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Research Tips & Library News from the Bishop England High School Library

How to Think Critically about Statistics

Oy, not another how to spot fake news article. Yup, afraid so. But — this one comes with a twist. It’s all about STATISTICS, which, it turns out, are even easier to fake than headlines. And more insidious because, more often than not, statistics are presented to be persuasive no matter what source they’re coming from, fake news or not.

So, does that mean don’t trust statistics? Well, yes … and no. At least, don’t trust the statistics as they are presented in the media. Statistics in the news or touted by politicians sometimes can be shown out of context, manipulated to present only one point of view, or taken from flawed research. The only way to determine the truth behind the statistics is to look at the original research. Ask the usual questions: who, what, when, how and why. Be specific. Did the research involve a representative sample? Who sponsored it? For what reason? When did it take place? How were the questions framed? Were the right questions asked? How was the data analyzed?

3 WAYS TO SPOT A BAD STATISTIC

In the TED Talk below, Mona Chalabi shows how easily statistics in polls can be misinterpreted and presents three questions we should ask ourselves when examining statistics reported in the news:

  1. Can you see uncertainty? Data visualizations create an illusion of certainty. In reality, polls cannot accurately predict the future.
  2. Can I see myself in the data? When research points to an “average,” it does not mean that will be your experience. In fact, it probably won’t be. By definition, there have to be numbers above and below the average, right?
  3. How was the data collected? This goes back to who, what, when, how, why. Without knowing the answers, we cannot know if the research is valid.

1 IN 3 AMERICANS WOULD MOVE TO AN ALIEN PLANET TO ESCAPE U.S. POLITICS
WHO, WHEN, WHY

Let’s apply our new-found critical thinking skills to this Huffington Post article: 1 In 3 Americans Would Move To An Alien Planet To Escape U.S. PoliticsRight off the bat, we see the only source noted is Survey Monkey, which is a tool, not an author. But, when we expand the survey data, we see that Huffington Post is in the URL (https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/NewPlanetspollresultsSheet1.pdf), so we can assume it created the survey, most likely for entertainment purposes. We also find a date: February 23, 2017.

HOW

Next, we probably can assume it’s an “opt in” survey, very likely posted on the HP site, which means the respondents probably are Huffington Post readers, inclined to take surveys, express political opinions, and interested in space travel, or a combination of all four factors. So, that tells us it’s not a very scientific survey and probably is not using a representative sample. We also see there is no margin of error noted, another indication that it’s not a scientific survey.

WHAT

Finally, if we compare the title of the article to the data, we see that it’s a little misleading. One in three sounds like a lot, right? It’s anchoring us to think a lot of people would rather leave Earth than deal with current politics. But the data reminds us that 71% would rather NOT leave Earth — quite a different story. We also see that only one question in the entire survey focuses on the political environment; the rest ask about space exploration and new planets.

Undoubtedly, this is a tongue-in-cheek for- entertainment-only survey, but it is in the news and most likely has been shared thousands of times. Indeed, a quick search on Google brings up a good number of hits. But by applying the who, what, when, how, why test, we’ve quickly eliminated it as a reliable source of information and can dismiss it as just some entertaining reading.

WHERE TO FIND MORE INFORMATION
BOOKS

A Field Guide to Lies by Daniel J. Levitin, 2016

The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman, 2012

Nonsense – Red Herrings, Straw Men, and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Every Day Language by Robert J. Gula, 2007

Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers, 2011

LINKS TO MORE WEBSITES

BEHS Library Research Skills

 

3 Digital Tools You Can Use Today

I imagine your to-do list of digital tools to check out is about as long as mine, which means it goes into that ever-shifting pile of I’ll get to it “someday.” Guess what? Today is someday. That’s right — thanks to an AASL list of Best Websites workshop by Heather Moorefield-Lang that I recently attended, I am sharing three digital tools that you can actually use today. Right now. So, here ya go…

RECITE.COM: CREATE SNAPPY MEMES FOR PRESENTATIONS & SOCIAL MEDIA

Literally 10 seconds. That’s all it takes to create an image with recite.com. Pick a quote, pick a background and you’re ready to download or post. Seriously, it probably will take you longer to figure out the quote than it will to create the meme.

