Is it a lie?

There are four photoshopped images from various ads.

So I actually taught a 55 minute class Monday. I’d give myself a C- but I think the underlying concept and the examples are decent and worth sharing.

Here’s the idea. Essentially it’s easier and easier to tell convincing lies in a digital environment.

I’m stealing from Dan Meyer here. I asked the kids to tell me one thing they knew was true and then one thing they knew was false.  The next request was for a statement that was sort of true or sort of false.

Augmenting Reality

There are four photoshopped images from various ads.


So I start with the question “Are these pictures lies?” and then try to drill down to the various pieces and apply the idea of context, intent, and manipulation.

Essentially, maybe it doesn’t matter so much if Dana Carvey is airbrushed up.  He’s a comedian.  I don’t think anyone cares too much what he looks like.  He’s not selling anything to do with looks.

Does it matter more that they’re changing Beyonce’s skin color dramatically?  Why would they do that? Does it matter? Interestingly, the students seemed to feel that this was done with lighting and wasn’t a big deal.

With Demi Moore, I tried to add complication.  Would this be a lie if this picture was used to sell a beauty product?  That seemed to trigger something for the students and they stated that manipulation of the audience was what made these “augmentations” of reality acceptable or unacceptable.

A worker at Foxconn died after working a 34 hour shift image of Daisey speaking


Now I brought in Mike Daisey and his comments about Foxconn.  What was interesting to me was that most of his lies were simply adding himself into the story.  Matthew Baldwin illustrated that really well in this post. I tried to illustrate that by starting with the entry statement above (which is true) and then adding the lie portion in red (below). “It’s a lie but the important part is true. Does it matter?” The students seemed to feel that if he’d add himself to manipulate you that stripped him of any credibility.

It’s important to emphasize that he’s an entertainer.  That’s his excuse. It’s entertainment but the important parts are true.

Contrasting OJ Simpson covers on Newsweek and TimeSo now we have “real” news and they’re certainly altering things to make a more compelling story.  I didn’t seem to convince them that this mattered. The observation that the Newsweek title ought to have been on the Time magazine. The feeling was that the Time magazine looked like a movie poster.  I should have drilled down more on why the image was darkened. What is the purpose?

NYT's graph of the housing crash


Only the bottom $100,000 measure is showing initially.  I then ask them to guess how much the house would cost at the peak.  The red money markers appear sequentially and then we talk about how you might manipulate the axises to make graphs more dramatic and why you might want to do so.  I’ll stress again that this is accurate.  The question is then “Is this a lie?”

masterpiece quote



Now we get into quote mining or decontextualizing phrases. This was a quote used to promote the movie Se7en.1  The more complete quote is below and it turns out Owen was not very impressed by the movie.

So we got most2 of that done semi-decently in about 25 minutes.

I wrapped up with the idea that we were going to impugn the reputation of a historical or fictional hero.  The goal was to come up with two images- one that uses a partial quote from the character/person and then one that uses actual data in some way to discredit them.  My examples were from Star Wars.


I originally had Hitler stats in the chart. I replaced them with the Khmer Rouge. It is strange that one mass murderer feels more acceptable than another but it seems that’s the case.

Place I got media or information

Dana Carvey
Demi Moore
Ralph Lauren
Daisey quote
Daisey image
Foxconn death
OJ Simpson covers
NY Times graph
Comparison for the NYT graph
Se7en quote excerpt
Yoda image
Deathstar population
Civil War
Khmer Rouge
Cultural Revolution and Mao
Skywalker image

1 That’s for you Alan!

2 I skipped a few slides that I used but I’ll put all of the links to stuff below.

15 thoughts on “Is it a lie?

  1. I’m curious at what age level you presented this, and what the purpose was? Would the age and maturity level of the students make a difference as to how they saw “the lie” or the way they were being manipulated. Furthermore, at what age level would they deem certain manipulations par for the course of life, and which students were still in the very concrete stage of black and white.

    What bothers me more about lessons like this (and I’ve done a few, although not with as much style), is the “hit and run” nature of these types of lessons presented in isolation, at least that’s how they typically wound up being presented in my room, and I was never happy about it. I was never able to find a way to make this sort of critical analysis common place so the students were on the lookout for it. Too often, if just addressed sporadically I notice it seems to just make them more paranoid, and then they second guess factual information that has value.

    1. This was presented in an 11th grade AP computer science course where I was told I could teach anything I wanted.

      I agree it’s not a good one time lesson in a lot of ways. On the other hand, I feel like if I’m only going to talk to students about one thing one time, then encouraging the viewing of all media with a more critical eye is worth a shot. I want to erode the idea of black/white communication at any age level and as often as possible. The degree to which I’m successful is certainly questionable but I feel that it’s a worthwhile effort in the face of what I see as a societal push towards increased polarization.

      It shouldn’t be done in isolation. I asked for but couldn’t get the content being covered in their other core courses. It’d make for really easy tie ins to just about any subject which was part of the reason I tried to add textual elements, graphs, and images into the mix.

      I prefer paranoia to blind acceptance which seems the default setting too often (at least when the statements agree with their own views). That’s probably the real hard part. How do you get people to question communications that they agree with? That’d be fun to work towards.

