21st Century Skills and the Tree Octopus Problem

by Robert Pondiscio
February 5th, 2009

The 21st century skills movement has a problem.  It’s a problem that can’t be solved by all of the innovation, creativity and information literacy lessons under the sun, yet it can be deftly handled by a little bit of science knowledge.  Call it the tree octopus problem.

The Partnership for 21st  Century Skills describes its mission as to serve as a catalyst to position 21st century skills at the center of US K-12 education.  Based on “hundreds of hours of research, development and feedback from educators and business leaders across the nation,” it has developed “skills maps” for educators to help teach the supposedly new skills of demonstrating originality and inventiveness in work and developing, implementing and communicating new ideas to others.  To its credit, the Partnership does not dismiss traditional curricular content, but rather ”advocates for the integration of 21st Century Skills into K-12 education so that students can advance their learning in core academic subjects.” 

So what does a 21st Century ELA lesson actually look like in the classroom?  Here’s an example of a 4th grade “information literacy” activity taken directly from the 21st Century Skills Map.

Outcome: Evaluate information critically and competently.

Example: Students are given a teacher-generated list of websites that are a mixture of legitimate and hoax sites.  Students apply a website evaluation framework such as RADCAB (www.radcab.com) to write an explanation for deciding whether each site is credible or not.

“RADCAB,” if you’re not familiar with it, is a trademarked “critical thinking assessment tool for online information” that teaches kids to evaluate the information on a website.  RADCAB is an acronym for Relevance, Appropriateness, Detail, Currency, Authority and Bias.  OK, RADCAB, say hello to my little friend, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, an endangered species and Internet cause célèbre.

RADCAB features a rubric that helps students evaluate online information.  Level 3 of 4 (the “Research Pro” level, and presumably a reasonable goal for all learners) includes things like “I create ’slam-dunk’ keywords from my research questions and use them to find relevant information” and “I leave information sources quickly that are too hard for me or offend my core values.”  Nothing very helpful in determining if the Tree Octopus is for real or not. The rubric also tells us we are research pros if we “look for copyright information or ‘last updated’ information” in the source.  Very well: The tree octopus site was created in 1998 and updated within the last two months, so it must be a current source of tree octopus information.  We are also research pros if we ”look for the authority behind the information on a website because I know if affects the accuracy of the information found there.”  Merely looking for the authority tells us nothing about its value, but let’s dig deeper.  The authority behind the site is the “Kelvinic University branch of the Wild Haggis Conservation Society.” Sounds credible. It is, after all, a university, and one only has to go the extra mile to be a Level 4, or “Totally Rad Researcher.”  The Tree Octopus site even carries an endorsement from Greenpeas.org, and I’ve heard of them (haven’t I?) and links to the scientific-sounding ”Cephalopod News.” 

It’s possible to spend countless hours looking at the various RADCAB categories without getting the joke.  Unless, of course, you actually know something about cephalopods — such as the fact that they are marine invertebrates that would have a tough time surviving or even maintaining their shape out of the water — then the hoax is transparent. 

Here’s where we come smack up against the limits of information literacy skills in the absence of content knowledge.  Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education asked 25 seventh-graders from middle schools across the state to review the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site, the results were unsurprising:

  • All 25 students fell for the Internet hoax;
  • All but one of the 25 rated the site as “very credible;”
  • Most struggled when asked to produce proof – or even clues – that the web site was false, even after the UConn researchers told them it was; and
  • Some of the students still insisted vehemently that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus really exists.

If you were on the research team you might fairly conclude that science knowledge was lacking in the 7th graders in the study.  (One dead giveaway on the site is the reference to the Tree Octopus’s natural predators, the bald eagle and the sasquatch.)  But the team at the University of Connecticut saw things differently.  Their verdict: “Classroom instruction in online reading and other ‘new literacies’ is ‘woefully lacking.’” 