POWTOON: MAKE YOUR OWN VIDEO OR SLIDESHOW IN MINUTES

With Powtoon, you can slap together a presentation in minutes using templates or you can jazz it up with your own style. You can add voiceovers, images, animated graphs and more. You can change the timing of the animations. You can change the music. Or you can just pick the templates, throw in some text and call it a day. The free version is limited but very usable. Here’s a PowYoon that I created in about 15 minutes. And it was the first time I used PowToon so that included the learning curve. Granted, it’s not the greatest video but … 15 minutes! You could learn it during lunch.

https://www.powtoon.com/c/bkojB1Y9gJp/1/m

PADLET:  CREATE A QUICK LIST OF RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS

Padlet is so easy, you’ll wonder why you’ve ignored it for so long. It’s the perfect online bulletin board. Just double-click to add text, links and videos. Drag and drop to add images. Share the link and you’re done. You have a small choice of themes and layouts, enough to mix it up but not so many that it becomes complicated.

I use Padlet for lots of different lists that I know I’ll want to change up now and then. Here’s one I did for NEW BOOKS in the B.E. Library. I made it in a few minutes (minus the time to write the summaries) and will be able to update it quickly, simply by dragging in a new image and adding a short summary.

Made with Padlet
 So there, you have it. Three web tools you can use today. Enjoy!

How to Combat Fake News and Other Scary Internet Perils

Fake news isn’t new. Neither are content farms, misleading websites, fake sites, filter bubbles and all sorts of other internet traps. Seriously, librarians have been telling you for years to evaluate internet sources. But did you listen? No you did not. Time for a really big, “I told you so.”  And maybe a little, “Are you gonna listen now?” (Whew, I don’t know about you but I feel better now.)

So here’s the scoop. One: Use good databases to research topics. Two: If you’re going to search the open web, evaluate the results before you decide to use them. Three: Listen to librarians. (Sorry, my fingers just typed that last sentence all by themselves.)

Here are two tools you can use to to evaluate sources, one from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and another that I’ve adapted from The Newseum and from Steve Inskeep, cohost of Morning Edition at NPR. (You should verify all those sources.) Feel free to download them and post them wherever you like to post helpful signs.

how-to-spot-fake-news_ifla

 

 
handout_fakenews

Cool Fiction / Non-Fiction Pairs

Fiction versus non-fiction. Who says you have to pick one or the other? Here are some wonderful fiction/non-fiction titles to pair up.

1039452_mYou’ve most likely heard of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, an award winning novel books-2-3-08-46-pmabout a ten-year old boy born with extreme facial abnormalities. But have you heard of Ugly by Robert Hoge? Australian Robert Hoge was born with a tennis-ball sized tumor in the middle of his face and short, twisted legs. He tells his story of dealing with rejection and bullying in a straight-forward manner, not asking for sympathy just asking for a witness. Both books offer a chance to discuss empathy, bullying and how we should treat each other.

books-9-26-57-amThe Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse is a suspenseful historical fiction books-3-08-46-pmnovel set in 1943 Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Hanneke and her family try to live quietly and endure the occupation but, as the mistreatment of Jews escalates, Hanneke slowly realizes that she must do more than watch. Russell Freedman’s We Will Not Be Silent tells the real-life history of Austrian-born Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie as they move from following Hitler to becoming active opponents through the White Rose student resistance movement. Both are inspiring stories of putting your life on the line to stand up for what is right.

54917_mIn Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans by Paul Volponi, a father and son books-3-3-08-46-pmare stuck at the Superdome for days after Hurricane Katrina devastates the city, learning about each other and about their own strengths. Pair the novel with Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown, which details the sad facts about Hurricane Katrina–more than 1,000 lives lost, 80% of the city under water, bureaucratic upheaval afterwards–in words and pictures.

MORE TITLES

For race and inequality issues, pair Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, a novel about two teenage friends and their high school being torn apart by racial profiling.

Science and fiction go together when you pair Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Allison Bland with Incubation by Laura DiSilverio, a fast-paced SciFi dystopian thriller that includes scientists fighting against a plague of locusts. Hey, it could happen…

And, for immigration issues, pair The Secret Side of Empty by Maria Andreu with Daily Life of the New Americans: Immigration Since 1965 by Christoph Strobel.

Want more ideas? Comment here or email me at library@behs.com.

 

Want Better Research Results? Use Databases.

