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Welcome to Skillsbasedhealtheducation.com!


Thank you for your interest in learning more about skills-based health education! We are excited to re-launch our blog with the start of the school year. Posts will happen every other Wednesday and will include ideas for the classroom, posts to deepen your knowledge of skills-based instruction in health education, current events/articles and questions to you, the reader to help us provide you with the information you are looking for. We want to hear from you. Thank you for being on this journey with us and we look forward to supporting conversations about skills-based health education!


Happy back to school!


~Sarah and Holly


White Folx, We have work to do

The last few months have been trying. People are dying. Racism is killing Black people. Everywhere we look, from the disproportionate number of Black people dying from COVID-19, to the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Flyod and Breonna Taylor, we see the toll that racism has on Black people in this country. 

As White women, we recognize that we have a responsibility to do the work of addressing racism in this country and addressing how our “whiteness” has contributed to continued racism. There are some difficult truths to face when doing this work such as the fact that our country was founded by White people who believed that Black and Indigenous people were not equal. That many of our systems and institutions were built on this premise and continue to perpetuate oppression and systemic racism. We have to explore the way that oppression has and continues to impact the lives of Black people in this country. Whiteness created these systems and Whiteness has to be a part of breaking them down. 

We have to explore the role of Whiteness in perpetuating these systems, the work of finding ways in our lives to dismantle and disrupt racist practices, policies and structures, the work of educating ourselves on how to be responsible and accountable allies. 

The work of being antiracist

The work of examining ourselves, our teaching, our school systems and our communities.  

We need to go beyond doing better, we need to undo. 

We are inviting White educators who are interested in engaging in these difficult and uncomfortable conversations, who want to dig in and do the work, to join us. DM us on Twitter (@sarahbenes12, @hollyalperin), leave a comment on the blog or email us (lighthousehealthconsulting@gmail.com). We don’t know exactly what it will entail but we will read, listen, discuss, challenge ourselves and each other, and grow. 

Holly and I are both on our own journeys. We are not experts. We are making mistakes. We are learning.

We hope you will join us in this critical work. 


Wisconsin is full-steam ahead for #Skillsbasedhealthed

Two claps and a Rick Flair  . . . WOOOOOO!


This was the attention grabber Dr. Sally Jones used in our skills-based health education pre-conference session at the Wisconsin Best Practices Academy in July. I don’t know why but it has stuck with me and will always remind me of this amazing conference! (here is a link to the Rick Flair Wooo on YouTube in case you are interested)


One of the best parts of presenting at and/or attending conferences is the positive energy and enthusiasm that everyone has. I never fail to leave a conference energized, empowered and excited to continue the important work we are all doing.


There are so many great things happening in Wisconsin – they are working hard to get skills-based health education throughout the state. It was a pleasure to watch their training cadre, a group of skilled educators who are leading the way for other teachers, present their work – skills-based health ed is going strong in WI and it was inspiring to see how these teachers have taken the foundation and made it their own. Some people you want to follow on Twitter if you aren’t already (members of the cadre):  Mary Wentland @prideandjoymary, Deborah Tackmann @deborahtackmann, Meg Whaley @13_meggy, Kaitlyn Bloemer @bloemerPE.


Not only that, but Holly and I had around 45 educators who spent 6 hours (on a beautiful summer day) at our pre-con session diving into all things skills-based! We were so impressed with the ideas, commitment, and passion these educators had to skills-based health education and for helping their students to be healthy and well.


We were so happy to see many of those same educators (yes, they actually came back to see us two days in a row!) and some new people join us for a shorter, one hour session on assessment. This seems to be an area that many people are curious about and find challenging – especially thinking about how to translate performance-based assessments into grades beyond rubric criteria. Even if you weren’t able to join us in Wisconsin, we wanted to share the presentations with you and are including a link to some of the resources that we used. To access the presentations and resources from Wisconsin, click here. We are happy for you to use and distribute the resources but please give us attribution!


More to come soon . . .

