Tree-Dwelling Octopuses Prompt Media Literacy Discussion

What do the concepts of biology, media literacy, and April Fool’s Day have in common? Potentially… quite a bit, in fact.  Actually, it seems cephalopods of all sorts have been getting my attention as of late.

Today’s lesson in Principles of Biology was essentially: pay attention.

Students were directed to a teacher-led discussion prompt and associated website on the “Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus“- a rare, endangered, and absolutely amazing animal. The only fact not disclosed in the very vague discussion prompt here is the fact that this animal is… not… an animal. It is perfectly false. It is wonderfully false. It is very over-the-top false. Anything beyond a surface skim shows the weakness in the presentation.  How well do your students “read?” How well do we discern sources of information? How “media literate” are we?  Do you teach these skills in your subject area?  Or is this perhaps the exclusive domain of the Communication Arts department?

This website has been in existence for over ten years now.  However, it is as good as new if you are arriving for the first time- and while sitting in a biology class.  It is certainly interesting to take a peek into an actual student discussion surrounding the topic. Check it out here, on our class network. There are five full pages to examine.   It really is interesting to read through and find the kids who actually were fooled by this prior to posting. It is also quite enlightening to read from those who weren’t fooled.  How did they know?  What was different?  I think you will have to agree that they were all good sports about it!  I have some open-minded and fun-loving students for certain.  In fact, Tania Sheko, a fellow blogger and teacher-librarian at Whitefriars College in Australia recently noticed a few of our online discussions and blogged about it.  They are seeing increased value in the openness of our network as the year goes on.

Center for Media Literacy (CML)

Halfway through today’s tongue-in-cheek lesson, I passed around a few pages from this online resource to ground the discussion: The Center for Media Literacy. Included in the site, the “Literacy for the 21st Century” guide is an excellent document, as is the “Five Key Questions That Can Change the World,” document.  I suggest saving this particular resource for future use.  The five questions are derived from the following core concepts:

1. Authorship

2. Format

3. Audience

4. Content

5. Purpose

Do you believe spending precious class time to address issues regarding media literacy in your content area is important?  If so, what do you do?  How do you do it?  How do you justify a lesson that isn’t likely to be specified within your curriculum?  What would you like to know more about?  Enjoy the discussion… we certainly did this morning.


Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. Well, since there is nothing more important than reading and analyzing the authority and accuracy of any source, I’d say that a lot of class time needs to be spent on this in ALL subject areas.

  2. Oh, and by the way, I’m using this as an example in the next week!!!! Thanks for the perfect site to illustrate how important it is to delve into the reliability of a source before using it in a research paper!

  3. I agree. I think all content areas should work under information literacy umbrella.

  4. This is exactly the kind of lesson I am doing with my cloning site. Checking to see if they think and/or analyze or just accept it as face value because a teacher assigned it. The shark cartilage debate is interesting too.

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