For a while there, life was so easy — all the answers were at our fingertips, no worries, no uncertainty. A fountain of knowledge was ours for the taking and life was good.

fountaindryYeah, those days are gone. The fountain is dry and it’s time to face the facts. And you’re not going to find them with Google (or Bing or any other search engine) unless you’re searching really well, which — sorry to say — you most likely are not doing.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course I can answer questions with Google. The capitol of Russia: Moscow. The number of chromosomes in humans: 23 pairs or 46. Today’s weather: cloudy or maybe sunny. Sure, that stuff is easy. The problem arises when you try to google for answers to complex questions. How did Whitman influence American writing in the 20th century? Does racism impact the economy? How should countries combat terrorism? When you start googling complex topics like these, you can become victim to internet information traps like biased sourcesfilter bubbles, content marketing, deliberately false information and possibly even deliberate manipulation of search results. And if you handle search the way most people do by using only one search phrase then looking at only the first page of results, your sources are going to be pretty bad.

digitalcontentSo what’s a student to do? Why use databases, of course. The databases in the BEHS Library access reliable information sources, are easy to use and, as a bonus, provide citations. For academic research, they almost always are better than an internet search. Are they perfect? Of course not. Every source, whether from the open web or a database, should be evaluated before being used. Things to look at include:

  • Reliability;
  • Transparency;
  • Context;
  • Bias;
  • Type of media;
  • Sponsoring organizations; and more.

It’s not hard to evaluate sources, it just takes a willingness to search for answers behind the researchprocessanswers. So you search, you read, then you question what you read. Rubrics like “IMVAIN” (Independent, Multiple, Verified, Authoritative/Informed, Named) are handy, as is a bit of skepticism and taking the time to read past a headline.

Academic research is not supposed to be one-stop shopping — it’s a circuitous route with many stops for questions along the way. Play with keywords, use what you read to add different keywords, try google advanced search techniques, think a lot, bypass that one-stop google method and have fun! And when you have questions, ask the nearest librarian for help.

Additional Reading

Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning Executive Summary by the Stanford History Education Group, November 22, 2106

“The Native Frontier” by Sally Moat, Marketing News, May2015, Vol. 49 Issue 5, p34-43. 10p.

Top Reasons to Use Databases Pictogram by Joyce Valenza

“Popular on Amazon: Wildly misleading self-published books about Ebola, by random people without medical degrees” by Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2014

“Don’t Be Fooled: Use the SMELL Test To Separate Fact from Fiction Online” by John McManus, Media Shift, Feb. 7, 2013

 

P.S. This is a popular topic now. I keep finding more articles to add:

http://www.npr.org/2016/12/11/505154631/a-finders-guide-to-facts

 

9/11 Seems Like Yesterday to Us. To our Students, It’s History.

911books Our students were, at most, two years old when the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks happened. What feels like a vivid memory to most of us is just a story to them. Fortunately, we have excellent resources to teach students about the 9/11 attacks and the repercussions that we’re still experiencing fifteen years later.

BOOKS

othumb

DISCUS

  • Pick the database in the A-Z List that covers your interest: history, biography, opposing viewpoints, etc. then search on “9/11” or other keywords like “terrorism, September 11th, Al Qaeda, Iraq, etc.
  • Or make it super easy. Pick “Smart Search” and type in “9/11” then limit resmartsearchsults using the left column.
  • You’ll find all sorts of useful results: videos, magazine articles, books and topic overviews.

LEARN 360 & OTHER SOURCES

 

As always, please feel free to comment or add your favorite resources and sign up to get an email alert when a new Library Voice is posted.

Students Have Spring Fever? Try These Videos & Creative Tools

It’s probably a safe bet that your students are a little antsy now that Spring is here. Try these tools to shake things up a little.


CREATE

Want students to learn planning and critical thinking skills?

The CURIOSITY MACHINE is a not-for-profit organization that promotes hands-on engineering design. Pick from a variety of fun challenges — a no-wire circuit, small glider, edible skyscraper & more — covering a variety of skill levels and subjects. Each challenge comes with a video, suggested materials, planning and design tips and other ideas. You even have access to an online mentor. All for free!

curiositymachine

If you’d rather pick your own project, turn to ANIMOTO to help students easily create videos on any topic. App smash it with PHOTOS FOR CLASS (copyright-free images with attribution attached) and PICMONKEY (image editing and collages). If you combine it all with the BE Library site’s research and homework help links to find information, well then … life will be good.

Sample Animoto video using PicMonkey and Photos for Class.

And don’t forget STORYBOARD THAT, a fun, easy comic strip creator. I made the storyboard below in 10 minutes, including the free registration. Seriously. Okay, 15 – but that’s only because I kept changing the hair color.

