Dare to Care

create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically

by Denise Krebs

Let’s All Be Critics

A decade later: It's just gotten worse.

A decade later: It’s just gotten worse.

Almost a decade ago, when Twitter and Facebook were still toddlers, most of us shared stories not by posting links, but by sending a link, story or image in an email. Many of us remember those days. The subject line would read FWD:FWD:FWD: YOU GOT TO READ THIS!!!!! or some such title.

One day I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper because sometimes one just has to do something when it is impossible to stomach reading another bogus email. The text is written below (and in the image above):

It would not be a compliment to be called critical. Who wants to be a critic? I like being nice, and I like being around nice people. However, today, I would like to take my turn and ask everyone to be more critical…critical in reading, I mean.

I admit, I read some forwarded e-mails, oftentimes with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I’ve decided most are originated for one of two purposes: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda, or to cruelly experiment on society.

I imagine someone sitting, pondering, “Can I compose the perfectly misleading e-mail…? Something outrageous but credible enough so people will forward it?”

If we believed all the e-mails over the years, we’d be waiting for $10,000 from Bill Gates, printing $50 gift certificates from Applebee’s, and watching for other unexpected windfalls. Don’t you just want to shout, “C’mon, read critically before you forward those emails!”?

According to one e-mail, during Clinton’s presidency there were twice as many military deaths as there were during George W. Bush’s.

Twice as many?  I was curious, so I clicked the link citing a Congressional Research Service document. There it was—the supposed “source” of the e-mail—but rather than respecting each brave soldier who died for our country, the casualty numbers for each were blatantly altered, manipulating them to mislead.

We have been at war in Iraq for five years, so not surprisingly there are more military deaths in this president’s term than the previous. Clearly someone lied to fake some political point, trusting that at least some gullible person would not read the source critically.

If my students did research like this, they would fail.

How about those touching stories we read and pass on?

I believe we need to read these critically, as well.

An old, but still-circulating, story tells of an Olympic diver, practicing in the dark because the full moon shining through the glass ceiling afforded him enough light to do that.

In taking his stance on the high dive, his eye caught the moonlit shadow his arms made on the wall. It looked like Jesus on the cross. He knelt and, after years of atheism, gave his life to Christ. Just then an attendant came in and turned on the lights, and the diver saw that he had been preparing to dive into an empty pool.

Is it true? I need only to read it critically to answer, “No.” What kind of Olympic diver would dive into a darkened pool? And how could that diver overlook the fact that the moonlight reflection was missing on the water below?

Is there truth in the story? Perhaps, but I fear the real truth that “Jesus saves in miraculous ways” is lost when we use manufactured stories in an attempt to convey that truth.

As a teacher, my constant prayer is that I help my students read critically, so I need to model critical reading.

One way I do this is by discontinuing the haphazard spread of illegitimate e-mails.

When I receive an e-mail that I suspect spreads untruth, I read it critically, having found the website Snopes.com to be a helpful resource. If the real facts differ from those purported, I share this with the person who forwarded the e-mail. If the e-mail turns out to be true and helpful, on occasion, I forward it on to people who would benefit, using with a link to Snopes and a personal note.

I just wanted to challenge us all to be more critical…in the best sense of the word.

Now, I still believe everything I wrote almost a decade ago, but things have gotten more complicated, haven’t they? Social media has amplified the crazy “share” mentality a thousandfold.  (Snopes is still an awesome source, and they are busier than ever!)

I teach fifth graders now, and we work hard on reading comprehension strategies including questioning and clarifying. Why, when it comes to social media, do some seemingly-educated people lose their way?

This week we have heard more troubling news. In light of the fake news that permeated this election dayFacebook and Google are being called on to censor fake news on their sites, to eliminate ad revenue that these viral stories generate.

Hmmm…Interesting. Do we need Facebook, Google and others to determine what’s fake and not fake? Are we willing to admit defeat when it comes to critical thinking and let a corporation do it all for us? Or should we not take responsibility for reading news with a grain of salt?

Stephen Colbert shares some of the outrageous stories that were shared on and around election day.

Today, it seems there is another motive for creating crazy fake news–people are getting rich. Do we need to have Google and Facebook stop them?

For those readers who make the stories go viral, those people who share without reading critically, why do they do it? Eight years ago I thought there were two possibilities for originating fake stories: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda or to cruelly experiment on society. I guess the same is true for those “share”-happy clickers who fail to check the sources.

Critical thinking, critical reading, critical viewing, critical listening, critical voting. America, we need critics more than ever. Now, please.

If we’re not willing to think critically, maybe we deserve what we’re getting.

What do you think? Do we need social media outlets to police fake news? What responsibility do social media readers have?


Updated with more resources on this topic:

  1. “Bernie Sanders Could Replace Donald Trump With Little-Known Loophole” on Huffington Post
  2. “Students Need Our Help Detecting Fake News” from MiddleWeb.
  3. “Most Students Can’t Tell the Difference Between Real News and Sponsored Content”  on The Verge
  4. Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world ” by Joyce Valenza at NeverEndingSearch
  5. Others? Let me know in the comments!

by Denise Krebs
Comments Off on In Support of the Word Wall

In Support of the Word Wall

I moved to second grade this year to a room chock-full of English language learners.

