Buzz Aldrin students take part in media literacy pilot program


By ERIN ROLL
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What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?

What is sponsored content?

What constitutes a reliable source?

How do you know if a photo or video posted online has been edited?

These are some of the things students at Collège de Montclair are learning this winter, as part of a pilot program to teach students about information and media.

The Montclair Fund for Excellence in Education, in partnership with schools, is conducting a media education pilot program this year with high school students.

The first pilot program took place at Buzz Aldrin Middle School in November, with 85 seventh graders over a two-week period. In February, the pilot will continue with a new group of students in Buzz Aldrin.

At the January 8 Board of Education meeting, three of the students in the first probationary period said they had learned to manage their research skills and better spot fake news.

Theresa Giarrusso, a journalist and teacher, and mother of three students from Montclair Schools, was the main instructor and coordinator of the project. She also taught at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The project started when Giarrusso contacted the MFEE, which provided funding for the program. “She planted the seed that it could be useful to us,” said MFEE director Masiel Rodriquez-Vars.

Giarrusso led professional development courses on teaching media literacy with a group of 56 teachers at Montclair High School in 2018. In 2019, she was brought back to do additional professional development on media literacy to the media for more district staff.

The school administration has been very supportive of the program, Giarrusso said.

During her time with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Giarrusso edited the newspaper’s special children’s section, and she regularly worked with students from Atlanta-area schools to learn about current news and events.

However, many newspapers no longer include supplements for schools and students, due to budget cuts, and Giarrusso said many school districts in the United States may no longer have room in the budget for newspapers. local or national are used in the classroom.

Today’s students are digitally savvy, Giarrusso said. A 2018 Pew Research study found that 95% of teens have smartphones, with many getting their first phone by age 13, and 45% of those students are on their phone all day.

These students tend to lack critical thinking skills and historical context to help determine what’s real and what’s fake, Giarrusso said. Most adults have the critical thinking skills to determine the difference between facts and opinions, but many of them are not digitally savvy.

However, a study found that 52% of adults also struggle to identify fake news.

For this pilot program at Buzz Aldrin, there were four 80-minute lessons. The first lesson offered a current affairs vocabulary lesson, including subtitles and headings. The following lessons asked students about what was fact and what was opinion, comparing news articles from different sources and learning to check facts. In a kind of “treasure hunt”, students searched through newspapers to find items such as advertisements, opinions and other items. She remarked that many students had never seen a comic book page before, which they loved.

Newspapers consulted by students included The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Star-Ledger, Record and Herald News, Montclair Local, Montclair Times, New York Post, and New York Daily News. Giarrusso has also supplied an array of magazines including Food Network magazine, OK, People, Life & Style, Montclair magazine and The New York Times Magazine.

The program was also linked to subjects from other courses, such as English and social studies.

Some of the current events covered included the 2016 presidential election and how social media influenced people’s opinions during the election.

If successful, Giarrusso and Rodriquez-Vars say the program should then be offered at Montclair High School.

The New Jersey state legislature is considering a bill that would require students to receive media literacy instruction in schools.

“We feel like we’re ahead of the game,” Giarrusso said.

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