Citation and Attribution in Grade 7

Our Grade 7 Science students are researching various natural disasters as part of their unit on Earth Science. The teachers have asked me to come in and talk about image attribution. As usual, I took things a bit further than that and used the time to discuss copyright, fair use, Creative Commons, MLA citations and attribution. It seemed a lot more interesting than just showing up, saying “This is you can attribute your image” and then walking out!

We started by looking at some of the amazing and horrifying images of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami at The Big Picture. We read the captions and discussed how the news wire services work. In every caption was an attribution to the photographer: for example (David Guttenfelder/Associated Press). We boiled the concept of attribution down to this:

Attribution is about being polite and giving credit where credit is due.

We took a moment to discuss copyrights and how it should work in the real world: ask for permission, pay some money (probably) and then use the other person’s work. All students agreed that that isn’t how it actually works for them. We talked about Fair Use in Education (for their academic work) and Creative Commons (for their personal projects) and how they apply. It was quick, simple and to the point.

A finally, what is usually the boring stuff: MLA citation. When I asked them why they needed to cite their work, I got some good answers:

  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Allow the teacher to check your sources.
  • Allow others to go deeper into material.

All of those reasons where useful to others, but weren’t actually useful to the students themselves. So I had an idea: I quickly loaded up the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site and went over it with them. We talked about the various elements of a proper MLA citation and how it applied to this site. And then we made the connection:

Citation is about verifying the quality of your source.

Yes it takes some time to do (even when using NoodleTools), but most things that are important usually do!

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