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Dang! I just Missed It

That was my first thought this morning, waking up around 5:30. I could have seen the planet Mars as large as the moon last night.

I learned about it yesterday, just after finishing my contemporary literacy keynote (what does it mean to be literate in a networked, digital and information-abundant environment) at the NOEL Literacy Conference in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We were all enjoying a delicious buffet of roasted vegetables, sausages and chicken (of course), and a teacher stood and asked for our attention. By the time I was able to focus my hearing on her, she was reading something to the effect of,

Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. …It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide at a modest 75-power magnification. Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. Mars will be easy to spot. …Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. …NO ONE ALIVE TODAY WILL EVER SEE THIS AGAIN

I know now, after looking for photos of this planetary alignment that hasn’t happened in 60,000 years, that the whole thing is a hoax. It is an email message that has been circulated every year since 2005, and originates from an authentic message calling attention to the actual close encounter that occurred in August 2003, when the planet Mars can within
55 million miles of us. But even at that, it appeared to be just a bright star.

Astronomers, seeking to debunk the hoax, say that if Mars came close enough to the Earth that it appeared to be the size of the Moon, life on our planet would end. The gravitational influences of both planets would hurl us into new elliptical orbits, dramatically altering our climates and causing devastating tides. ((“Mars hoax: .” HindustanTimes 27Aug 2010: n. pag. Web. 27 Aug 2010. .))

It was likely not a malicious hoax, resulting more from an awkwardly worded sentence and a lack of understanding of Planetary science. The sentence originally read,

At a modest 75-power magnification Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.

Looking through a 75-power telescope, the moon would appear as large as the moon. Even after having giving that speech and saying several times, “Being literate today means asking questions about the answers that you find,” I was taken in and considered staying up. She was a teacher, after all.

When, as a child, I sat before my teachers in the 1950s and ’60s, I had no Internet. There was no fact-checking. I was not encouraged to question what I read or heard. Education was based on the assumed authority of the teacher, the textbook, and what was available in the school library.

I think that the issue here is not about that teacher (and the rest of us ooh’ing and aah’ing) were taken in. The issue is, Will we admit it to our learners tomorrow that we made a mistake and use the mistake as a learning opportunity?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  • http://cooperphillipedm310.blogspot.com/ Cooper,Phillip

    It is interesting how we as people can overlook the littlest mistakes. The more technology we get the more it appears that we as people take that information for face value and do not study it more in depth. It is funny how when reading Mr. Warlick’s blog how a awkwardly worded sentence could lead to a misunderstanding by us. If we did not pay more attention to what we were told we would be ready to see Mars as close and nice as our lovely moon.

    I agree with Mr Warlick when he stated, “that the sentence was awkwardly worded and had a lack of planetary science understanding.” Reading the article myself I was even taken in by the fact that I might would see Mars that close with my naked eyes. We must therefore take extra time especially as teachers to be sure we give the correct information to our students and coworkers. Society relies on technology like the internet, and computers to exchange information which gives us access to a vast amount of information and we as educators must take the time to investigate the facts and make sure we give correct and timely information and not just take things at face value the way they are given to us from these new technology sources.



  • http://suedowning.blogspot.com Sue Downing

    I was beginning to think I was the only person who checks out these E-mail claims. I got the same one yesterday and replied with the response from snopes.com. In answer to your last question – I do and I will continue to do it.

  • ecturn

    Dang! I missed it, too! I was there yesterday and oohed and aahed about the Mars announcement, made a mental note to check it out. But after a full day of sessions, I was asleep by 9:30.

    Thank you for reminding me to check up on those things that sound too good to be true, and providing some of the skills to do that.

  • http://branchjamesonedm310fall2010.blogspot.com Jameson Branch

    I find it interesting that the more resources and tools we have, the more likely we are to accept something as the truth. My initial response to your post was, “I can’t believe I missed it!” Upon further reading, I began to understand how unlikely such a planetary encounter would be. As Philip noted, as educators it is important to use our resources to ensure that we are giving accurate information. A student will always remember the mistake of a teacher, regardless of how much pertinent,accurate information the teacher has given prior to such a mistake. As useful as the internet can be in the classroom, it is important that we are able to instruct students how to separate fact from fiction. We also need to remind them that if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I really enjoyed reading and pondering your post!

  • Davis, Sarah

    This post really made me think about several things. First of all, I should probably question things more than I do. Secondly,there are so many statistics avaliable online in this age, and there is no telling how many are actually correct. Technology has come so far and I believe that one day we will teach classes from the comfort of our home. If this does happen we will all need to investigate what we pour into the minds of our children before we share it with them. We don’t want to mislead our students due to fabricated information.

  • Tabitha Kauffman

    My first thought reading the announcement was “Wow! I can’t believe I missed that in the news!” That’s when I realized the point you were getting to. A lot of times on the internet it is hard to decide whether to believe what is said or not.
    The question you end your post with is one I have often asked myself and other teachers. My answer is always the same! I have no problem admitting to my students that I have been wrong about something. In fact I look at it as an opportunity to teach my students about the importance of checking sources online. It’s also a great life lesson for students to see that no one can be right all the time, even teachers!

  • http://skincareforwrinkles.com/samples/lifecell-free-trial-lifecell/ Lifecell

    Upon receiving the email, I went and checked out snopes. I admit – I was a little disappointed. How cool would that have been?
    Kind regards.

  • http://www.essaychampions.com essay_writing

    Admitting mistakes and correcting them are inevitable in learning process and the student, not to be scared of making mistakes, needs to see how the teacher deals with his ones. I always thank my students if they point out where I missed something and I shake their hands if they manage to prove me something in a dispute. I don’t think it affects my authority in a bad way and emphasising the importance of correction work as seeing on your weak points and working on them, all my students know my favourite encouragement when giving out papers all in red is saying “He who makes no mistakes, makes nothing”.

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
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