Sorting Sources from Reliable to Rubbish

November 3, 2012 at 8:12 AM Leave a comment

Sigh, the perennial problem of how to get kids to discriminate between reliable sources on the internet, and rubbish. I’m tired of laborious, exhaustive check lists for them to chunk through even if they satisfy my secret librarian’s instinct for rigor.

So I tried something suggested by Lynn Barakos of Lawrence Hall of Science – have them sort sources as cards at their desk, from reliable to rubbish.

Instead of downloading bogus websites like the tree octopus and dihydronium oxide, I went with a search term we are about to use on Google: Helmet safety. Printed out a few of the first pages of websites that came up – included great (Mayo Clinic, Dept of Transportation). Included an excellent print source – Scientific American. Not sure where Wikipedia fits these days, but getting better and better, especially when statements are backed up by peer-reviewed academic articles. Then some more biased or questionable sources – a blog and a commercial site. Also an ABC news article on an ‘invisible helmet’ (turns out to be surprising but real – a personal head air bag, for $600+ to save you from helmet head. Will get one when teaching turns into the gold-mine I was hoping for).

6 sources – 1st page printed from Google search ‘helmet design’


The point of using a real search and the actual websites is to make the difficult distinctions between great and not-so-great sources more real and relevant. It’s a judgement call, with peer-reviewed stuff being the gold standard. Academic articles are too difficult for my 8th graders so I’ll be guiding them toward articles that at least REFERENCE peer-reviewed articles. But with a lighter, more interactive touch than usual.

Group leaders share and defend their ‘most reliable’ sources





Card sorts get them talking and allow me to quickly see where they are coming from – an informal assessment that’s fun for me too. The stuff you hear/overhear…. 🙂

The wrap-up showed that many groups know, at least theoretically which are good sources. The gold standard point – academic peer-reviewed articles – could be easily driven home, keying off what they sort of knew.

If you’d like to try this yourself, here’s the student sheet. You’ll have to do your own web search and print out the pages appropriate to your upcoming topics.

It’s not ‘the answer’ – when I get their research in, many are still taking the top three links from the Google search. But it’s better this year than last. There is a gradual upward trend toward internet literacy, coming from across the school system, thank goodness. But it remains, one of the most resisted pieces of learning for us all – cool, fun and convenient trumping careful, objective and logical. In the midst of the election fact-check scandals, information literacy is one of the most important skills for the future of America. I’m actually serious.

Entry filed under: Critical Thinking, Egg Head Helmet Force & Motion Project, Physics Topics, Research Skills. Tags: , , , , , , .

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