Getting outside of your comfort zone with skills-based health education

When transitioning to a skills-based approach, you need to be willing to take a step back and rethink your current practice . . . we know  . . . this is a lot to ask! However, consider this quote:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve got”

~Henry Ford

You may be thinking . . . but what I’ve got is good! Why do I have to change? Why can’t I just take what I have and integrate skills? These are all great questions that we are often asked when we work with teachers so we thought we would address them in a blog post.

Consider another idea:

“Just because it isn’t broken, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement”

(no specific attribution here).

As educators we are learners and our teaching is constantly evolving. So too should our curriculum! Transitioning to a skills-based approach provides an opportunity for you to look at your curriculum with fresh eyes. To take a step back and identify areas for improvement and for growth. Being willing to rethink or at least reconsider your curriculum isn’t a reflection of its quality or efficacy; rather it is a reflection of your willingness to be open to change and thoughtful evaluation of your practice.

It is not easy to step back, especially since, if you have heard us present, it is pretty much guaranteed to mean that you will need to let some things go (cue Elsa). In our experience, you do need to let some things go  . . . and again . . . we know this is hard. We all have the activities that we love to do and that the students enjoy but these might always be what the students need. We have relatively little time allotted to health education. Limited to time to set students up with the skills and functional information they need in order to lead healthy lifestyles. Their time with you is precious – we need to make sure every minute is spent helping them develop skills, knowledge and confidence to leave your classroom and go out and make health enhancing choices. This is why we ask you to be intentional, thoughtful and critical about your curriculum.

In our experience, it is easier when you can commit to a “blank slate” approach as you work through a backward design approach to lead you to a purposeful curriculum designed to meet the specific needs of your students. Once you have worked through the process, THEN you can figure out where what you are already do fits, what you need to modify and yes . . . what you might have to let go. We promise that in the end, it will be worth it! But don’t just take our word for it .  . . here is a quote from a recent blog post by the amazing Andy Milne (@carmelhealth):

this does not work

(For more on Andy’s perspectives and ideas, follow him on Twitter and check out his blog: https://slowchathealth.com)

Committing to moving to a skills-based approach is a big step. We won’t sugarcoat it – it is a big step that takes a lot of work but in the end, we 100% guarantee that it will be worth it! Our next post will take a sneak peek into research we are conducting looking into what skills-based educators have seen since they have made the transition!


#KidsDeserveHealthEd – Building a Movement Together

Anytime you go to a conference, it is easy to get excited about what you learned or maybe you even vow to do something different to improve your practice once you return. Then, life happens…we dive right back into family, work, other commitments, and suddenly our excitement for our new learning fades and even our best intentions can’t pull us back on course.

Since we returned from the 2018 SHAPE America National Convention, however, we have been a buzz with excitement for the great work going on in the field of health education. We feel the momentum just keep getting stronger and stronger to make our health ed classrooms a place where students increase their self-efficacy, become more health literate, and recognize their role in crafting a healthy future. What started as assessment workshops for teachers back in the early 2000’s has turned into this exciting shift in how we teach health education.


In fact, in her address to the convention body, SHAPE America President, Judy Lobianco challenged us to make this the year of the health educator… and we couldn’t agree more.


For us, the convention also provided an opportunity to share new resources and connect with many health educators. Those connections and that energy is what prompted us to consider the WHY? of teaching health education. 


Why do you do this everyday? Why do we teach students and train future educators? Why does this all matter?


For us, the reason is fairly straightforward – kids deserve it. They deserve educators who are willing to challenge them to think critically, to help them work through discomfort in order to gain confidence and competence to make health-enhancing choices, and who understand that health is complex and ever changing.

We all have our own WHY. The momentum that health education is gaining is real, and it’s contagious (thankfully in a good way) and we challenge you this week to share your WHY.

Tell at least two other people your reason for working to ensure that kids receive quality health education. 

Share on social media and use #KidsDeserveHealthEd


There are lots of #healthedheroes out there – let’s share our stories and create a groundswell – one that benefits our students and their future. Let’s tell everyone WHY our students deserve high quality health education. One could even argue – their lives depend on it.




