Lessons from the Pandemic about Science Education

Phi Delta Kappan magazine recently published an article we wrote about improving the Next Generation Science Standards, with the title above. The text begins:

If students in the United States master everything in the Next Generation Science Standards but learn nothing else about science, then they will graduate high school without knowing anything about immunization, viruses, antibodies, or vaccines, or about organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. They will never have been asked to investigate such topics as the efficacy of measles vaccine or the risks of vaping. They will never have been asked to read science-related books or articles in the popular press. Nor, for that matter, will they have been taught how to find reliable sources of information about science or how to evaluate and reject scientific misinformation, such as, for example, fringe theories about the origin of the 2019 novel coronavirus. And yet, these same students will have been required to master a host of more technical standards, such as learning to “use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem,” even though few of them will ever use such knowledge.

In the middle of a devastating pandemic, is this the best set of national science education standards that the United States can muster? We don’t believe so, and we are not the only ones.

Since the standards were released, the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) has issued position statements in 2016 and 2020 reiterating how important it is for students to learn about science “in the context of societal and personal concerns,” whether to inform their own health care decisions or to allow them to participate in public debates about vaccination requirements, the regulation of pesticides, online privacy protections, the importance of “social distancing,” or any number of other policy issues.

Unfortunately, the NGSS does not include “societal and personal concerns” as priorities. We believe more students would be interested in science if their teachers taught the subject in the context of personal and societal concerns. Moreover, by adopting that approach the United States would educate a more scientifically literate population.

NSTA has largely done its part. Improving science education standards will require leadership at the state level and among other national organizations, including the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science. It was the NRC that developed A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which acted as a blueprint for the NGSS. Although the Framework prioritized teaching science in the context of societal and personal concerns, the NGSS largely abandoned that perspective. It is time for the NRC to weigh in.

We hope that the Kappan article attracts a large number of readers, from a wide variety of backgrounds, and not only science educators. As we wrote, “It is often said that war is too important to be left to the generals. One might add that science education is too important to be left to the scientists.”

Modest changes to the NGSS would not be enough

A number of science educators believe that the NGSS has sufficient strengths that any improvements should be made simply by adding to or subtracting from the existing document. For example, as we wrote earlier, a science educator who provides professional learning experiences for science teachers reported that he has seen a large increase in teachers seeking help on how to teach from a more student-centered, phenomena-oriented, inquiry-based approach. In his opinion (and he is not alone), the NGSS has done a service in promoting instruction that helps students learn about science by doing science, so he is reluctant to make major changes.

Even though some science educators agree that certain important ideas are missing from the NGSS, their preferred approach would be to add performance expectations (PEs) as needed (e.g., students should be able to describe the functions of some key scientific institutions, such as the CDC). At the same time, in order to keep the list of expectations to a realistic number, as some PEs are added they believe that others would need to be removed.

On the surface this seems reasonable. Certainly some improvements could be made in this way, and that would be a good thing. However, tinkering with the NGSS would not change its overall purpose (“preparing students for college and careers”), which is too restrictive. That approach also would not incorporate NSTA Position Statements advocating teaching more about the nature of science, and linking science to personal and societal issues.

In addition, the requirement that every lesson incorporate the three dimensions identified in the NGSS unduly limits the curriculum. It is not necessary to “do science” every day, focusing only on the list of topics in the NGSS. Some days students might read a news article and summarize it, or research an unfamiliar topic, like vaping, and write a few paragraphs about what they learned. In fact, reviewing articles and lessons published in professional journals such as The Science Teacher makes it clear that good teaching does not always look like what the NGSS says it should. The NGSS moved the proverbial pendulum in the right direction—doing more science—but moved it to an extreme.

A more positive perspective

We recently spoke with Dan Damelin, a Senior Scientist at the Concord Consortium who has experience as a science teacher, curriculum developer, and provider of professional learning for teachers. Below is an edited version of Dan’s comments.

Dan: For many years I’ve held a firm belief that students learn best though discovering things for themselves. In the science classroom this means providing students with opportunities to engage in exploring the world like scientists. Until the NGSS, “inquiry” was always separate from other content standards, and usually thought of as an aside or add-on, not integrated into everyday experiences in the science classroom. It didn’t help that state testing almost solely emphasized content over process.

