Find the Truth about the Pacific Tree Octopus
One of my fourth grade classes was about to em- bark on a research project, so in a recent lesson, I decided to teach and hone their research skills. Not
wanting to go the standard route of teaching them how to
Google more efficiently, I selected two topics, asked students to search for information on one of those topics, then
share what they had learned. The two topics students could
choose from were “The Tree Octopus” and “All About
Explorers.” (I did skew the activity purposefully by telling
them that they had to search for those exact phrases).
Most students went directly to Google and, without
much thought, clicked on the first link and began writing
down “factual” information about their chosen topic.
Some facts they discovered included:
• Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney,
• Marco Polo, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton helped finance
Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands.
• Lewis and Clark were inspired to become world-famous
explorers after being mesmerized by the stunning color
photographs in National Geographic magazine.
• The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis)
can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic
Peninsula on the west coast of North America.
• Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are
amphibious, spending only their early life and the
period of their mating season in their ancestral
• Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans.
And so on…
The students shared their findings with the class, and as
the discussion moved on, several of the students began to
see some flaws in our research. We then began to inspect
the websites more carefully and found many erroneous
claims and facts throughout. The students were stupefied
and could not believe that there were websites that look so
real but lie. One student said, “They even have pictures!”
They were more amazed that these were the first two hits
that Google presented them in their searches. We contin-
ued the discussion with what to look for in websites that
are reputable, using the “ 5 Ws”— who, what, when, where,
By Keith Ferrell