Skills-Based Health Ed on the Jersey Shore

Holly and I returned home today after an amazing 2 days down in New Jersey for the 99th NJAHPERD conference. The fabulous beachside location was not only a welcoming venue for learning; it also provided fresh ocean air during a walk on the beach, an opportunity to see NYC and even some whales made an appearance – all while enjoying a beautiful sunset!

The real treats, aside from our invitation to present three sessions, were the New Jersey hospitality, getting to know some NJ #healthedheroes and sharing our passion – skills-based health education!

Our three sessions included:

  1. The Case for Skills-Based Health Education
  2. Mental Health in a Skills-Based Program
  3. Designing Authentic, Performance-Based Assessments

In this blog post we will provide a brief overview of each session with links to to the slides and handouts!

Let us know your feedback and tell us how we can help you continue to #switchtoskills and advance your #skillsbasedhealthed practice!

“Knowledge alone is not power. The sharing of our knowledge is when knowledge becomes powerful” ~Rich Simmonds

The Case for Skills-Based Health Education

This session focused on providing support for a skills-based approach. We wanted to provide participants with some evidence that can be used to “make the case” for skills-based and then we dove into the components of a skills-based approach. In the PPT, you’ll find 5 reasons for skills-based health education and an overview of core components. We are working on creating a resource that pulls together references and resources supporting SBHE – stay tuned!

Link to PPT slides: http://bit.ly/2oAITHf

Link to handout: http://bit.ly/2oC2WVO

Mental Health in a Skills-Based Program

This session discussed ways to think through functional information for the topic of mental health and ways that you can teach mental health through skills. Since information is not the focus in a skills-based program, we wanted to show how you could take a current topic and align it with skills of the NHES. The handout has valid and reliable resources related to adolescent mental health and also some sites for curriculum ideas and implementation.

Link to PPT slides: https://tinyurl.com/y9prn8o3

Link to handout: http://bit.ly/2FBFhwJ

Designing Meaningful Authentic Assessment

For our final session, we provided guidance on designing authentic, performance based assessments in skills-based health education. We discussed the need to shift to students demonstrating what they can do and apply what they know and this really requires some form of project-based assessment. We also showed how to integrate the NHES with the New Jersey state frameworks to create your unit objectives!

Link to PPT: http://bit.ly/2t29um5

Link to handouts: http://bit.ly/2HQT8QF

The “How” Part 2: Assessment and Learning Activities


At this point, you are feeling pretty solid on what you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of your course. You have even determined what you unit objectives are going to be and paired the performance indicators with the topic to provide a context for student learning. Now you are ready to plan your assessments and learning activities. Let’s take a look at how to do that.


Step 5 – Designing Authentic, Performance-Based Assessments.

I know, that seems really specific, and in a way, it is. If we want students to leave our classes not only knowing new information and being able to apply skills, but also having the ability to transfer that new learning outside of the classroom and in a variety of settings we must assess them in ways that have students show us they have the ability to do so. The best way to do this is through summative, performance assessments that have students perform the action we want them to do in their real life, in situations that are similar to what they will face in their real lives. In other words, demonstrate successful application of the skill. This is an important distinction because a test or quiz will show you what a student knows, but not necessarily their ability to apply their learning.

Here are some examples of performance-based assessments for different skills:

  • Students identify a health service in your community and evaluate this product or service using the ACCESS skill cues and then describe whether the source or product is a credible and reliable and justify their reasoning. Skill = accessing information, products and services
  • Have each student complete a personal wellness assessment and identify one are to improve. Once identified, set a goal and work through a goal setting process to improve the behavior. Students need to have time to work on their goal and reflect on their experience working toward the goal. Skill = goal setting
  • Evaluate and review local risk behavior data. Identify an unhealthy behavior students are engaging in and create commercials or advocacy campaigns that promotes the positive health behavior. Skill = advocacy
  • Have students create an infographic that provides tips and strategies for reducing stress for a target audience of their choosing. Skill = advocacy

You will notice that the emphasis here is on the skill. You could include any topic into any of the sample assessments. This is one of the great things about a skills-based approach – you can easily include a variety of topics but you also have opportunities for student choice! Your focus is on the skill so whether they advocate for healthier eating, crossing guards near the school, more open park space or stress management – you can skill evaluate their ability to perform the skill of advocacy and you can let me choose an area/topic they are interested in. It’s a “win-win”!

