Teaching fake news with pranks

To be honest, I’m surprised they believed me.

Three tall, heavy cardboard boxes arrived in the school foyer. A group of students were wondering what might be inside and I flippantly said, ‘those are the robot students to replace the absentees’ and kept walking.

They were shocked but also intrigued. Why would we need robot students? What would they look like? Why only three?

I didnt need to start a rumor because they started it for me.

Later in class another group of students asked, ‘Is it true that we are getting robot students?’ I said, I don’t know and asked them what the evidence might be.

Sure enough no one had looked at the origins of the boxes, tested the weight of the boxes or thought about the source of the information (me – an unreliable source known to enjoy a good prank). No one had even asked to see if one might have been opened or to ponder if something else with similar dimensions might have been appearing around the school.

What were they?

It turns out they were foot pump operated hand sanitizer units. Not robots. Not students. Not really as exciting as hoped.

When the gig was up, they laughed and we talked about how ridiculous it was. Or was it?

One student, still thinking deeply, said, ‘But they could have been.’

I said, ‘No. Those are too short. We would get robot teachers first anyway,’ and the criticial thinking started anew.

Think critically. Check your sources. Use evidence. Test hypotheses. Wonder out loud. But also have fun.

Disclaimer: they did find it funny and for the rest of the year we tried to trick each other with increasingly outlandish stories as deliberate fake news agents.

The mysterious boxes. 2021.

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