Bring back the Raccoon. How to teach children to fight the information attacks of the enemy with the help of a game
Every time information attacks fly to Ukraine with missiles and drones. We are bombarded with fakes, manipulations, rumors, spread hostile narratives and messages, through the prism of which we should perceive the world in general and the Russian-Ukrainian war in particular. For eight years of open Russian aggression, many Ukrainians should have developed armor against Russian informational garbage. However, a full-scale invasion showed that there was a problem. In the early days, Viber-chats and Telegram-channels spread massively fakes that our phones are listening, that you need to turn off the geolocation on the phone, that there are missile strikes behind the purple light in the window, and that the terrible Martinelli virus will hack your phone. Now there are more and more rumors about new enemy attacks (tomorrow, next week, in 2-3 days, etc.), which contain some truth, because the war does not stop, but a large part of lies. A large number of courses on critical thinking and dozens of really high-quality resources on fakes and propaganda did not work – emotions took over the ratio. And this has a logical explanation. When we talk about educational projects, we always think about the long-term perspective. The ideas of the “Russian peace” have been planted in Ukraine for years – through TV series, films, books, and music. Moreover, even one of the most popular shows for teenagers “The Smartest” was in Russian and with a significant share of questions about the Russian Federation. When the Russians temporarily seized Ukrainian territories, the first thing they did was shut down the Ukrainian media and began importing Russian textbooks into schools. After all, it is easier to lie to the adult population in the absence of information. For children, the main channel of communication is school, where you need to study the “correct” textbooks in exchange for excellent grades. Is it possible to resist this influence of the occupiers? Yes, you can. I think that the only way that differentiates a person with critical thinking is the ability to ask questions. Initiatives for the development of critical thinking and information hygiene are designed to understand what questions to ask and what sources to rely on. At different levels in Ukraine, the idea of introducing a separate course on media literacy in schools emerges from time to time – an idea that requires not only political will, but also considerable effort on the part of teachers, because such a course should be interesting, fun, easy and entertaining. We do not want such initiatives to become an additional burden for both children and teachers. Should we abandon the idea of promoting media literacy and developing critical thinking in schools? Not at all. It is worth paying attention to game formats. There are excellent initiatives from IREX, within which, during lessons in history and the Ukrainian language, students perform exercises that not only relate to a specific discipline, but also develop critical thinking. There is a National Project “Filter”, which has collected a number of materials developed over many years in Ukraine, which can be used for school and extracurricular activities. Another resource was created by the Academy of the Ukrainian Press, which contains lesson plans with elements of media literacy from various disciplines and for various classes. What else can be done? During the six years that I have been researching disinformation, I have conducted more than a hundred trainings, participated in the development of mass online courses, in particular, on the Prometheus and EdEra platforms. All my lectures are based on practical cases of fakes and manipulations, understandable for Ukrainians. But passive perception of information does not give the desired result. The “Stop. This might not be true” fuse doesn’t work for many people. It is necessary to develop critical thinking from school age (Russian propaganda will probably not disappear even after our victory, so it is important to develop the skill of recognizing enemy influences even in childhood). At one time, the founders of propaganda said that the biggest enemy of propaganda is intellectualism. The best ways to interest children and adults in learning and learning something are games, teamwork and a competitive component. That’s why I converted the fakes and info-dumps that spread in the Ukrainian and international information space into the format of the intellectual game “NotaYenot” with elements of brain-ring, quiz and other similar games. The problem of conducting such games is that teachers are loaded with the main work, and they simply do not have time to find out the formats of misinformation and information vacuum. Understanding this, my team and I are developing the NotaEnota.Games site, which will collect more than 200 tasks of various types with methodical recommendations based on information dumps and fakes (the site is currently being filled). A teacher, lecturer, activist will be able to organize such an anti-fake game in his city or village, without spending a lot of time and effort. Questions grouped by round type and difficulty allow the teacher to create their own unique game based on the level of knowledge of students or parents. For example, a teacher goes to the site, clicks on the True or False round and chooses 5-10 questions, copies texts, saves images, uploads videos and adds them to his presentation. Next, he chooses the “Raccoon-rinser” round, which involves logic tasks, the ability to analyze the information received and draw conclusions. In this round, the teacher chooses 4-6 questions from the list of questions that the teacher thinks are the best for his or her students. The host teacher can choose the “Novomov” round, in which participants learn to translate from the propaganda