(Cue the sounds of palms smacking on foreheads)

It’s one thing to talk about how 21st century skills can “advance learning in core academic subjects.” It’s quite another to put it into practice.  To a hammer, everything is a nail, and to 21st century skills enthusiasts, it’s all about technology tools, information literacy, innovation and collaboration. All the rest is ”facts you can find online in a maximum of 20 seconds.” So the question for the Partership for 21st Century Skills is this: are you prepared to argue just as strenuously for content standards and a broad, rich curriculum as for innovation, critical thinking and problem solving standards?  Because ultimately 21st Century skills without content knowledge is a non-starter and probably a step backward.  Dan Willingham proved to be not just a great cognitive scientist, but a good history student recently when he noted a familiar pattern in education:

Pendulum swings between an emphasis on process (analysis, critical thinking, cooperative learning) which fosters concern that students lack knowledge and generates a back-to-basics movement that emphasizes content, which fosters concern that student are merely parroting facts with no idea of how to use their knowledge, and so on.  In calmer moments, everyone agrees that students must have both content knowledge and practice in using it, but one or the other tends to get lost as the emphasis sweeps to the other extreme.

Wise words.  Maybe if we start listening, history will stop repeating itself.

37 Comments »

  1. Just to quibble a little — being an invertebrate, even one without an exo-skeleton, isn’t a disqualification from living on land — as earthworms and slugs can testify.

    Bad that the “Greenpeas.org” wasn’t a giveaway, though :-)

    Goggling “Wild Haggis Conservation Society” would also be a tip-off…

    So yes, science would help, but the most important thing would be to insist on understanding all the pieces of what you read to ask where exactly peas and Scottish sausage fit into the picture.

    Comment by Rachel — February 5, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

  2. Invertebrates live on land, but not cephalopods. While not having a spine or exoskeleton isn’t a disqualification from living on land, it’s hard to climb trees without one or the other. Wild Haggis is a tip off to anyone who has learned about Scotland (or watched enough Monty Python). Your quibbles are valid, but they tend to reinforce my larger point: the more informed you are the less likely you are to confuse reliable information with unreliable. You have accumulated a body of knowledge against which to weigh new information. Absent that, discernment becomes an endless and tedious process.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 6, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  3. We used the RADCAB, the Tree Octopus and the sasquatch website in our website evaluation lesson/activities. I found the students (two of twenty students) with background knowledge of animals and geography had a better grasp on reliabilty even with RADCAB. So In am inclined to agree with Robert (above) students must accumulate “a body of knowledge against which to weigh new information. Absent that, discernment becomes an endless and tedious process.”

    Comment by Robin (Salonich) Gerzema — February 6, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  4. No, cephalopods don’t live on land, but I’m not sure I expect 7th grade biology to go into that level of detail — there are a lot of classes in the animal kingdom, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a 7th grader to know the characteristics of all of them.

    Certainly for me, the biology of cephalopods wouldn’t have been the tip-off that the site was a fake.

    I certainly think that a lot of classes are lighter on the content than they should be. On the other hand, I really don’t like the “science as a bunch of facts” trend that seems to have infected a lot of middle school science classes.

    My biggest fear for my daughters education is that she will learn to think its okay to sort of understand something. Content knowledge makes it easier to fully understand issues, but it doesn’t guarantee that someone will make the effort.

    For me, a to key to critical thinking is the drive to firm up the “soft spots” in one’s grasp of a subject — to understand it as opposed to just knowing it. Obviously you need content knowledge for that — but what disturbs me about the 7th graders and the Tree Octopus’s is not that they weren’t able to say “Unlike some other classes of mollusks, cephalopods don’t live on land” but that they didn’t say “Wow, this is odd, I’ve never heard of this, what do other websites say about this creature. And what is Wild Haggis anyway?”

    Comment by Rachel — February 6, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  5. Point taken about animal classification, Rachel, but look at the RADCAB rubric. The way I read it–and correct me if you disagree–there’s nothing in there that would encourage a student to even find out what a cephalopod is. All of the criteria that would make a student Level 4 (highest proficiency) researcher are purely structural, for example using a website’s site map and internal serach engine to explore the depths of a site, supposedly a clue its authority. The whole premise is flawed. And that’s what makes the tree octopus hoax so potent. It’s designed to be a credible hoax and it succeeds brilliantly. Without scientific knowledge or curiosity, even a student with first-rate 21st century skills will be snookered.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 6, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

  6. I always taught students to track back the webpage address to its origen as a way to determine validity. In this case, if the class had done that as a whole and analyzed the content on that page, then they would have been able to determine that this was a hoax. If the firewalls let it through.
    It certainly would have been made apparent that the information didn’t come from a university, regardless of whether a student knew what haggis was or not.