      1. I didn’t mean to imply that anything you did bothered me, just trying to point out that I’ve done the same thing before several times over, and it’s just par for the course. Sometimes you don’t even have the chance to reflect on this as you did in such a meaningful way before the next group of students is coming through the door.

        I’ve never had a hard time getting students to question the world around them; I usually struggle with helping them develop the ability to ask the right questions without spoon feeding it to them.

        1. I think I’m with you. No offense taken for sure.

          It’s all hard and messy and more so when there is a belief that media isn’t influencing perception. I was frustrated with the lesson for a variety of reasons but I think there’s some potential in a component or two.

          It’s interesting to see the student perspective below. I’ll likely solicit more of that in the future.

  2. I was actually in the class you thought and was curious about what guidlines you were given on the subject you thaught us. I though the appearence of your presentation came across well but the subject you taught has already been shown to us many times. A few students in my class did not like the way you assumed we knew how to work keynote, and also hoovered over us while we worked. I still think you are better than 40% of the teachers at our school so I wish you luck getting the job. Overall I would rate the class a 7.5/10

    1. I enjoyed the visit. It’s certainly a nice school with impressive teachers and students.

      Unfortunately, I made some assumptions on what you were likely to know (software wise) based on the hardware I was given to choose from as part of the process. My mistake no question. It threw me when I realized most people had little experience with the Macs. No doubt this is one of the more awkward ways to start a class. Mix it with no context in other classes etc. and I’m glad no on felt the need to riot.

      I attempted to ground whatever we did with what was going on in other classes but was unable to get that information. I think that would have been better but it’s hard to get that information. I hate trying to teach something participatory with people with whom you have no relationship and with whom you have no additional context- educational or otherwise.

      I hate to have been perceived as hovering. It wasn’t my intent- look at it more as an unsuccessful way to be part of the conversation with a group of students I knew nothing about. I’d probably rate myself around a 6.5/10. It’s been way too long since I’ve taught people under 30.

      I say all this merely to provide some context and because I think it’s cool that you took the time to find this and write. I’ve withdrawn from the job process so you can take what I’ve given here as an attempt at honesty rather than an attempt to curry favor or something else with an ulterior motive.

      1. Jesus, this is a rough freaking crowd. I love that you are being graded in your blog comments by students. This is truly awesome. This is hairshirt city, here people.

        1. Yeah. I was pretty unhappy after the lesson anyway but that comment confirms some things- although the hovering comment was news to me. Although, in my defense, it’s hard not to wander around trying to look busy when you have 3 or 4 people observing you in tiny room. I honestly thought I was helping people who didn’t know anything about Keynote.

          Those concepts may have been covered but I might argue about some holes in conceptual understandings about their applicability to the larger world.

  3. I think this brings up an interesting point for all media, does it lie or filter? Most media do not lie, they filter for a variety of reasons. Maybe it fits a bias they may have, whatever. In the end, I suppose the important thing for people to realize is that all media is trying to manipulate them, whether through visuals or printed word. The skill is to be able to find the truth, or in my case with social studies, the context. Whether a lie or filtering, what media can do can be dangerous. If fake skinny people promote a diet pill, that can cause harm. Dana Carvey certainly isn’t harmful.

    As for killers, it does amaze me that Hitler is seen as evil, but the Communists aren’t despite killing many more people. For example, put up a swastika in a library and see the reaction you get versus the hammer and sickle. A quotation attributed to Stalin: A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic. This book,, claims 30 to 70 million for Mao, not 7 million.

    1. I’m clearly not giving Mao his due and I agree about the Communists. My thesis was on “The Negative Impact of The Communist International on Indo-Chinese Communism” if you can believe that. It certainly is a popular topic during lunch.

      History provides a pretty interesting backdrop for a quest for truth- given the way the victor usually gets to write their version.

  4. This sounded like an interesting lesson. Thank you for sharing it. The comments from the student who was in the class would carry more weight if they could actually spell, although the mental image of you ‘hoovering’ over the students while they worked gave me a chuckle. For those who don’t know, ‘hoovering’ is a British term for vacuuming, so if you were doing that, I’m sure your observers found it very interesting.

    1. I consider the fact that I can teach and clean to be a “value add.”

      I’ll chalk up “hoovering” to a typo. The comment certainly parallels pieces of my own assessment. They had no clue about Keynote. I did walk around a lot and there weren’t many students so I can see how that might appear to be hovering or even possibly hoovering. The students were smart. No question about that but a number of the voiced beliefs about the impact of advertising on our culture and self-perception were fairly naive. So if they were taught this many times, the skills may have stuck but the application to a broader context and its impact on their own lives was not what I’d have liked it to be.

      It’s rarely a pleasant thing to have a random stranger interrupt your course and try to teach something totally random. I believe they were supposed to be covering sorting techniques in Java.

      My introduction from the teacher (who volunteered to introduce me) was “This is Mr. Woodward.” She then sat down. Pretty funny in hindsight. I had 55 minutes and I let that rush me. I should have set out why I was there, what was going on etc.

      Another learning experience for me. I’ll do better if there’s a next time.

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