The opportunities for meaningful, engaging and relevant assessments are endless. Here are some tips to remember as you consider developing your performance tasks:

  1. One assessment for the skill – Ensure that the assessment measures ALL performance indicators being used within the unit. You want one final assessment that has students demonstrate their ability to apply the skill.
  2. Promote critical thinking – Go beyond memorizing new information. Have students get creative and apply their learning. Whether it is through a dialogue, infographic, comic strip, role play or  performance have students demonstrate the skill in action.
  3. Get personal – Write your assessments so they require students to apply the skill and their learning in ways that are meaningful or applicable to their world. Let’s get away from having students tell us how someone else should handle a decision and have them work through a decision that is meaningful to them.
  4. Get practical – There are so many aspects to health and we never have enough time to cover everything. Design assessments that make a difference. For example, while knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions helps to raise awareness, instead consider focusing on ways to reduce stigma of mental illness, promote strategies to support a friend, or identify local resources for help and support.


Step 6 – Lessons & Activities

Now, you can think about all of those great activities and classroom experiences that will help prepare students to meet the identified objectives, prepare them to successfully apply the skill, help students develop the knowledge and skills they need to successfully complete the assessment and see the connection of the skill to their real life outside of the classroom.

Some of the activities you have been using in the classroom will not work when you transition to a skills-based approach. I repeat, some of the activities you are using – maybe even some of the ones that you love – will need to be modified or removed. I know this is a challenge – Sarah and I have found this to be one of the hardest parts for teachers and we get it! But we promise that you will find new activities that you will love equally as much – or more – and that you will not regret your decision to make the shift!

Here are some things to consider as you are planning your lessons and activities:


  • Participatory methods – focus on student-centered approaches where students are active participants, constructing their own learning and take ownership of what is happening in the classroom. Here is a link to a great blog post from Education Rickshaw about “changing the direction” of learning in the classroom: Time to Throw Out the Playbook
  • Purposeful planning – one of the benefits of a backward design approach is that you can maximize the limited time you have with students by planning activities that are aligned with your unit objectives and that help students work toward being able to successfully complete the unit assessment and to achieve the stated outcomes.
  • Make connections to other learning – as more and more schools move to a competency-based system, use your lessons as an opportunity to reinforce previous learning. We are making connections and helping students to transfer their learning.

You may also be able to provide a second (or third) opportunity for students to demonstrate a previously assessed competency. Note: only use this approach when students have already been assessed a first time. We don’t want to try to teach or assess two skills at once. 

  • Time is limited – even with thoughtful planning, time can get away from us and we can be forced to make important decisions about what to keep and what to pass up. Consider this when planning your lessons. When we know ahead of time what is the most important we can be sure to spend the most time there and in ways that will help our students to demonstrate the desired outcomes.



Until next time…remember,


The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

-Jean Piaget

18 School Shootings are 18 too many – Support for Parkland, FL

Today, we planned to post a blog about curriculum development. Now, after the tragic events in Parkland, FL, it just doesn’t seem right.

Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families, and friends of those affected.

We must engage in the hard conversations because our kids deserve better. No student should be in fear of going to school. No parent should have to wonder if their child is going to make it home safe. No teacher should have to constantly be on high alert and scan the exits not knowing if/when they have to secure a room for their students.

Our children deserve schools that push them to their potential and are safe places of growth and learning. Parents deserve to know that their children are receiving a high quality education and that the whole child is being considered as a part of that education, teachers deserve to feel that they work in a school where they can meet the needs of students and help them to be academically successful without questioning their safety.

We must work together. We must do better. We can do better.