    Comment by Kerry O'Connell — February 6, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  7. Obviously, the students (and also the teachers?) were content with very incomplete understanding of presented material and an apparent lack of any intellectual curiosity whatsoever. In my pre-internet schooldays (aka the Stone Age), we were expected to use the dictionary or another suitable reference book to learn the meaning of new terms (cephalopod, haggis, Sasquatch). Clarifying even one of those should raise the red flag, even if the student lacks the knowledge of current events (or reading) that would prevent him from confusing Greenpeas and Greenpeace.

    Comment by momof4 — February 6, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  8. That’s a good overarching point, momof4. One of the troublesome things about framing basic research skills as “21st Century Skills” is that it can become a solution in search of a problem. In other words, if you tell the student, “Hey, maybe you should look up ‘cephalopod’ or ‘haggis,’ that’s not a 21st century skill anymore. The weakness of the RADCAB approach is that it nowhere suggests that there might be a solution anywhere other than on the webpage itself. This has been one of my criticisms of the entire 21C idea — it implies that the tried and true is dead and buried. Innovation is great, but it doesn’t follow from that that if it’s not new, it’s not worthwhile.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 6, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

  9. The grain of truth in 21st century skills is that most people have access to more information, more quickly, than anyone has had in the past. So on the one hand we don’t need to keep as many specifics facts in our heads as people did 50 years ago, but the challenges of sorting through information are much greater.

    The problem with RABCAB seems to me not with the issue it’s trying to address (how to evaluate information) but with the approach it takes. In particular, it’s really hard to see how you can evaluate a site’s bias without looking at other sources of information on the same subject.

    But I think momof4 addresses the central point, which is lack of intellectual curiosity. No curriculum, whether it focuses on knowledge or skills, is going to be very successful if it doesn’t foster curiosity and a drive for understanding in the students who take it.

    And if we ignore that piece, advocates of skills and advocates of content knowledge will always be able to point to cases where incurious students look like dolts.

    Comment by Rachel — February 6, 2009 @ 3:52 pm

  10. Other sources should include books and other printed material not available online. Contrary to popular ideas, not all worthwhile information is on computers and the new is not always the best. My family still has math and physics textbooks dating from the 1920s and we used them to supplement our kids’ texts. There were no pretty pictures but the content was real meat and presented clearly. We also used a number of great history books for a number of different levels. Not only do they predate political correctness but they are much better-written and more interesting.

    Comment by momof4 — February 6, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

  11. There’s something about websites & emails that can cause even intelligent people to fall for hoaxes. My mother-in-law has a PhD. and at least once a week she forwards me an email that a quick search of Snopes.com reveals to be an urban legend. Just this morning she sent me one about how entering in one’s ATM PIN code backwards supposedly alerts the police to a forced withdrawal. In its debunking of the myth, Snopes made the excellent point that it would be extremely difficult for a victim to quickly figure out the reverse of his/her PIN under gunpoint. That difficulty would likely tip off the robber that something’s amiss, possibly resulting in further harm to the victim.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — February 6, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  12. I am also troubled by the “leave sites quickly…that offend my core values” as a goal. This seems to encourage selection of only that information which supports your theory, even if there is information which renders your theory invalid. Not all beliefs are supported by reality.

    Comment by momof4 — February 6, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

  13. When we formerly sent a student to the print library, we did not have to worry greatly about the quality/accuracy of the materials they had available because the library classified the science in the 500-600′s and the occult in the 100s. The library also censored insofar as they had limited resources and bought the reviewed materials by bonafide experts and did not have money for the rest. Today, any idiot can put up a website and compete with experts, and none of the putative techniques to detect erroneous information works unless you already know the subject. I have my biology teacher candidates use search engines as their students would, for common science topics, and they find from 40-90% of the entries in the first 10 pages are wrong, but not in a way that novice learners would detect…just as the journal Pediatrics found a majority of the online recommendations on oral rehydration therapy for infants were wrong and potentially fatal! I even presented the “you swallow an average of 8 spiders a year while sleeping” internet hoax to a meeting of entomologists and half had believed it. Science plays on the surface of the real, period. My biology teacher candidate students have found no techniques that work for naive K-12 students to detect hoaxes without having the real science experience-based understanding. PR China does filter out these bad-science sites but we do not. This social experiment will be telling in a few short years as the numbers of U.S. youngsters who believe vaccinations are bad, creationism is science, we don’t need chlorine or fluoride in our water, etc. grows. The Tree Octopus case is another excellent expose of the problem. Thank you, Pondiscio.

