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Teaching 4th Graders In An Age Of "Fake News"

Lee Hale
4th Grade teacher Audrey Brian hopes her students learn to be slightly skeptical when reading news online.

“Fake news” is now a household term. Online articles, often circulated through social media, can distort or completely ignore fact-based reporting. Which is exactly what some students at Lindon Elementary are learning.

Fourth grade teacher Audrey Brian is prepping her class of 26 for a unit on informational writing. And she's choosing a seemingly straightforward activity to start off with.


Mrs. Brian gives the students a link to pull up on the classroom computers. It’s an article about Christopher Columbus.


The students begin reading, "Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney, Australia…”


The catch is that most of the facts are wrong. Really wrong. And a few minutes into the activity Mrs. Brian starts to worry.


"There has only been one child that has noticed that there’s bogus information," Brian says. But just then a student approaches with a question about the dates.


Pretty soon all of the students switch from fact finding to fact checking. One student, Nicole Bliss, sums up what most of her classmates are realizing.


"Not everything on the internet is true," Bliss says.


As the lesson is coming to a close, Mrs. Brian is feeling pretty satisfied. 


“I’m proud of them," she says. "They don’t know much about Christopher Columbus as it is. But they could at least check the facts that they did know.”


Mrs. Brian says it’s not uncommon for her students to come to class asking about information they’ve heard which is clearly false. Especially during the past election.


While she knows it's often not up to them what news they hear, she’d still like them to be more discerning.


"It kind of makes me happy that they were mad about it," Brian says. "Like, yeah that shouldn’t be happening.”


For the next few weeks these students will be working on their own research in the form of podcasts. Brian says the format will encourage them to conduct interviews themselves and find primary sources.


Ultimately, avoiding the kind of copy and paste method that spreads fake news in the first place.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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