The critical breakthrough of the NGSS was to write the standards in such a way that engagement in science and engineering practices is part of the standard itself. With the influence of the NGSS, I’ve experienced a huge increase in teachers seeking help on how to teach from a more student-centered, phenomena-oriented, and inquiry-based approach. So I think NGSS has done a great service in promoting instruction that helps students learn about science by doing science.

I don’t think that the NGSS is perfect, but I see these standards as an opportunity to promote many goals that I support, and believe the integrated nature of the standards, each of which incorporates disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts, is integral to achieving those goals. For these reasons I would be reluctant to support a large-scale overhaul of the Framework on which the NGSS is built.

However, I do agree with many of the concerns you have written about. For example, there is no disciplinary core idea in the NGSS that covers epidemics—and now pandemics—so strict adherence to the NGSS would preclude teaching about that. However, the NGSS is intended to be a foundation, not a ceiling on what all students learn. Many curriculum developers are producing new instructional materials that are largely consistent with the NGSS and that focus on epidemiology and other additional topics—even if those phenomena are not 100% aligned with NGSS. I think the NGSS can also serve as a template for the integration of disciplinary ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts, which can guide teachers and curriculum developers in designing materials that integrate practices regardless of the phenomenon being explored.

I do understand that many will interpret the NGSS as some limit on what they should be teaching and empathize with your desire to make sure anything you think is critically missing is directly included. If you feel that critical disciplinary core ideas or practices are missing I would encourage the two of you to suggest specific changes you would like to see in the text of the NGSS. The heart of the document is a set of Performance Expectations (PEs) describing what students should know and be able to do. I recommend you propose adding new PEs that you think are needed. For example, you might add a PE related to epidemiology, or extend the practice on “Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information” to include student understanding of the role of scientific institutions, like the CDC. However, if you do that you will probably also want to suggest removing some PEs, so the list of expectations does not simply become longer, because, as you know, one of the strengths of the NGSS is that it reduced the number of disciplinary core ideas to make room for more time to learn through engagement in science practices.

Your white paper suggests adding information to the NGSS about how students learn science. I wonder whether you can do that in a meaningful way without adding a large amount of new text and changing the basic structure of the document. The NGSS is intended to provide assessment boundaries. Imagine if we started adding pedagogical directives to the standards. Which should we add? There are many approaches, and it would change the entire nature of the NGSS, so I think it’s best to avoid that potential minefield.

Another of your concerns is that you would like teachers to be encouraged by the standards to teach science in the context of societal and personal concerns. That’s a great approach, one that has been adopted by many in the education research field who are developing curricular materials aligned with the NGSS. There are two approaches to influencing science teaching related to NGSS—change the NGSS itself, or try to influence the way NGSS is interpreted. The NSTA Position Statement “Teaching science in the context of societal and personal issues” is an example of the latter approach. Those researchers I know developing NGSS-aligned curriculum have all taken a particular stance on what it means to align with the NGSS. They are leading by example. I tend to take that same approach. I don’t want to suppress any debate around the NGSS. It’s not perfect and will itself be revised someday, so I encourage you to push for the kinds of changes you want to see.

Andy: Dan, the primary goal Penny and I hope to achieve with the white paper is to start a conversation about the strengths and the weaknesses of the NGSS. There is undoubtedly more than one way to improve the existing standards. Your approach is not the same as ours but we share many of the same goals for what science education should accomplish. That is an excellent starting point for a conversation. Thank you for your thoughts about the NGSS.

NGSS priorities matter

It matters which topics the Next Generation Science Standards say are important, for many reasons. The NGSS affects what is written in textbooks, how textbooks are judged and purchased, what questions are asked on national, state and district science tests, and much more.

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, surely many students are now learning about the CDC, immunizations, how the science of epidemiology influences public policy, ways to find sources of reliable information online, the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, and other related topics.  However, it’s a safe bet that until the current pandemic hit the U.S. only a small minority of science teachers focused on those topics—because none of them is included in the NGSS.

The NGSS also has a real, less direct influence on research about science education. Most science education researchers focus on topics widely considered important. One result is that we have little data about teaching and learning topics the NGSS does not include. A nationally representative sample survey of science teachers tells us, for example, that 70 percent of high school biology teachers feel “very well prepared” to teach genetics, and the same survey provides similar data for nearly two dozen other disciplinary content areas. *

In contrast, there are no reliable national data about how often science teachers connect lessons to societal or personal issues, or about how well prepared science teachers believe they are to teach using those perspectives. One expert on the use of SSI in schools, Professor Troy Sadler at the U. of North Carolina, emailed recently that conducting a sample survey of teachers asking about teaching SSI “would be useful, but to my knowledge no one has done it.”

