned in class with what they were reading in news articles.
Over the next two weeks, this led to the development of two resources, one which would allow pupils to look at the facts being presented in a news article alongside the opinions about, interpretations of and predictions based on those facts. The other resource allowed them to draw conclusions about a topic by looking at the different facts being presented across articles; identifying the undisputed facts; and forming their own opinions based on what had been read. During the planning of these, it became clear that a tool for assessing the reliability of sources was needed, hence the development of a simplified CRAAP test resource aimed at this age of pupil. These resources were sent to the Head of Chemistry (24 September) along with a list of potential articles and ideas for carrying out a mini FOSIL-based inquiry into, “Does the media always give accurate factual information when reporting on climate change?”.
Further discussion as the teaching of this unit approached (06 February), revealed that the above articles may not have been along quite the right lines, as they were focussed on the reporting of what might happen as a result of climate change rather than how humans are having an effect on the climate, but the sources had provided articles of an appropriate level of complexity, and could therefore be explored again.
A face to face meeting with the Head of Chemistry (11 February) led to the plan to provide a limited range of articles (must read, should read, could read) for pupils to work through – both those which were reliable sources of information and those which were perhaps more questionable. An example site was chosen on which to demonstrate the CRAAP test to make sure pupils were aware of factors to consider and of the importance of peer review. It was also necessary to ensure pupils were provided with material in which a range of audiences was targeted.
All material was sent (26 February) for consideration at a Chemistry department meeting ahead of delivery – we waited to see what the reaction was…
A conversation with Head of Chemistry (14 March) revealed that the teaching of the unit was about to begin. Teachers were impressed with the material created and provided and were booking computer facilities to allow delivery of the topic. They said they would let us know when/if they were happy for us to pop in to see how the materials were working and how the inquiry was progressing. May well spill into next term as time might be too short this side of the holidays.
A Chemistry teacher emailed on 20 March to ask for help generating enthusiasm for CRAAP testing with her very tired Year 9s, with the end of term approaching. She said “I was wondering if there was any chance that you might be able to come in to meet them and give them a few more pointers about the process and why is it valuable to research information from many sources and to scrutinise where the information comes from.” Visit was scheduled for 27 Mar 2019.
One interesting feature of this inquiry was that, although we helped with the design and produced all the resources, the teachers were confident that they didn’t need our help with delivery so we hadn’t seen much of the results – we therefore jumped at this invitation to be involved. Because I designed the CRAAP Testing resources and because I had taught in the Science department in a previous role so knew the teacher concerned well, it was decided that I should deliver this intervention. With the inquiry essentially over and a very tired group of Year 9s to engage on the last Chemistry lesson of the term, I decided that a much more interactive approach to CRAAP testing was required.
The teacher told me she hadn’t yet shown them the sample Breitbart article for which we had produced a sample CRAAP test so I built a lesson around that. It’s a fabulous example – looks quite good on the surface, with a referenced ‘peer-reviewed’ study, but a quick skim around on the web quickly reveals that it is a highly misleading source (climatefeedback.org, snopes). I printed out A3 copies of the article for students to look at in pairs, and used a picture quiz as a starter where students needed to guess which objects were in highly zoomed in images. In my development of the CRAAP Testing resources, I was heavily influenced by a recent series of articles I had read by John Royce – Not Just CRAAP , which I would highly recommend. John points out that using traditional website evaluation techniques we often spend quite a long time on the site itself before looking beyond it – which is a waste of time if the site is deliberately setting out to mislead. I wanted to encourage students to look at the big picture first and then decide whether it was actually worth their time trying to understand what the site had to say. As they weren’t in a computer room for this lesson, I did need to step them through this a bit and show them what they would have found if they had done some wider searching.
After the starter activity I asked students in pairs or threes to highlight on their paper copies of the articles things that looked encouraging, things that rang alarm bells and things they would want to do some further searching to verify. I was quite startled that none of them felt the phrase “alarmist organizations like NASA, NOAA, and the UK Met Office” should be ringing any alarm bells for them! None of them had heard of Breitbart either.
Engagement was high, even though this was the last lesson of term, and after we had talked a bit about the article we did a CRAAP test together using their mini-whiteboards and they were reassuringly accurate. The teacher was very pleased with the intervention and felt the class came away much more engaged with the idea of verifying sources.