language into Ukrainian, the “Don’t believe your eyes” round, where participants look for clues and investigate photo and video fakes, or the “Word is not a raccoon” round. which is built on aphorisms, sayings and proverbs. There is also a “Host” round based on fakes that people have believed or continue to believe for decades, a “Memes” round where contestants have to understand the meaning of a meme, a “Know-it-all” round which involves questions based on fakes and manipulation of different countries, the “Raccoon Riddles” round, where participants need to solve encrypted concepts in the field of media literacy and cyber security. It is very important that the presenter understands the context and can add it as a hint if necessary or provide additional details after the answers. Therefore, tasks on the site contain not only questions and correct answers, but also context and additional information. Okay, now closer to the point. You want to play a game for your students or colleagues at work. Where to start? On the eve of the game, the teacher goes to the site, chooses rounds and questions, forms a presentation from them. On the day of the game, participants form teams of four to eight people, come up with a name for their team, and take their place at tables or desks. Participants need paper and pens to write down answers for the game, and the teacher needs a screen and speakers (if the teacher takes a round from the video). You also need to find an assistant in advance. It can be a fellow teacher or one of the students. The function of the assistant is to check answers and calculate points. It can also be done by members of the jury – for example, the school directorate or representatives of the teaching staff. On the day of the game, the presenter tells that the mission of the game is to “free the Raccoon from information captivity”. To do this, participants must go through various rounds and solve insidious fakes and manipulations. The teacher takes turns reading out the questions from the first round, giving participants 30-60 seconds to think about and write down their answers. After the round, the assistant or teacher collects the answer sheets for scoring. While the assistant or the jury is counting the correct answers, the presenter does the most important part – not just reading out the correct answers to each of the questions, but adding context: why it is a fake, how and where it originated, how it spread, why people believed in it. The explanation of each task completes the puzzle and helps the team members to see the infokid in a new way, to understand how critically they evaluated the information, why they believed in the fake and for what purpose the fakers used this information. Then the teacher moves on to the second round with other types of questions. In the same way, he reads the questions, shows photo illustrations or turns on the audio/video, gives a certain time for thinking, collects forms with answers, after which he reads out the correct options, asks the children which options they wrote and why, provides a context for each question. The mission of the game unites the participants and takes them beyond the usual framework of “I know-I don’t know”, forces them to look for answers to questions, dig to the bottom, analyze the information they see or hear, find clues, and most importantly – to think and constantly question themselves during the game , whether a certain statement is true. This is perhaps the most important skill that helps to counter enemy propaganda. The ability to respond to information is a skill that needs to be developed. The “the teacher said so, so it’s true” pattern does not teach critical thinking. Only constant practice and work with information can teach a person to recognize fakes. This should become a trend that people will want to follow. Release the Raccoon from the infopolon, become a superhero, guru or keeper of knowledge in the information struggle, form your club or group, identify hostile influences and be skeptical of what you hear and see. Seriously or humorously, through TikTok or Telegram, by asking the right questions or digging deep into the topic, identifying the original source or analyzing manipulative words. Thanks to the Mediengeist accelerator and the Goethe-Institut, our team got the opportunity to realize this idea of anti-fake games and create a site for teachers. Next year, we also plan to involve well-known popularizers of science and destroyers of myths to develop even more questions based on fakes and myths in the field of biology, chemistry, geography, history, and medicine. In addition, we want to improve the functionality of the site, add an opportunity for teachers to mark interesting questions and immediately form their game into a presentation right on the site. This will reduce the time of preparing an anti-fake measure. Another component of the project is to conduct trainings for at least 100 teachers from different parts of Ukraine, so that they, in turn, will conduct games in their educational institutions. Therefore, we plan to make handouts for each such game. We want to make these games regular and form the “NotaYenot” club, to which new players who know how to think critically will join every year. We have a difficult task – to make healthy information consumption fashionable and important for children, teenagers and adults. The game format can be the bridge that will show that analyzing information is not something boring and difficult, it is like drinking tea or taking a shower, a few minutes a day help you feel much better and have a better quality of life. Alyona Romanyuk, the founder of the NotaYenota fact-checking projects, especially for UP. Life. Cover photo: ZaraMuzafarova/Depositphotos Publications in the “View” section are not editorial articles and reflect exclusively the point of view of the author.
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