That is not because no one cares about focusing on societal or personal issues. In fact, as we reported in an earlier post, Cary Sneider, one of the architects of the NGSS, regrets that the links among engineering, technology, science and society—which were part of the Framework for K-12 Science Education on which the NGSS was based—were not included in the standards. He hopes that this significant omission will someday be remedied, as do we.

In fact, there are many excellent instructional materials available to science teachers that focus on the intersection of science with public policy or personal choices, topics that are sometimes known as Socio-Scientific Issues, or SSI. As an example, in 2014 the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) published It’s Debatable: Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy. One set of lessons, especially appropriate for biology classes, is called A Fair Shot? Should Gardasil vaccines be mandatory for all 11-17-year-olds?  Another set of lessons asks students whether schools should charge a “tax” to discourage young people from eating unhealthy foods. Besides these, there are countless other SSI topics that could be taught in elementary and secondary schools, and many lesson plans exist.

But are science teachers prepared to teach SSI? Getting science teachers ready to teach those topics means preparing them to handle questions related to ethics and civics, not just science. They must be willing to discuss controversial issues, manage class discussions in which divergent opinions are expressed, and help students use evidence to reason with science and not only about science. Teacher preparation programs are less likely to focus attention on such matters if, in effect, the NGSS says those teacher skills and dispositions are not very important. We simply don’t know how many science teachers are well prepared to teach science in the context of personal and societal issues. Nor do we know what constraints they face with SSI, such as feeling time pressure to “cover” topics in the standards, or the need to prepare students for high-stakes tests.

Connecting science to personal and societal issues (SSI) is only one of the important priorities we identified as missing in the NGSS. However, thinking about the “missing data” related to teaching SSI in schools provides an example of science education research that would be useful to improve teaching and learning, and even more useful if the NGSS prioritized SSI.

*  Banilower, E. R., Smith, P. S., Malzahn, K. A., Plumley, C. L., Gordon, E. M., & Hayes, M. L. (2018). Report of the 2018 NSSME+. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc.

Andy

Preparing students for college and careers

The NGSS introduction states that its “content is focused on preparing students for college and careers” (p. xiii). Perhaps it is not surprising that even someone familiar with the NGSS may never have focused on that part of the standards; after all, the standards are 324 pages long, with another 170 pages of appendices.

Nonetheless, it is clear that authors of the NGSS were aware of the focus of their work. As we wrote in our last post, one of the NGSS Performance Expectations is that all students should be able to “use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.” A typical American will never use that knowledge, nor is it necessary to use mathematics to understand the most important aspects of ecosystems. We can only assume that the NGSS includes this performance expectation, and various others, because the authors, who were mainly disciplinary specialists, were aiming at preparing students for college and careers.

As we wrote in our last post, authors of the NGSS were not thinking primarily of students as future citizens concerned about science in the context of societal and personal concerns. Earlier science education standards included those focal points; however, the people who created the NGSS made a conscious decision not to. Indeed, as an earlier post indicates, one of the key writers for the NGSS now regrets that the connections between science, technology, and society were left on the cutting room floor, as the expression goes.

Only about a third of Americans over the age of 25 hold a four-year college degree, and even today graduating from college is not the norm. In 2015 fewer than half of adults ages 25-34 had earned an associate’s degree or more. Indeed, only 85 percent of students even graduate high school. And of course the majority of students will not need a specialists’ knowledge of science or technology, such as acquired in college, for their future jobs.

Yet all students will benefit from applying their understanding of science to decisions in their later lives (e.g., about health care for themselves and others). Similarly, students will apply science to decisions they make as citizens (e.g., deciding whether to support candidates who don’t accept mainstream scientific findings, or voting whether to approve state or regional carbon fees).

Preparing students for college and careers is a reasonable goal, up to a point. However, we don’t believe it should be the exclusive goal of national science education standards at the expense of other priorities, such as teaching science in the context of societal and personal concerns.