I’ve had a word wall for many years–in grades Kindergarten through 8. This is the first year, however, that I’ve received such positive feedback about the word wall.  For instance, here are two things that happened within a week.

I received this valentine from one thankful student who takes pride in spelling high frequency words correctly.

Then this morning before school, I had to rearrange a few words because of maintenance work done over the weekend.

Word Wall: Friend of English Language Learners

Word Wall: Friend of English Language Learners                Photo by Fatima Hu.

A different boy came in and saw me with words in my hand and proclaimed, “What? Are you taking the words down? I need them to spell ‘because’ when I write it.”

I was happy to be able to tell him that, indeed, I was not taking the words down.

His enthusiastic question has motivated me to find even more ways to use it effectively.

I have always known that children learn with confidence if they are given as much scaffolding as needed. The word wall is perfect for writing with children of all abilities.

Many children still need to look at the word wall to spell are instead of ar. Eventually these children will learn or at least tire of me pointing to are and reminding them to spell it correctly. They will become independent spellers.

Other children need the word wall very rarely. They have already put many words to memory, or the words are decodable and they have the key to unlock many English words.

Eventually my friend from this morning will know how to spell because independently–not because it was a word on his spelling list once upon a time. He’ll learn it because the expectations are high and the environment supports his learning. The best part, though, he’ll learn because he wants to!

Here’s a great resource for primary classes from Harcourt’s Storytown to make fun and effective use of the words on the word wall. (Intermediate grade activities here.)

A couple favorite activities we do to learn the words are chanting the spelling and the mind reader game.  My favorite use of the word wall, though, is for authentic writing, as my two boys and their testimonials show.

How do you use a word wall?

Photo by our photographer of the day, Eman.

Photo by our photographer of the day, Eman.

by Denise Krebs
Comments Off on Day 4 #AprilBlogADay Challenge – Connection

Day 4 #AprilBlogADay Challenge – Connection

My teacher desk

A Moment of Humanity in the Classroom – Think about a moment in your teaching experience where there was a “connection” between you and a student or group of students that resonated beyond content.

The one moment that stood out is when a group of students happened upon a video about Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. It was during my first year of becoming the chief learner in my classroom. We had made a huge switch in how we did school in eighth grade history and language arts classes.

We were becoming co-learners on a mission to improve the world.

Here’s the caption I wrote on this picture on Flickr.

Four students started out watching this video while others were busy on something else. Others were pulled in to the experience. I loved the intense look on their faces.

This morning 52 million people had viewed this video, and a few hours later, it was up to 56 million.

They left the room wanting to do more.

I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. It was outside my level of expertise. I had never been trained for this. However, although I was clearly out of my league, when I gave up control and became a co-learner, we were all able to learn amazing things together. This was one of many times of rich connecting and learning that we did during that school year.


Wisdom is a good reason for becoming the chief learner.

Update: Now over a million people have seen Invisible Children’s video and thanks in small part to the great awareness this “Kony 2012” video brought about, things have gotten better in Uganda. Read an update on Christianity Today about Kony and the LRA.

by Denise Krebs

Take One Step at A Time

Last year at about this time, a few of my students and I wanted to learn how to make a robot. I had heard Gary Stager suggest robot building was one thing you could do with a laptop.

I had absolutely no experience or knowledge about making a robot, but I did learn enough to know that Lego Mindstorms NXT Software was a good place to start. Then I realized that besides lacking experience and knowledge, I also had no resources.

So, we temporarily gave up our dream of building a robot, and instead we learned to program on Scratch, which we thought was a step toward robotics.

Now, here we are just one year later. Things have changed, thanks to the State of Iowa’s Scale Up STEM grants. We received a grant to be part of the FIRST LEGO League and to receive a LEGO Mindstorms robot. Yesterday we took our robot, Roger, and competed in a regional FLL competition.

During the Robot Design challenge, Roger drove from base and onto the bridge without wavering. It was the most rewarding moment of competition!

On Saturday during breaks in the competition, we dreamed of how to extend our learning. We want to spend a portion of our remaining grant to get another robot, so the team can get better, but also so more people can learn to program robots. We talked about trying to do programming during part of our exploratory class and then have our own competition among teams.

These discussions were happening at the end of our competition. This was on a Saturday. They got up before dawn and drove 1.5 hours to be there all day long. These kids are passionate, lifelong LEARNERS!

I can’t help but think of what wonderful things are in store for us next year!

What steps are you and your students taking on the road to lifelong passionate learning?

by Denise Krebs

My Namesake

Class of 2012

Today was graduation day at our school. What a wonderful day! This group was the first seventh grade class I had six years ago. They will be missed!

At one of the parties I got to tour a student’s barn.

I have been reading personal experience narratives about that barn over the years, so it was fun to visit it.

I loved the light shining in.

The Barn Full of Stories

The Wall of Fame

Circle of Light

And bonus! I got to meet my namesake, which is a young goat. Miss K is raising three goats for 4-H. They are named Snap, Crackle Krebs, and Pop.

Crackle Krebs

Miss K with Crackle

I love living in Iowa!

I took lots of pictures at the barn today and Miss K said, “Now, you are probably going to write a blog post, right?”

Right! Thanks, K, for inspiring me to do so!

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