    Comment by John Richard Schrock — February 6, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

  14. First, from the fact that the students using the metrics provided failed to identify the hoax site, it does not follow that you could not identify the hoax “Unless, of course, you actually know something about cephalopods.”

    In fact, probably every student in the study knew that an octopus is a marine animal. What is of concern is that they chose to disregard this knowledge, because their media literacy skills were insufficiently strong. Their knowledge of the relevant *fact*, in other words, did not equip them to challenge the presentation.

    Personally, I think that the media skills rubric applied is pretty lightweight. Students strong in general reasoning skills – such as outlined here – http://www.downes.ca/post/4 – would be much less inclined to accept the website at face value. Students who combined such skills with rigorous research methods and assessment skills could prove that it was a hoax.

    Second, it does not appear from the study that the students in fact used the metrics described. Nowhere in the article does it suggest or even imply that students had training in ’21st century skills’. Indeed, the article suggests the opposite: that they did *not* have training in these skills (just a normal NLCB-era education).

    So – how does this become an argument against 21st century learning skills at all?

    The connection between the students’ test results and the 21st century skills is a complete fabrication!! Shame.

    Comment by Stephen Downes — February 7, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  15. When we formerly sent a student to the print library, we did not have to worry greatly about the quality/accuracy of the materials they had available because the library classified the science in the 500-600’s and the occult in the 100s.

    Where did they put Freudian psychology? (Freudian psychology included many ideas that are non-scientific because they are non-testable, eg the idea of repression – if you can’t find any evidence of repressed memories a strict Freudian interprets this as evidence that the repressed memories are really strongly repressed).

    Comment by Tracy W — February 8, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  16. What is of concern is that they chose to disregard this knowledge, because their media literacy skills were insufficiently strong.

    Really? A much simpler explanation is that they didn’t know enough facts about animals, which is precisely why they were easy to fool. If they had known enough facts about animals, it wouldn’t have mattered whether they heard about the “tree octopus” in a book, in a newspaper, in a magazine, on a website, on television, on the radio, or via telepathic transmissions that have yet to be invented. The only principle of “media literacy” they would have needed is, “don’t believe everything someone tells you.”

    Comment by Stuart Buck — February 8, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  17. So, with all the cultural teaching and inclusive rhetoric in the school system they missed the Haggis part. Now at fifty I might be jaded, a wee bit, but I surely know my haggis. Yes we need “21st century skills” but critical thinking still comes from 20th, 19th, 18th, 17th 16th, and 15th etc etc knowledge base. Don’t we still need Newton? Hippocrates? Brahmagupta? Euclid? Salk? Curie?

    Comment by Dee Adams — February 8, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

  18. As an experiment, I called in my 9-year-old son, and said, with a straight face and bland voice, “Can you look at this website and tell me what you think?” Meaning the “tree octopus” website, of course.

    He instantly started laughing, and exclaiming, “Tree octopus! Dad, this is totally fake.” He kept this up as he read down the page. When he got to the links, he similarly laughed over the “mountain walrus” and the others, although he pointed out that “there really are red crabs of Christmas Islands” — which does seem to be true (he had read about them in a book).

    Now what enabled my son to figure that out so quickly? Has he had the benefit of RADCAB or similar training? Good heavens, no. But he is an avid follower of science; he likes to read Scientific American and National Geographic, for example, as well as many books about science. So his background knowledge allowed him to instantly know that he was looking at a hoax.

    There’s no substitute for background knowledge.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — February 8, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  19. My seven year old daughter, who has read very little science compared to my son, also figured it out. I asked her what she thought of the picture, and she initially said, “scary.” Then I asked, “Do you think this is real?” She responded, “No.” I asked, “Why?” She responded, “Octopuses need water. Trees have water too, but they don’t give it to octopuses.”