Will required state tests, or national exams like the SAT, focus on students’ science knowledge and skills as related to societal and personal concerns? Will students be expected to demonstrate that they can distinguish between more or less reliable sources of scientific information? These are examples of performance expectations that are not priorities under the NGSS as it is now written. That concerns us, and we hope it concerns you.

Andy

The NGSS as assessment standards

Several people have pointed out that at its heart the NGSS is a set of Performance Expectations (PEs) for students. In other words, the NGSS is intended to identify what students should know and be able to do in science by the time they reach particular grade levels. The theory behind this approach is that states adopting the NGSS will assess students using these performance expectations (which include all three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas, scientific practices, and cross-cutting concepts).

Teachers are free to add to what is in the NGSS. In fact, because these standards are intended for all students, some students’ learning surely will go beyond the standards. For example, students in Advanced Placement classes, who are likely to attend college, are expected to learn more science than what is included in the NGSS.

Architects of the NGSS adopted this approach in part to satisfy teachers who were saying or thinking, “Just tell us what the test will cover and I will teach my students accordingly.” At the same time, designers of the standards wanted to keep the total set of expectations to a realistic size. In other words, they developed the NGSS as a floor or a minimum, not a ceiling.

This is all understandable, yet it begs the question whether the set of minimum expectations that comprise the NGSS is an appropriate set. If we assume that many school systems are hard pressed to teach their students everything in the NGSS—something we have also heard from well informed people—then it seems likely that for many students the totality of what they learn in science will be dictated by what is in the NGSS.

Is it really sensible that students studying in science classes aligned with the NGSS could graduate high school without discussing the relation between science and public policy (e.g., food and water safety, pharmaceutical testing, or regulating nuclear energy)? Or without even knowing the names and functions of key government science agencies like the FDA, the CDC, or the IPCC? Does it make sense that the NGSS does not encourage teachers to prioritize societal and personal concerns related to science—including science-based issues like smoking, vaping, immunizing children, and the quality of supposedly “scientific” information in advertising and social media? These are examples of goals or expectations missing in the NGSS.

In contrast, the NGSS expects all students to be able to “evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning behind the idea that electromagnetic radiation can be described either by a wave model or a particle model, and that for some situations one model is more useful than the other.” Also, according to the NGSS all students should be able to “use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.

Think about these priorities the next time you are on a bus or subway or in some other place with dozens of people representing a broad slice of the American population. Are the NGSS expectations what you think is the most important science for every adult to know? Are these the right expectations for all students?

Some state standards are better than the NGSS

Education is primarily a responsibility of states and localities. Each state is free to establish its own education standards, and they differ from one state to another. Below we compare science education standards in two states, Washington and Massachusetts.

Washington State is one of 20 states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. A search on the internet leads to a web page titled, Washington State Science and Learning Standards. There one reads,

The Washington State Science and Learning Standards (WSSLS), previously known as the Next Generation Science Standards-NGSS, are a new set of standards that provide consistent science education through all grades, with an emphasis on engineering and technology.

In other words, in Washington State the NGSS is called WSSLS, but the two documents are otherwise identical. That means the WSSLS has the same strengths as the NGSS, such as establishing the goal that students learn about climate change, but also the same weaknesses. For example, WSSLS does not emphasize teaching science in the context of societal and personal interests. There is no suggestion that students learn about the impact of science on public policy, such as policies to reduce carbon emissions, or how to find accurate information about an unfamiliar science topic, such as vaping.

Although Position Statements from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) focus on the importance of taking a broader view of science education than the NGSS, Washington State’s Science and Learning standards make no reference to NSTA’s recommendations. It is presumably a source of frustration for the NSTA to realize that their Position Statements are not incorporated into the WSSLS or into many other states’ science education standards.

On the other hand, Massachusetts is an example of a state that has taken a different approach. In the state’s Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) Learning Standards, one reads that,

While the Massachusetts STE standards have much in common with NGSS, public input from across the Commonwealth during the development of the standards identified several needed adaptations for Massachusetts:

  • Include technology/engineering as a discipline equivalent to traditional sciences.
  • Include only two dimensions (disciplinary core ideas and science and engineering practices) in the standards, while encouraging the inclusion of crosscutting concepts and the nature of science in the curriculum.
  • Balance broad concepts with specificity to inform consistent interpretation …

The idea that every science lesson must include the three dimensions identified in the NGSS was rejected by Massachusetts. A result of that modification is to provide teachers with greater flexibility, such as making it easier to plan lessons.

