Understanding Media Sources in the Pandemic

Why can’t we have sleepovers, play on the playground or go climbing? What have you heard about coronavirus (COVID-19)? How does it spread? Who can get it? What happens if you do get sick? At this point, I’m sure you’re heard a lot of different pieces of information, most of it probably from other people. Today, I want you to focus on doing your own research, gathering facts from credible sources.

What are credible sources? “Credible sources” refer to organizations and media outlets known for producing fact-based, trustworthy information that has undergone a gatekeeping process (meaning several tiers of people check and verify the information before it is released to the public).

We’ll start with health organizations. For health issues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), national public health institute for the United States. Use the CDC’s resources on COVID-19 to answer the following questions:

1. How does the COVID-19 spread?
2. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
3. How can your family prepare if someone gets sick? What should you do?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a global public health agency and has produced wonderful resources about COVID-19. Look at WHO’s page of mythbusters. Identify 3 myths about what can kill the coronavirus.

We can also turn to news outlets for information. Like other news sources, The New York Times and The Washington Post have produced a plethora of stories on coronavirus, covering many angles on what it is, how the disease affects groups of people, and its profound impact on society. With news stories, it is important to look at the source and the date. Articles written about coronavirus in January had a very different purpose and tone compared to stories produced this week. Compare this January 29th story: “New York is Bracing for the Coronavirus” to this one from today, in which there are more than 15,000 cases: “New York Prepares for a Week at the Pandemic’s Center.” What was the purpose of each story? How has the tone shifted?

Compare local news to national news or look across media platforms. Broadcast news stories (television news) are packaged differently than ones created for print and online sources. For example, watch this Nashville News Channel 5 broadcast and discuss its focus.

What are not credible sources? We have what feels like unlimited media choices. It can be hard to tell what sources we should trust. How do you determine what are not credible sources? If “information” does not have to pass through a gatekeeping process (or doesn’t reference a source that does), it may not be credible. Social media posts, blogs, memes, email forwards, and personal websites are all examples of media content with no screening process. Anyone can create posts or memes and publish them, without others checking the information.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from these types of media products, but take them with a grain of salt (be a little skeptical about the information). This means that if you read something about coronavirus on social media or on a website, look up the information using a credible source (organization or news outlet-produced) before you believe it, or even worse, share it with others.

For example, a number of people shared this meme on social media about preventing coronavirus by gargling salt water [FALSE INFORMATION].

Why do you think people believe in such “remedies?” Even worse, why do people share “information” even though it has no factual basis?

News stories and factual resources are vital at this tough time. Knowing where to look for credible information will help us stay updated and not be misled by fake remedies or other myths of the coronavirus.

The Right to Learn: A History of School

1855 One Room School / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

In this isolated time, we can appreciate the value of our teachers and educational system. School wasn’t always considered a right, especially one that was extended to every child. For this lesson, we use media sources to examine 19th century schooling and the various obstacles that prohibited many kids from receiving an education.

Starting in the 1830s, The Common School Movement led to the development of public schools, which offered free education to all children (more on its limits below) For kids who were lucky enough to go, what was school like in the 1800s? In rural areas, many children learned in one-room schoolhouses, if they lived close enough to walk. Kids across ages gathered together under one teacher.

These country schools existed into the 20th century so you may know people that attended them. Call and ask about their experiences.
Some questions to ask:
—How did you get to school?
—What was it like to have multiple age groups under one teacher?
—How was the day structured?
—Did your school have indoor plumbing? How was it heated?
—How were children disciplined?

You can see a fictional depiction of the one-room schoolhouse in the TV show Little House on the Prairie.

Who didn’t get to go to school?–African American Children
Not every 19th century child got to attend school. Some groups of kids were not allowed to go to school. Seven states had anti-literacy laws that prohibited enslaved and free children from learning to read and write. Read here about the history of African American education. Then watch this overview. Why is literacy so important?

Who didn’t get to go to school?–Children with Disabilities
Some children with disabilities were also left out of the Common School Movement. Unfortunately, inclusive education wouldn’t happen until the late 20th century. Watch the video below. Why did it take so long for the United States to provide education for everyone?

Who didn’t get to go to school?–Child Laborers
Other kids couldn’t attend school because they had to go to work to earn money for their families. The number of children working grew over the the 19th century. In 1900, approximately 18% of children ages 10-15 were employed.

Photo by Lewis W. Hine / Public domain
“10 years old. Working 3 summers. Minds baby and carries berries, two pecks at a time. Whites BogBrown MillsN.J. This is the fourth week of school and the people here expect to remain two weeks more. Witness E. F. Brown. Location: Browns Mills, New Jersey.”  

With adult supervision, research online to answer the following questions:
1. What were some of the jobs held by children?
2. Describe the conditions for these jobs. Were they dangerous? How many hours did kids have to work per day?
3. Why did children have to work?
4. When did child labor become prohibited in the United States? Why?

Reflection Essay
In a short essay, identify three reasons that prevented children from getting to attend school. Next, discuss why school and good teachers are so important. What would your life be like if you weren’t allowed to go to school?