    My daughter knows nothing of “media literacy” and not that much about science. But she still wasn’t fooled. So I’m wondering how anyone managed to find 25 12-year-olds who all believed that website.

    Comment by Anonymous — February 8, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

  20. That last one was me too.

    Comment by Stuart Buck — February 9, 2009 @ 12:40 am

  21. I thought the tree octopus was funny. The site is so large and colorful! The number of links surprised me. I never understood why people go through the elaborate procedures to create a hoax site, except for teaching purposes, I suppose.

    I think the RadCab mneumonic is a great starting place for students new to the Internet to remember evaluation tools. The Stephen Downes website evaluation blew me away. I think I have a new hero.

    Comment by MrsBubbletree — February 11, 2009 @ 2:16 am

  22. Along with a few others, my 9 year old son laughed when he saw and read the page of the tree octopus. I asked him why he found it so funny. His answer… “It’s ridiculous to think that an octopus could live in a tree in the forest.” What I wonder is what was it about those students in the study that made them ignore their inner crap detector? Does “authority” automatically come along with anything published on the web for some? It reminds me of my students from 4th grade all lining up behind 2 computers in the library to find information on the 13 colonies while ignoring all of the books on the shelves on the topic. When I asked them why, their answers were along the lines of information is better on line. We have to work on this attitude toward information.

    Comment by Steve Ransom — February 11, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

  23. What encouraged the 7th graders to turn off their crap detectors was undoubtedly the presentation of the task. It’s safe to assume that those kids were led to believe the site was believable by an adult in charge of their report cards. We train students to agree with our teachers in order to get the grades, not to think on their own. In fact, original thought tends to be reason for marking down in most classrooms. 21st century skills are different from 20th century skills, and 21st century pedagogy ought to reflect the realities of post-modern thought. The problem here isn’t RABCAB nearly as much as it is the Industrial Age view of teaching still in place in so many schools.

    Comment by Steve Koelker — February 19, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  24. How does that explain the students’ inability to find clues that the site is a hoax, even when the teachers they were so eager to pleased asked them to? I’m not certain I see how the Industrial Age view of teaching you describe would lead to the students’ confusion, but I would invite you to elaborate.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — February 19, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  25. I would be surprised if the students in the study actually read the entire page. The paragraph about hat ornaments should have been a dead giveaway:

    “The history of the tree octopus trade is a sad one. Their voracious appetite for bird plumes having exhausted all the worthy species of that family, the fashionistas moved on to cephalopodic accoutrements during the early 20th Century. Tree octopuses became prized by the fashion industry as ornamental decorations for hats, leading greedy trappers to wipe out whole populations to feed the vanity of the fashionable rich. While fortunately this practice has been outlawed, its effects still reverberate today as these millinery deprivations brought tree octopus numbers below the critical point where even minor environmental change could cause disaster.”

    Maybe they reached the paragraph but skimmed it, missing the blatantly absurd third sentence (“Tree octopuses became prized by the fashion industry as ornamental decorations for hats….”) Assuming they did not ponder the phrases “cephalopodic accoutrements” and “millinery deprivations,” they probably concluded that the paragraph had to do with environmental threats.

    I have been told at PDs that students should subject any reading material to the “five-finger test.” If, on a given page, five or more words are unfamiliar to them, then the level is too high for them, and they should find something easier. With such a rule, how would they ever read about an unfamiliar topic? How would they know to look into what they do not understand?

    Comment by Diana Senechal — February 23, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

  26. the tree octopus is fake. it dosent exist!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by jill — September 16, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  27. what a fake that was so not real why make a website that is a hoax!

    Comment by Elizabeth — November 16, 2009 @ 11:47 am

  28. You know. I don’t believe in tree octopuses…. I think the picture above just looks like an octopus in a tree. It’s fake you know. Just read all the info.. i mean 30-33 cms? yeah right that’s bigger than the pictures above, So fake.

    Comment by theodore — January 15, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

  29. Our world is full of “impossible” animals, flying snakes, tree climbing goats and fish, wonders like the platypus, and living fossils like the coelacanth. Many creatures known today were dismissed as myth for decades before being finally documented as fact, and I’d rather the kids stay open minded, if a bit skeptical of new sources, than close minded, unimaginative, and ignorant.