There are other important differences between the NGSS and the Massachusetts STE learning standards. One difference is to more clearly emphasize the importance of reasoning with evidence, including reasoning about claims found in media of any kind. (The word “media” appears dozens of times in the STE standards.) Specifically, in Massachusetts students should learn to:

“Respectfully provide and/or receive critiques on scientific arguments by probing reasoning and evidence and challenging ideas and conclusions, and determining what additional information is required to solve contradictions, and

Evaluate the validity and reliability of and/or synthesize multiple claims, methods, and/or designs that appear in scientific and technical texts or media, verifying the data when possible.” (pp. 66-67)

Another difference is that Massachusetts adopts as a guiding principle the idea that:

“An effective science and technology/engineering program addresses students’ prior knowledge and preconceptions.” (p. 9)

The NGSS, on the other hand, makes no mention of students’ prior knowledge and preconceptions.

Yet another important difference is that preparing students to apply STE knowledge “to real-world applications needed for civic participation” is an explicit goal of the standards (p. 5). This is similar to NSTA Position Statements. However, in the NGSS there is no mention of civic participation.

For a variety of reasons, Massachusetts students perform unusually well on national and international tests, compared to students in other states. There is simply no evidence that adopting science education standards different than—better than—the NGSS harms the state’s students in any way. To the contrary: we believe that establishing better goals for science education helps students.

Teaching about the Coronavirus, COVID-19

The current coronavirus epidemic, now known as COVID-19, presents an ideal opportunity for teachers to present real-life, cutting-edge, relevant science. Some of the scientific ideas, such as simple messages about hygiene, can be taught at any level, but others are particularly appropriate to middle and high school students.

Some of what there is to be learned falls squarely under existing NGSS core ideas in the life sciences, such as:

  • What is a virus? Are viruses alive? How do viruses differ from bacteria?
  • Some scientists think the infection might have originally come from snakes, others from armadillos or some other mammal. What arguments do they make? How are scientists communicating these ideas? How does “science” come to a conclusion?
  • How might a virus pass from one species to another?
  • How might modern transportation technologies allow a human virus to spread?
  • What does exponential growth look like? (For older students, what is R0?)

Then there are other topics that we have suggested should be included in the standards, but are not now, such as learning about vaccines, the importance of scientific institutions and organizations, and the impact of science on policy. For example:

  • What are vaccines, and how are they developed? Should we develop a vaccine against COVID-19, and how long will it take?
  • How does the current danger to Americans of COVID-19 compare to dangers from measles, Ebola, or the flu? Where and how can people find the answer?
  • Which organizations, like WHO and the CDC, are directing the American response to the epidemic? What do these organizations do? Are they trustworthy?
  • How are different governments, local and national, such as in China and the U.S., making policy decisions about how to handle the new virus? (Examples include: controlling social media, building hospitals, directing army medics to report to Wuhan, shutting down travel between cities, establishing quarantine sites, screening travelers.) Which of these actions do students believe are necessary? Which are effective? Who should be making such decisions?

Lastly, misinformation about science is a growing problem that teachers should teach about:

  • Are there examples of misinformation about the coronavirus that are being spread online? What are some examples (e.g., articles here and here)?

Some enterprising teachers are already beginning to develop lessons about COVID-19. For example, here is an excellent lesson from high school teacher William Reed, posted on the NSTA blog. (http://blog.nsta.org/2020/02/05/novel-wuhan-coronavirus-whats-the-real-story/ )

But note that the lesson’s links to the NGSS fall only under Science and Engineering Practices, and, with a stretch, to Crosscutting Concepts. We agree with the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) that science should be taught in the context of societal and personal issues (Position Statement here), and that students need to learn more about the nature of science than is included in the NGSS (Position Statement here). It’s a shame that this lesson on COVID-19, which provides a great opportunity to teach relevant science, has to struggle so hard to “fit” with the standards.

Wouldn’t teachers and students be better off if the NGSS were revised to address some of these ideas more directly? Wouldn’t we all be better off if teaching science in the context of societal and personal issues and with greater attention to the nature of science became core parts of the NGSS, instead of separate priorities promoted by NSTA?

Research on helping people resist misinformation

Research about “what works” in education is surprisingly thin. So it is good news for teachers and policymakers that multiple studies demonstrate that various approaches to help people resist misinformation do just that; they work.

