Mission critical: Fake-news test helps students take a giant leap
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Mission critical: Fake-news test helps students take a giant leap

Victorian students are blitzing a world-first test that assesses whether they have the skills to detect fake news.

Two years ago, students started sitting critical and creative thinking tests as part of a push to prioritise non-academic skills.

Frankston High School students build a tower with 24 sticks of spaghetti, one metre of tape and string. A marshmallow has to sit on the top. Left to right: Kye Munnikhuis, Keily Blackley, Sam Lutfi and Yasmin Hume.

Frankston High School students build a tower with 24 sticks of spaghetti, one metre of tape and string. A marshmallow has to sit on the top. Left to right: Kye Munnikhuis, Keily Blackley, Sam Lutfi and Yasmin Hume.Credit:Justin McManus

It was hoped 20.8 per cent of year 10 students would achieve the highest levels of critical and creative thinking by 2025 under the Andrews government's ambitious Education State targets.

But students have already eclipsed this goal, with 22.4 per cent reaching these levels in 2018, up from 16.6 per cent in 2016.

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It is understood the government is now looking at revising this target.

In one of this year’s tests, students had to weigh up whether the Apollo 11 moon landing was a hoax.

They were asked to analyse the famous photo of Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon next to a US flag.

The image highlighted features that conspiracy theorists have long argued prove the moon landing was hoax: a flapping flag, objects casting shadows in different directions and no visible stars.

Students were then asked to explain how each of these features could exist in a photo taken on the moon.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said Victoria was recognised as a global leader in the teaching of critical and creative thinking.

“The ability to think critically and creatively will help our students improve in all subjects and give them the skills they need for jobs in a global, high-tech and changing economy,” he said.

Victoria is the only jurisdiction in the world to set a target for critical and creative thinking.

A psychometrician from the state’s curriculum authority is helping design the next Program for International Student Assessment, an influential test by the OECD that will measure students’ creative thinking skills for the first time in 2021.

Critical and creative thinking involves reasoning, using and analysing evidence, and applying knowledge to find creative solutions to complex problems.

Experts argue these skills are becoming more important in today's climate of fake news and technological changes that are reshaping the workforce.

A randomly selected group of students at Frankston High School were among the 1173 students who sat the test earlier this year.

Year 10 student Keily Blackley said she was expecting a test with right and wrong answers. Instead, she was asked a series of open questions. These included what three items she would pack on a holiday and why.

“I had to justify what I was taking,” she said.

“I decided to take shoes, because it’s important to have something to protect your feet; pants and top so that I felt more comfortable; and a hat to protect myself from UV rays.”

The test was unlike anything she had encountered before.

“Everyone can have a different answer,” she said. “It is open for interpretation.”

Principal John Albiston said critical and creative thinking was a focus in every class at his school.

In science, instead of just focusing on the right and wrong answers, students are taught research methods and then conduct experiments of their choice.

In maths, they might use mathematical concepts to design a house on a budget, and then justify their decisions.

“You can't rely on someone being successful in the workforce just because they have a discrete set off knowledge and skills,” Mr Albiston said.

“They need the skills to be continuously learning, and need high levels of critical and creative thinking. They need to be able to analyse a problem and be creative to come up with solutions.”

The recent emphasis on these skills coincides with the 2017 changes to the Victorian curriculum requiring teachers to assess students against four new non-academic "capabilities" – critical and creative thinking, personal and social abilities, and intercultural and ethical skills.

Answers

Flagpole shadow in opposite direction to astronaut’s

  • The shadow is from another object to the left of the picture.
  • The shadow is not of the flag.
  • The astronauts put another light source up.
  • There might be light reflected from another object.
  • There might be light coming from the spaceship.

Flag flapping

  • The wire frame was just twisting and the motion took a while to stop (as there is no air resistance).
  • It was still moving after the astronaut put it there.
  • The inertia of the flag (pushed by the astronaut).
  • They tied fishing line to the flag to make it flap, because that looks better.
  • There was a blast of gas from the spaceship.

No stars visible

  • It is daytime – the sun is too bright.
  • The reflections from the moon’s surface are very bright.
  • Capturing stars would overexpose the picture.
  • The stars weren’t bright enough to be seen.
  • The camera couldn’t pick up the faint starlight.