We all need a laugh. Discussing Parody

Creating comic versions of popular (or unpopular) content is an old practice. For example, the first film parodies were created shortly after the first movies, with The Little Train Robbery (1905)–after The Great Train Robbery (1903).

So what makes for good parody? Comedy is personal. What is funny to one person may be groan-worthy to another. That said, we can still identify shared characteristics of well-received parody.

1. Parody should draw on a familiar song, TV show, movie, or other text. It can also be broader, playing off common themes or cultural phenomena, like with the Austin Powers movies. The original reference needs to be immediately recognizable. Assuming you know The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, it’s easy to recognize it here.

2. Good parody incorporates elements of the original throughout, but in a new fun way. Check out the trailer for Spaceballs (1987).

3. Some parodies are relatively timeless, like the Naked Gun series or Airplane. Most parodies, though, work because they relate to the moment. Like this one on social distancing:


Find your own examples of parodies. What makes you laugh? What doesn’t? How does familiarity with the original make the parody funnier? You can also try creating your own parody, taking an original and putting your own spin on it.

Parody Recommendations (not divided by age)

What parodies do you enjoy? Share your recommendations or links.

Documenting the Moment: Daily Journal Entries

Even without Facebook or other social media, we know what many people in the past were thinking and feeling because they kept daily journals. We are in a strange time right now, with a lot of uncertainty. You may not remember how your thoughts changed from day to day unless you write them down.

Start a journal of your time at home. Before bed, reflect on each day.
1. What did you do?
2. How did you feel? What made you happy? Frustrated? Impatient? Angry? 3. What parts of the the day would you like to repeat tomorrow?
4. How can you avoid repeating the tough moments?

Media Activity: Technology Scavenger Hunt!

Our technology has changed so much over each decade. It really wasn’t that long ago that you had to stay home to receive a phone call or that distance-learning meant by mail. Of course, not everyone buys a new device when it first comes on the market. Bringing home a TV, computer, or phone used to be a big deal. So big, that it was memorable!

Most older generations can remember when and why they first got television sets, VCRs, and computers and love to share their stories. For this scavenger hunt, interview different people about their experiences to complete the activity. Here’s a printable link.

Media Activity: Cereal Marketing

Have you ever thought about cereal marketing?
First, let’s watch two (delightfully vintage) ads for cereal. View the Rice Krispies ad above.
Now watch this 1950s Heart of Oats ad:

1. Who is the target audience? Why?
2. How do we know these commercials are not from 2020? Why do they feel “old?”

Let’s move on to contemporary cereal advertising.

Look at the Rice Krispies on the left.
1. What does this box say about who Kellogg’s wants to attract?
2. How about the purple Cheerios box? What is the main draw here?
3. Why are kids’ cereals placed on the lower shelves at grocery stores?

Media Activity: Comparing Books to their On-screen Adaptations

How many of us have said, “The book was better,” after finishing its movie version. This is the perfect time to explore how stories change when they are adapted across media platforms.

  1. Have your child choose a book with a film/movie adaptation (suggestions below) to read in print or digital format. Discuss the plan: when the book is finished, you will watch the adaptation together.
  2. Watch the book’s adaptation as a film or show together.
  3. Ask questions. Here are some ideas:
    –What did you think of the show/movie? (start broad)
    –Did you like the story? Why or why not?
    –What did they keep from the book? (You can get more specific, asking about characters, themes, settings, dialogue, ending).
    –What was changed? (ask about details). Do you agree with the changes? How did they impact the story?
    –What did you enjoy more–the book or its adaptation?
    –How would you have adapted the story?
    BONUS: Have your child compare and contrast the adaptation in an essay or present their own adaptation in a book cover, movie trailer, or diorama. You can also analyze the story over multiple adaptations (i.e. looking at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

Book & Adaptation Suggestions
Younger kids/new readers: Dr. Seuss (The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who), Madeline, The Polar Express

Lower-Elementary: The Magic Treehouse series, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The American Girl books, How to Train Your Dragon, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Mid/Upper-Elementary: The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter (choose a book/movie), Little House on the Prairie (On the Banks of Plum Creek), Peter Pan, Pollyanna, Bridge to Terabithia, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Hobbit (cartoon adaptation), How to Eat Fried Worms, Roald Dahl books (Matilda, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The B.F.G., Witches), Holes, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Nancy Drew books, A Wrinkle in Time, The Wizard of Oz.

Middle/High school/College: Dracula, The Counte of Monte Cristo, Silence of the Lambs, Stephen King’s books (The Shining, Pet Semetary, The Green Mile, Misery, etc.), Catch Me If You Can, Forrest Gump, The Lord of the Rings series, The Hunger Games, Tuck Everlasting, The Divergent series, The Fault in Our Stars, The Notebook and other books by Nicholas Sparks, The Diary of Anne Frank.

Here’s a more comprehensive list. You could also compare comic books or graphic novels with their on-screen adaptations. Or compare traditional books with their graphic novel interpretations.