One example comes from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). You may remember that SHEG documented how poorly most high school students are able to distinguish between fake or misleading online news sites compared to accurate sites. In one summary (2016), Stanford researchers summed up students’ ability to reason about information on the internet in one word: “bleak.”

To address this problem, SHEG developed a set of Civic Reasoning Online curriculum materials. A recent evaluation involving more than 3,000 students showed that those who used the SHEG materials grew considerably more in their ability to evaluate online sources than a control group of students who did not use the materials. Education Week published an article about this study last month.

As we developed our free one-week unit for grades 6-12, Resisting Scientific Misinformation, we based the materials on a number of high-quality studies about helping people resist misinformation. For example, a 2017 study demonstrated that educating people about misleading argumentation techniques, such as are often used by advertisers and climate change skeptics, helps reduce the influence of those techniques. Another study found that if people know what a high percentage of climate scientists agree that human beings are the major cause of climate change they become better able to resist climate change misinformation. And we relied on other studies, too.

In short, there is good reason to believe that teachers can help students resist scientific and other types of misinformation. This goal is critically important at a time when social media spreads misinformation at an alarming rate.

We wish that authors of the Next Generation Science Standards had focused far greater attention on teaching students to be “careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives,” as urged in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the template for the NGSS. Misinformation of all kinds, notably including scientific misinformation, has become a far more serious problem since that Framework was published in 2012.

There are somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 teachers of science in grades 6-12 in the United States. By anyone’s reckoning, only a tiny fraction of them now focus on teaching students how to distinguish between science fact and science fiction. That is a shame. If national or state science education standards emphasized the importance of teaching students how to judge the quality of information they encounter, a far larger number of teachers would focus on this important topic.

Resisting scientific misinformation

A year ago we posted a free, one-week curriculum unit for grades 6-12 called Resisting Scientific Misinformation. To date there have been over 3,000 downloads. Last week The Science Teacher published an open-access article about our materials, which we hope will result in additional attention to and use of the materials.

Helping students resist scientific misinformation is one of the important missing pieces in the NGSS. As we developed the curriculum materials, this missing piece became an impetus to look for other missing pieces and to write the white paper posted on this site.

It was interesting to learn recently that accepting misinformation is a bigger problem in the United States than in many other nations. As a Boston Globe article reported:

“Nearly 10 percent of the online stories followed most closely by readers in the United States in December came from [untrustworthy news] sites…. Enthusiasm for these sites in the United States far outstrips that of [France, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom]. The British are especially resistant; news from unreliable sites made up just 1.2 percent of the most-followed stories among British Web surfers.”

As you might expect, there are a variety of ways to help students with the problem of misinformation; unfortunately, none of them are addressed directly by the NGSS. One approach is to use technology-rich services that help users separate information from misinformation. For example, one can install software from NewsGuard, a startup that evaluates the trustworthiness of Internet news sites, including whether the news site identifies its owners, backers, and authors of articles. A green check mark appears for users who install the software in their web browsers.

Snopes is an easy-to-use website that has evaluated thousands of claims for accuracy, which includes a list of the “hot 50” rumors circulating online. Checkology describes itself as “a browser-based platform where middle school and high school students learn how to navigate today’s challenging information landscape by developing news literacy skills,” and it includes lessons educators can use with classes. A basic version is free, while a premium version requires a subscription.

This list of technology-rich resources to help users sort information from misinformation could be greatly expanded. We use some of them and we’re glad they exist.

At the same time, students need to learn how to judge for themselves the thousands of dubious science-related claims that appear on social media, on TV or radio, or elsewhere. New claims appear all the time. Using our unit (free online), teachers guide students through evaluating for themselves a number of “scientific” claims, some of which turn out to be valid, and others not. The materials focus on four approaches to evaluating claims: a better understanding of advertising, including ways some advertisers try to fool you; asking the right questions about a dubious claim; understanding more clearly how scientists reach their conclusions (including the vital role of such institutions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); and distinguishing between more and less reliable sources of scientific information.

The unit concludes by asking students to investigate a dubious claim by using appropriate websites, and then writing a short synthesis of their findings. Again, we find the NGSS is lacking in asking students to investigate claims for themselves, even such timely issues as the risks and benefits of teenage vaping.