Maren Schmidt: Beware of the Tree Octopus |

Maren Schmidt: Beware of the Tree Octopus

Maren Schmidt

A recent newsletter from the Core Knowledge Foundation introduced me to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

On the octopus’ Web site, I found photos of the red octopus in a tree. The red octopus usually is found in the ocean off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

But, here was an explanation that the now land-lubbing octopus had adapted to the moist rain forest conditions of the Olympic Peninsula.

The site is “supported” by the Kelvenic University and the Wild Haggis Conservation Society.

All but one of the 25 seventh-graders in a research project found the site “very credible” when using a rubric to evaluate the believability of the site. When told that the site was a hoax, students struggled to find clues that showed the site, as well as the organizations supporting the site, was a joke.

Some of the students insisted that the site was based on verifiable facts and that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus was real.

The push for 21st century skills of analysis, critical thinking and cooperative learning may falter if a corresponding push for content knowledge does not accompany the analysis of data.

As Sherlock Holmes might say, “Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary.”

This study used the RADCAB evaluation tool to test the veracity of the octopus site.

RADCAB is a trademarked evaluation tool that stands for Relevance, Appropriateness, Detail, Currency, Authority and Bias.

The site, if you have some knowledge of octopi, and perhaps Homer’s Odyssey or Scottish victuals, is quite a humorous read. But, with weak knowledge and a focused evaluation technique, failing to spot the joke might be inevitable.

Proponents of content knowledge curriculum for children say that with facts about octopi, the Pacific Northwest, and pneumatic mail tubes, among others, the Web site hoax would be evident.

Enthusiasts of technology tools and online information access tend to support the idea that facts easily are obtained in seconds with an online search.

Our children need an exposure to broad rich content and experiences, as well as to technology innovations that include critical thinking skills.

Facts without experiences remain facts. Facts with experiences become knowledge and, eventually, wisdom.

We need to know enough to ask the right questions. If we don’t ask the right questions, then we’ll be analyzing information for no reason.

We’ll be spinning our wheels while gulping gullibility.

In the meantime, keep a lookout for red eight-armed cephalopods hanging out of trees.

They may be coming to your town soon.

Kids Talk TM is a column dealing with childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Ms. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than 25 years of experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents. Contact her at

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