Fake News & 3rd Grade

This is a story about teaching kids about fake news.
by Darcy Pattison

This week, I participated in the Arkansas Literary Festival, especially their Writers In The Schools (WITS) program. At Forest Heights STEM Academy, librarian Deidre Williams set up a session with 3rd grade for me to read THE NANTUCKET SEA MONSTER: A FAKE NEWS STORY.

This 3rd grade class are all holding a copy of a Darcy Pattison book.
This 3rd grade class (one of several who attended) are all holding a copy of a Darcy Pattison book, including her fake news story.

In August, 1937 Tony Sarg, inventor of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, floated a sea monster balloon off Nantucket as a publicity stunt. What raises this above the level of publicity stunt, though, is that all the newspapermen knew the story was fake and yet still published it. The book presents the reports as true and when it’s revealed that the sea monster is just a balloon, the kids were outraged!

Fake News & 3rd Grade: From Outrage to Understanding

The first reaction was outrage. From there, the kids tried to understand what had happened. They had to work through the ideas of fake news.

First, they related fake news to teacher cautions about using websites for research on their own projects.

They’ve been told to trust .org and .gov sites. But as we know, those can still lie.
They’ve been told to look for popular articles. But as we know, popularity isn’t a good gauge of truthfulness.
They’ve been told to check multiple sources. But as we know, each source may say something different and leave confusion.

Those things they could understand.

But one boy asked a specific question. The story said that an eyewitness reported seeing the sea monster rising 15-20 feet out of the air. “How,” he asked, “did they get that balloon to go so high?”

I asked, “Do you think that eyewitness actually saw a sea monster?”

That confused him.

“The eyewitness lied. He didn’t see anything. He just SAID that he saw something.”

That had never occurred to the boy before that moment.

Learning to distinguish truth from lies is hard for 3rd grade. They know when THEY lie, or when a family member lies. But lies on this scale were difficult to understand.

Which is exactly why we need books like this. Digital citizens must develop ways to assess the credibility of a source.

What I found most encouraging was the discussions of the issues. The kids were eager to ask questions and understand. Talking about fake news, it was an important day.

A fake news story, 2018 Notable Children's Book in Language Arts from NCTE | MimsHouse.com
A story of fake news, a 2018 Notable Children’s Book in Language Arts from NCTE | MimsHouse.com