We cannot accept that this is how things will continue to be.

18 school shootings since the beginning of 2018 are far too many.


The “How” Part 1: Your Curriculum

Are you on board with skills-based health education but wondering what your next steps should be? Have you started to transition but are getting stuck? If so, the next few blog posts are for you!

After getting many questions about the “how to” of skills-based, we are creating a series of posts to help you feel more comfortable with the “how to” of skills-based health education. We are going to start with the curriculum!

Why do we start with curriculum? Well . . . in the many years that Holly and I have been doing this, we have learned that having your written curriculum aligned with the NHES, with the skills “on top” and with your unit objectives planned out makes it much for likely for you to have a successful transition to the approach. It doesn’t matter if you are looking at your own class or your K-12 curriculum – the steps are the same. In this post, we will run through the basics and provide some tips. It’s a little long but worth the read!

TIP: Even though it is hard, we strongly recommend that you do not try to retrofit your current curriculum into a skills-model. We completely understand the urge…but it never works quite right!

If you can go through this process with an open-mind and “clean slate”, it will go much more smoothly. We promise that you will be able to fit many of your activities back into the curriculum once you have completed the process!

Step 1: What do YOUR students need?

Our students are our top priority. It is critical that we are constantly asking ourselves – what do my students need in order to be healthy? What issues are they facing? What do we want them to be able to do with this new learning?

Take some time to brainstorm. Look at data, talk to various stakeholders, ask students, use your experience and create a list of what your students need. This list can include topics, skills and specific behaviors. For now, anything goes! Once you have your list, set this aside and then move on to step 2. You will revisit this list later in the process.

Step 2: The Framework

We suggest creating a template that looks something like this:



List the grades down the side

List the NHES Skills across the top
NHES Skill
(Analyzing Influences)
NHES Skill
NHES Skill
(Interpersonal Communication)
NHES Skill

(grade 6)


(grade 7)

We feel that putting the skills “on top” like this is important for a couple of reasons:

  • It clearly puts the emphasis on the skills & provides a frame for each unit
  • It sets you up for skill development within the unit
  • Allows you to where content fits across various skills

We also suggest starting by matching one topic within one skill. Once you get more comfortable you can add multiple topics under a skill. Start out simple and then add as you go! However, when you set up your units in this way, you will begin to see that certain topics will naturally “fit” with certain skills.

We do not recommend keeping the topics as the focus and integrating more than one skill within the topics. In this model, it is less likely that students will develop the skills to proficiency – you won’t get the same depth or the same levels of skill performance.

Step 3: NHES Performance Indicators

Next, you will look at standards 2-8 of the NHES (standard 1 is the “topic” standard, it isn’t a skill). Decide which performance indicators you will teach from each standard and in which grade. You want to make sure that you cover all performance indicators within each grade span though don’t feel like you need to cover every skill (or performance indicator) every year. It is unlikely that you have time for that.

Another tip: For the skills of decision-making, goal setting and advocacy – you’ll cover all performance indicators each time you teach these skills. Each of these skills, and the associated performance indicators are all part of the process of actually implementing the skill.

In our experience around 4 skills per year is usually a good fit. It is OK to have some “blank” boxes in your chart. By mapping out which performance indicators and which skills are taught each year you will begin to see a flow or progression. You are also able to revisit and reinforce previous learning. When implemented, your students will appreciate a thoughtful progression… though they may not realize it.

After this step, your framework might looking something like this (note the performance indicator numbers):

Analyzing Influences
Accessing Valid & Reliable Info, Products, and Services
Goal Setting
Interpersonal Comm.
Grade 6
Grade 7
Review Decision Making, but not formally assessed.

Step 4: Match Topics and Skills

Here is where we revisit the topics you listed out in step 1. You will take those topics (in blue below) and put them “under” the skills wherever you think they fit best. Remember there is no right answer here! You should go with your gut and the needs of your students. You can always tweak it later but we have found that teachers know the best fit!

