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Posted: September 15, 2012 5:50 p.m.

Don’t trust everything you read online

A teacher told me this week, "If only students remembered lessons as well as commercials."

Perhaps we should convert science and history into TV commercials to improve test scores.

Thankfully, State Farm is helping drive home one of the research lessons I teach each year: don't trust everything you read online.

The commercial features a woman telling her friend, "They can't put anything on the Internet that isn't true." It's a fact she read "on the Internet," of course.
She walks off with her French model boyfriend, who looks like he escaped from Geico's cavemen commercials.

We all get a good laugh at the commercial, yet every day I hear perfectly reasonable adults quoting email and other Internet "facts" that are nowhere near the truth.

So where can we find reliable information, I ask students.

"Bing!" "Google!" "Ask!" they shout out.

Well, my job clearly isn't finished.

No matter how impressive looking the website, most Internet content must be viewed with skepticism. Even official websites for the athletes, pop stars, teams or bands they want to research may contain editorial content instead of straight facts.

Eventually someone will raise a hand and hesitantly suggest the library.
They seem amazed to hear that there is a whole room at their school, and two places in the county where they can seek reliable information.

Not only that, but if the topic can't be found in a book, a librarian can actually help them find good information in other print sources or online.

While the Internet has become a quick place to look up movie listings, confirm some piece of trivia, or share our latest personal news, I hate to see that most of our fifth graders seem to think it's also the most reliable source of research.
They're also overlooking another great source: you.

As one student told me, "My mom doesn't have a job, so she doesn't know anything."

Of course, to an 11 year old, mom never had a job, went to school, raised kids, ran a house, or managed a household budget.

The 4-H'er looked amazed that her mom might be the expert on something, but I suppose we all tend to think that of our own parents at some point.

Quickly, hands shoot into the air as students spout off the jobs and hobbies of adults they know: construction, scrapbooking, waitressing, architecture, maintenance, computers and even marine biology.

This may be our best year of 4-H projects yet if students take advantage of those experts.

Any student turning 9 years old by Dec. 31, up through high school may compete in 4-H project achievement this year.

Especially among the youngest set of 4-H'ers, however, we tend to end up
with a ton of sports, wildlife and history projects.

Many repeat the same statistics and facts on the same sports and wildlife.
I find that 4-H'ers who utilize experts are more likely to get hands on experience with their topic, learn some unique information and be more excited about their topic.

Unfortunately, not all students want to do a project on a topic their parents can help with, but sometimes aunts, uncles, cousins, or family friends are much more interesting to an 11 year old.

And don't forget the rest of our community.

While I don't know any famous fashion designers, I have taken 4-H'ers to local clothing stores.

I've seen how consignment stores determine prices and how long items stay on the shelf, toured stock rooms to see how items are organized, learned how store owners place orders, and found out why entrepreneurs chose that line of work.

I find that most community members are eager to share their knowledge and passion with a student, and we sure have a variety of experts here in Covington.

Meeting these local experts also reminds students that there's more than one way to get into sports, fashion, or whatever it is they're interested in pursuing.

Local sources are also great for history projects - whether researching the Great Depression, the Vietnam conflict, or African-American history, we have a wealth of local experience which can bring history to life.

So next time your son or daughter brings home a project to complete - think locally.

 

Terri Kimble is the Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at (770) 784-2010 or tkimble@uga.edu.

 

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