    Comment by Tim — January 23, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  30. As both and educator and Webmaster for The Cephalopod Page, I have a long history with the Northwest Pacific Tree octopus. Over the years I have received A LOT of emails about this web page. My site, The Cephalopod Page is the top link in the “Links To A Better Tomorrow” section.

    Standardized tests have serious limits on measuring critical thinking and real life problem solving. They do provide standardized and therefore comparable data. We can argue about how much what they measure actually matters.

    21st century skills is a step away from that – life is not a standardized test. Clearly 21st century skills misses the mark by miles here.

    As the author noted, the site looks plausible, universities and non-profits are mentioned, there are range maps and conservation initiatives. Users have to be looking and paying attention to see the “Sasquatch Liberation Army” link, etc. We all tend to see what we expect to see – all of us. Scientists are trained to be more objective but we still suffer from human failings. Most kids with the assignment follow the rubric and move on – unless they dig deeper or have prior knowledge of cephalopods, it all looks credible.

    At the Aquarium of the Pacific, we played a game with our summer camp kids called “Ocean Liars” club; the results were very similar to those of the study. We tell 4 tall marine animal oriented tales, 3 of which are lies and one of which is true. I’m a terrible liar but I had a WEB PAGE and RANGE GRAPHS. Most of the kids, all but one girl and her friend that actually learned about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus in a class (kudos to her teacher!) thought I was the only one telling the truth. These kids are the kind that spend a week at an Aquarium’s summer camp – I suspect they test out as above average.

    Another interesting aspect to this is how the definition of intelligence has changed over time. Right now, it is more or less the ability to answer standardized multiple choice questions, like those found in IQ tests, SATs, GREs, etc. This is a recent development in human history. An older view of intelligence was closer to the word “clever” – applying knowledge to solve real world (or mythical) problems. Odysseus vs the Cyclops is a good example. I believe that neither standardized tests nor 21st century skills yield much in this older definition of intelligence.

    James B. Wood
    Scientist and Educator
    The Cephalopod Page

    Comment by James B. Wood — January 14, 2011 @ 2:03 am

  31. Great info. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have book marked it for later!

    Comment by Ericka — September 20, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  32. This is exactly the 3rd posting, of yours I really went through.

    Although I like this particular 1, “21st Century Skills
    and the Tree Octopus Problem ? The Core Knowledge
    Blog” the very best. Take care -Penni

    Comment by http://tinyurl.com/mysplion36593 — January 10, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  33. [...] In school, when students are learning about things for the first time, why should we expect them to be able to analyze the information they find online? I can show you a 12-year-old boy who, having been crazy about dinosaurs since he first chewed on a T. rex, can analyze the accuracy of almost anything about dinosaurs. But that same boy would likely fall for the tree octopus. [...]

    Pingback by A Wince a Day Keeps My Hopes at Bay « The Core Knowledge Blog — April 17, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

  34. [...] approach to evaluating online sources, you probably wouldn’t realise that this was a hoax. In this blog post, Robert Pondiscio takes a popular rubric called RADCAB that helps pupils evaluate online sources [...]

    Pingback by Siri and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus | The Wing to Heaven — October 27, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

  35. This is a four year old article now, but it seems to me that the problem is not with 21st Century Skills, but one with RADCAB. The failure of students to identify the Tree Octopus as a hoax strengthens the argument for teaching GOOD 21st Century skills not weakens it.

    The question is not, “Should we teach 21st Century Skills,” but “How do we teach them well.”

    Comment by Bill — November 3, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

  36. I realize this is an old article, but I just found and others will too. Anyone reading this should understand that RADCAB is a horrible tool and utterly useless in discerning the validity of information. It encourages simple thinking about complex questions. 21st century skills and RADCAB are not synonymous and it’s unfortunate P21 chose to use it as an example. An information literate student would be skeptical of information and seek to find various sources of evidence. The 21st century movement encourages that – RADCAB doesn’t.

    Comment by Jim — July 2, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  37. It’s normal that some kids just found it funny while others took it as true. There is a lot of mis-information online and much of it is presented as factual, but there are also so many amazing things that are true, which are all too easy to dismiss as unreal. I think if adults were surveyed the results would be just as divided between natural skeptics and open minded believers. It is great however that the skill to work out the difference is being taught.

    Comment by Julie — December 20, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

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