Your framework now looks like this:

Analyzing Influences
Accessing Valid & Reliable Info, Products, and Services
Goal Setting
Interpersonal Comm.
Grade 6
Social media
Nutrition and physical activity
Texting and driving
Grade 7
Impact of media on multiple health behaviors
Stress & Mental Health
Dimensions of wellness
Alcohol use and other drugs

Step 5: Integrated Objectives

Each box inside your framework is now a unit! Your next step is to create your unit objectives. Start with the stem of the Performance Indicators and then integrate the topics. For example, the unit objectives for interpersonal communication in 7th grade would be:

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Apply effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills to enhance health in situations relating to alcohol and other drugs.
  • Demonstrate refusal and negotiation skills that avoid alcohol or other drug use.

While this step may seem a little tedious, it is actually really important. As you continue in the process, it will help you develop assessments that evaluate your intended outcomes, stay focused within each unit, avoid activities that do not support the “end game” for each unit and help you build purposeful and effective units to meet the needs of your students.

We will end this post here! We hope you found this information helpful! A good way to sum up the first 5 steps of the process:

“If you don’t know where you are going,
you’ll end up someplace else.”
― Yogi Berra

Our next post will cover the remaining steps of the curriculum development process – developing assessments through lesson planning!

Let us know any tips or additional questions you have in the comments!

Getting through the implementation dip: Find and hold onto your inspiration!

Holly and I just finished a 2 day skills-based health education workshop with some amazing educators in Maine. People left feeling excited, energized  . . . and a little overwhelmed. Making a significant change in the way you are teaching can be a daunting task, no matter how committed, passionate and ready you are! This can be particularly hard due to the “implementation dip” that we know occurs after learning new material.

The implementation dip refers to the phenomenon of the fact that you leave a professional development feeling confident and ready to make a change but then . . . when you go to implement your new learning, it isn’t as clear or as easy as it was in your head after you left the conference. In other words, you experience a dip. You begin to try out your new ideas and confidence drops a bit. Or you weren’t able to get started right after the PD and now you aren’t really sure where you should start or even how to start. This is the implementation dip.

implementation dip

The good news is, this is temporary – and you can move through it. Not only that, once you move through this dip, you often come out more confident in your new learning. Hold steady – it is important to not let this dip prevent you from moving forward! With all new learning and trying a new strategy comes bumps in the road. Just like we tell our students – you just keep trying, you will get there. Whether you recently attended a PD or are pulling from an event you attended before and are now trying to make the shift to a skills-based approach and are hitting some bumps along the way – read on!

One thing you need to remember is that change is hard and often uncomfortable because we are pushing ourselves outside of where we have become comfortable. This means you may feel overwhelmed, have lessons flop, look at an assessment you gave students and think “well – that didn’t go quite as planned”. You may find that you have trouble getting student buy in at first because they are unfamiliar with your new approach, or have difficulties convincing a co-worker about this new(er) way of teaching health. Don’t get discouraged!


Here are some strategies to overcome the implementation dip:

  • Find Your Inspiration – No matter what obstacles you face – it is key to find your inspiration and to leverage the support of your #SkillsBasedHealth #HealthEd community to keep moving forward!
  • Write Down your Goal/Plan – Maybe your inspiration is your students, your own professional growth, the approach itself, the challenge of making a change . . . whatever it is, write it down! We know from research that writing down and intention makes up far more likely to achieve it. Stick it somewhere that you can see it often so that it can serve as a reminder to keep going!
  • Seek out Support – There is no need to suffer alone. Reach out to us, join (or create) a learning network of teachers who are embracing a skills-based approach, review the materials, use social media such as twitter, Facebook, or Voxer to ask for support. There are lots of people willing to help and offer ideas.
  • Try something new – Sometimes the hardest part of getting started is to just DO IT. Be willing to be open with yourself and your students. Let them know you are trying something a little different and that you are all in this together. They will feed off of your confidence
  • Keep Skills as the Primary Focus – While this may seems like a no brainer (we know, we know), it is easy to get pulled back into the land of content because that is where we are/were comfortable. Refer back to the skill cues, consider the outcomes you want from your students, and then make a plan. If you keep in mind that everything you do in the classroom leads to student outcomes you are more likely to be thoughtful in the activities and assessments you select.

