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The demands on students in the 21st century are higher than ever. When I was a student (not all that long ago), the task set before me in school was to become literate; ie. be able to read and write. I would then perhaps go home, play with some friends outside, eat supper, do some homework, and that would perhaps be it. One task at a time. How the world has changed…

The advent of social media and smart technologies that either fit in our pocket or are now becoming wearable accessories has connected us to each other and information at all moments of the day. Kids may still go to their friends house to play or hang out, but they are also connected with entire communities at all times. We are all instantly aware of significant events happening anywhere in the world, or why Sally broke up with Timothy. Not being connected to the world is not really an option anymore, but this constant influx of news and information can be overwhelming, particularly for our youth who are not likely to have the skills to process this type of media.

So while I was asked to be literate, we are asking our kids to be literate, computer literate, now media literate, and there’s likely a lot more literacies to come that we can’t even foresee yet!

Being media literate is important so that we can control what we take in and it’s affect on us, as opposed to the media having the control over us. It reminds me of a quote from Star Trek where Spock’s father says to him something along the lines of, “you need to control your emotions so that they do not control you” (any chance to throw in some science or nerd culture and you can better believe I’m taking it!).
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The first two chapters of W. James Potter’s book Media Literacy highlights the importance of teaching kids how to process the abundance of media they are exposed to so that they become media literate. One of the characteristics of being media literate is developing a skill set that I am always trying to incorporate into my own classroom practice as a science teacher when I work on developing my student’s ‘scientific literacy’ which is the ability to critically analyze, make evaluations, and use inductive and deductive reasoning. The following video is a brief Ted Talk regarding teaching these skills to students to improve their media literacy.

These skills are not only crucial to teach our students, I would argue they are essential, mandatory, and urgent! Our generation had the luxury of developing these important skills at a less urgent rate as we were not exposed to this quantity of information, nor were the platforms available to allow everyone with internet access an international stage and platform. Back in our day (now I feel old), the information that reached us had already been screened and filtered much more so than now. The onus is on each individual to be competent and thoughtful of each message and idea they receive. That’s a lot to ask of a young kid, but if we do not help these individuals handle this information, these kids will be at the mercy of the media…and that is a scary thought.

I will be explicitly teaching my health science class this semester how to critically analyze claims made regarding human health (diets, miracle weight loss pills, etc.). They will then have to find claims made in the media and analyze and evaluate these claims. Critical thinking is particularly important in science, but is clearly important in all subjects. What activities and lessons do you use in your own subjects to build up this skill set in your students?

Live long and prosper