Thursday, May 21, 2015

Critically Evaluating Websites

I was working with a 5th grade class on a #mysteryskype to find a class in Delaware. The students already know to search Google for usable maps that show them counties, cities, and roads. They had done this many times before with success. In this particular case, though, they ran into trouble with maps that didn't match data. It made for some very interesting discussions between the students about what city they were trying to find and what questions to ask.

The two maps in question are shown below. The first one is from a real estate listing website and the second one is from a site about the history of Delmarva, a peninsula that includes part of Delaware.
from Weichert

from Delmarva History Online

During our reflection period of the Mystery Skype the students brought up the confusion these two maps caused. It was a perfect time to talk briefly about evaluating websites and the information we find on them. I mentioned that students needed to look at what the maps were trying to show and what the website that hosted them was trying to show.

This incident reminded me again how much we need to help students understand how to evaluate websites for their accuracy and any bias. Informational literacy is a skill we are constantly teaching our students, but are we teaching them how to evaluate their sources critically? I hear many teachers reject Wikipedia as a source, which I vehemently disagree with. But I don't see them teaching their students how to evaluate other websites.

I recently came across a blog post by Aditi Rao on her Teachbytes blog called 11 Hilarious Hoax Sites to Test Website Evaluation. In her post she lists the following sites that can be used to show students that not all information on the web is accurate. The dehydrated water site is my personal favorite.

  1. All About Explorers
  2. Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division
  3. California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge
  4. Feline Reactions to Bearded Men
  5. Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
  6. Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie
  7. British Stick Insect Foundation
  8. The Jackalope Conspiracy
  9. Buy Dehydrated Water
  10. Republic of Molossia
  11. Dog Island
Kathy Schrock has an awesome website chock full of resources to teach students this critical skill. Her page includes forms for teaching the process, forms students can fill out to evaluate a site, and links to additional sites that can be used to show not everything on the web is real. Check out her page at 

If you have other lessons or tips for teaching this concept to your students, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

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