We can all get bogged down by life, dwell on our mistakes or failures and feel that we aren’t going to be able to actually make a change. But when we push through and persevere – that is the good stuff – that is progress, and growth and expanding our limits!

No matter where you are in the process, remember:

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~Arthur Ashe

Every change you make will lead to more changes and eventually you will reach your goal of being a kick@ss skills-based health educator!


Images from:


Fact or Fiction: Can Students Tell the Difference?

A recent article from NPR (http://tinyurl.com/fakenewsnpr) describes some startling new research about students’ inability to discern “fake news” from “real news”. It is really interesting how little awareness students seem to have – and not just younger students – all the way through college about finding valid and reliable information.

You probably see the connection coming already . . . this is yet another example of why it is so critical that we teach the skill of accessing valid and reliable information. Not only for their health but also for their roles as citizens! We cannot underestimate the importance of helping our students become informed consumers of information – all kinds of information.

Interestingly, I just completed an assignment with my undergraduate students in which I asked them to do research and advocate for their position on the ballot question of legalizing marijuana (it was timely as we did this the week before we voted on this ballot question in Massachusetts).  They chose their side and did their “research”. I noticed a few things from this activity:

  • • Their “research” involved finding things on news sites or other potentially biased websites
  • • They freely used “facts” that they found – whether or not they could verify those facts as actual truth or just “spin”
  • • There is a LOT of engaging, eye catching, funny, easy-to-read, easy-to-find information that is essentially someone’s opinion or version of truth and my students didn’t worry too much about using it

To be fair . . . in this case I was asking them to focus more on the advocacy side of things than the accessing valid and reliable information side of things . . . but still.

Then, I read one student’s reflection about the activity. Their rationale used the argument that when you try to advocate for something you say whatever you think your audience wants to hear in order to prove your point.

Huh . . .

This isn’t really wrong . . . but this also wasn’t the take away I was hoping for. I hoped it would help them see how easy it is to find information that confirms our own ideas, that sometimes “facts” aren’t facts, and that it can be hard to find actual truth as opposed to just versions of the truth spun to meet an agenda. We all should CARE that it is this hard to be informed consumers who are making choices informed by truth not versions of it.

In another interesting connection to this article, I use an activity in which I have students Google a health related question and  examine and evaluate the websites that come up on the Google search.

One of the criteria is “Accuracy” in which students have to justify why the information from the source is accurate. Do you know what almost 100% of them said was their justification?

Prior knowledge or hearing the information before.

Yes, it was that they heard that information before or it aligns with prior knowledge/learning so that must be a reason to believe it. Now, in some cases, this may be OK. If you are a college student taking (hopefully) courses that are providing the most current, evidence-based content then maybe, maybe, this is an appropriate justification. But is it? If we can only judge accuracy based on our own prior knowledge – is this really accurate? Are we really taking an opportunity to find the truth? Or just the truth as we know it?

And of course, we could go into a whole dialogue about what “truth” even means . . . but lets move on to Facebook – if that isn’t truth what is?

Within a week of the advocacy activity I did with my undergraduate students, the NPR article showed up on Facebook (seriously  . . . how does Facebook do that?) and in some ways I felt validated. These students DO need more support in developing skills around finding truth in an era where “information” is all around. We DO need to ensure that our students are thoughtful, engaged consumers who do not just stop when they find things that confirm what they already know, who go the next step to verify and search out facts, not just information.

Teaching the skill of accessing valid and reliable information IS important, I would argue, critical for our students. We have a duty to our students to help them become active, engaged, thoughtful, discerning, critical consumers of all information.

Take a look at other support for the work you are doing! Be sure to check out the resources at the end of the NPR article. Here are some others if you haven’t seen them:

How do you teach the skill of accessing valid and reliable information? Share your stories about the need to develop this skill and any other resources to justify just how important this skill is!