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Confront science misinformation in your classroom with NOVA

Prepare students to make informed judgements about the science media they encounter, both online and at home.

ByKara NortonNOVA EducationNOVA Education
A teacher pointing out an image on a student's iPad

Science educators can use science media as an informal pathway to explore science concepts beyond textbooks. Image Credit: Allison Shelley, EDUimages, CC BY-NC 2.0

As we return to in-person learning in schools across the country, the realities of the pandemic are as complicated as ever. With the Delta variant surging, many educators are asking: How can I protect myself and my students? What do I do if any of us are exposed to the virus? What will we do if we have to return to virtual learning?

Public health officials have provided guidance on how to bring kids back to the classroom safely, and though vaccines are available for children over 12, the transition to the classroom has still been a challenge—one made worse by misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and face masks.

Misinformation is incorrect information that's spread without intent to deceive but is inaccurate nonetheless. However, disinformation is inaccurate information deliberately created and disseminated with malicious intent. The difference comes down to a matter of intent and who is sharing this information and why, according to the News Literacy Project.

Scientific information does not exist in a vacuum of peer-reviewed journals and textbooks. It is shared through news articles, advertisements, and social media platforms by sources that possess differing intentions and levels of expertise. This media can be a powerful resource for teaching material, but it can also confuse students who may not possess the skills to analyze the sources.

Over the summer, your students might have come across misinformation surrounding the pandemic, both online and among family and friends. It is important to prepare them to be critical consumers of science content because misinformation is not just distracting, it’s dangerous.

Four sixth-grade male students researching a science project on a laptop

Without a foundation in science literacy, students might overestimate the validity of scientific statements they read online, or be unable to distinguish between evidence-based statements and opinion. Image Credit: Allison Shelley, EDUimages, CC BY-NC 2.0

Analyzing science media helps prepare students to critically engage with scientific issues by empowering them with strategies to evaluate claims they encounter online. Without a foundation in science media literacy, students might overestimate the validity of scientific statements or be unable to distinguish between evidence-based statements and opinion.

NOVA is committed to providing educators with STEM resources that make learning as engaging as possible during an unprecedented time in which back-to-school is anything but back to normal. Whether students are curious about how vaccines work with the immune system or want a deeper understanding of how trust in science and medicine is built, we have put together a collection of resources to help students develop science media literacy skills!

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Why Misinformation Matters: from the Coronavirus to the Capitol Riots

In the new digital series, Misinformation Nation, NOVA producer Alex Clark traces misinformation on mask-wearing from internet circles to social media influencers, and back to the CDC. Use this resource to help students identify evidence-based science in media, define misinformation and disinformation, and develop critical thinking skills as they analyze the events and media rhetoric surrounding the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic from multiple perspectives.

Fact or CAP? How to Deal With Clickbait

Teach students how to fact check like GBH journalists Alex Clark and Arun Rath using the CAP test! Use this Misinformation Nation resource to help students verify information by checking the source, analyzing the evidence, and processing the purpose. It can also help students identify inaccurate or misleading science and discuss the problematic nature of clickbait.

COVID Vaccines & Variants: What will it take to get out of this pandemic?

With the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus, including Delta, COVID-19​​ continues to spread rapidly across much of the world. In most U.S. states, a surge in cases is reigniting conversations about the country’s response to the pandemic. In this NOVA Now podcast episode, Dr. Alok Patel speaks with a leading epidemiologist and a specialist in infectious diseases to gain perspective on pressing concerns, from vaccine effectiveness and boosters to vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and inequity at a national and global scale. Use this resource to help students identify credible sources, understand the difference between efficacy and effectiveness, and get up to speed on the latest information about vaccines.

Sciencing Out: Building Trust in Science and Medicine

Trust can be a delicate matter—especially when it’s related to science and medicine. And when scientific or medical trust is built successfully, outcomes can be life-changing. In the digital series, Sciencing Out, introduce your students to two women science communicators—one historical and one contemporary—to explore how their remarkable work is inspiring future generations of scientists. Use this resource to showcase how public trust in science is built, gained, and kept.

Vaccines—Calling the Shots

illustration of Immunity cells ganging up on a flu virus

NOVA's Vaccines—Calling the Shots takes viewers around the world to track epidemics, explore the science behind vaccinations, hear from parents wrestling with vaccine-related questions, and shed light on the risks of opting out. This video is one of four (along with “The Smallpox Vaccine,” “Herd Immunity,” and “Autism & Vaccines”) that discuss the history and effects of vaccination. Use these videos to educate students about how the body detects and fights viruses, how vaccines prepare the body to detect future infections, and the impact of vaccination at personal and societal levels.

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Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.