 VIDEOS

Interesting videos combined with quizzes are a no-brainer, but they don’t have to be no-brainers. Aha — get it? Okay, moving on …

Learlearn360n360 offers short engaging videos to help spice up lessons. It’s free for South Carolina schools and offers a lot of variety. You’ll need a username and password; just ask me for it and you’re good to go.
teded
The TedEd Lessons site is an excellent choice for short video lessons plus quizzes and lesson plans. So nice, so easy to use. And you can filter by subject and grade level too.

NSTeens.org will help your students become more digitally literate through free videos, games and quizzes. Might just be a perfect fit for after AP exams are over and students are ready for something a bit different.

NOVALABS by PBS has games, interactives and videos on science topics ranging from cybersecurity to evolution. Each lab includes a video introduction, quizzes and links to more opportunities to learn: summer camps, internships, scholarships, career information and more. What a great resource!

MORE STUFF

A few more ideas…

KAHOOT! is a fun, easy way to poll students in real-time. You can create the quizzes or they can. It’s free and so easy to set up that you’ll be ready to go in minutes.

FLIPQUIZ lets you create Jeopardy-style quizzes. Great for exam review.

STOP DISASTERS is an online game that gives students a scenario, a budget and a time limit to stop the disaster.

iCIVICS is an online role-playing game. Students can either run for president or be a lawyer defending a client.

BOOKS. These are so cool. You’ve probably heard of them — they’re a fun, easy way to explore new worlds, both real & imagined; learn about people and places; and generally spend time pleasantly. All you do is read them! Like I said, so cool. You can find amazingly good books in the BE Library — send students here in small groups or reserve some time for your whole class to visit.

HISTORYPIN lets students add and view a collection of photos, video or audio to a browsable map. Students can browse the map to learn about history or create their own collection using their own media or archived photos that they’ve found.

historypin


What are your favorite turn-to devices when Spring Fever hits?

Books for Whatever Mood You’re In

Life is full of changes but one thing you always can count on is finding a good book for whatever is going on. Here are some book categories that you may not have thought about…

For when you want to be a brain:

Not literally, of course (although The Brain Book might help with that…), just books that help you learn a lot in a fun way.

brain

For when you’re in the mood for a movie but you don’t feel like watching one:

Books that should be made into movies some day — what a hard category to narrow down! Here are some random choices from a long list of possibilities…bookstomovies

Gideon’s Sword by Preston & Child — fast action, a likeable but flawed hero, and a lot of suspense.

Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen — fantasy with a strong female protagonist, plus twists and turns that keep coming at you.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby — a lovely coming-of-age mixture of magic, reality, fantasy, contemporary issues, and quirky characters.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple — a daughter uncovers the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and, in doing so, reveals more than she expected about her family life — funny, sad and happy too.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein — space ships, aliens, romance, suspense, politics, treachery — does it get any better?

For the presidential election season:

books on logic

Books that help you decipher candidate-speak.

You know how you listen to someone and think it doesn’t sound exactly right but you’re not sure why? These books will help you figure out where the logic is falling apart. They’ll also help you in a debate … just in case you’re a candidate yourself.

 

Find all these books and so much more in the BEHS Library!

 

 

Easy, Useful Research Sites

sitesThis is the post where I contradict myself and recommend websites for research.

Yes, databases are almost always your best bet for good research sources but there are some excellent websites that I use as go-to sources too.

Here are some of my favorites…

New York Times Topics – Current events, biographies, history, literature, science news, country data — you’ll find it all here in an easily browsable list of topics. Most include newspaper coverage, links to additional websites and articles, some primary sources and, often, video and images. Perfect place to start research on almost any subject.

BBC World History – Good source for world history, British literature, ancient history and biographies of world leaders. Just click on the tab for your topic to find excellent background information.

British Library – We do a lot of research on British authors here. If you want background information, this is a great place to start.

MedlinePlus – Need health information? Start here and avoid all the pseudo-science and junky sites on the open web.

Encyclopedia of Earth – If you need science information, use this online encyclopedia for background on environmental science, biology, chemistry, physics, health information, and much more.

homework help
BE Library Homework Help

BEHS Library Site – Of course, I have to recommend the BE Library! You’ll find links to all of the above sites either on the RESEARCH page or the HOMEWORK HELP page, plus some handy search engines and other resources too.

Obviously, there are many more good, specialized research sites — JSTOR has a nice Shakespeare site; FactCheck.org is great for political coverage; UH-Digital History supplies excellent overviews of U.S. history; the Perry-Castañeda Library (UT-Austin) has links to almost every map you’ll ever need — but where to stop? What are your favorite research sites?

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