Adora Svitak on Critical Thinking and 21st Century Detectives

Betsynote: The Bing team first met 12-year old Adora Svitak virtually when she presented her amazing talk at TED earlier this year as one of the world’s youngest teachers. Since then, we’ve been impressed with both her sharp observations and relentless interest in the state of kids today, and in helping all kids gain the critical thinking skills to navigate the Internet safely.

Here we asked her to give her thoughts on Critical Thinking and provide some insights into the way she teaches her classes how to be detectives hunting down information for their school projects and daily life. Since a lot of her material is presented online, we also include a link to one of her more popular critical thinking videos.


Imagine this: a team of detectives are creeping stealthily toward a crime scene, sniffing around for any clues that might further the investigation. But these detectives aren’t solving murders or chasing suspects–they’re fourth and fifth grade students in Green Bay, Wisconsin, putting their critical thinking skills to use and being what I like to call Web detectives.

Let me explain. These elementary-school students are part of a program which I teach over video conferencing called (you guessed it) “Web Detective.” When you think “detective,” you might think of *** Tracy, bumbling Jack Clouseau, or quick-witted Nancy Drew–well, these students are the Nancy Drews of the internet age. We don’t visit crime scenes; we visit websites. We don’t run “background checks” on suspects, we run “background checks” on online authors. And in the world that we investigate, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

Some might say, “Why all the drama?” It’s not drama at all when you look at recent studies, such as one by Kaiser, that “found that children consume recreational media 7 1/2 hours a day, and are consuming nearly 11 hours’ worth of content.” (CBS News). With increasing consumption of digital media, much of it online, digital literacy and critical thinking become more important than ever when it comes to surfing the Web. This is the need that I address in the sessions I teach.

Using techniques like checking more than one source, we make inferences about factual reliability; students learn to ask themselves questions including:

Who owns a site? What are their goals? For instance, the seemingly informative website, All About Explorers, might look good on the surface, but upon digging deeper, you realize that many facts on the website about the explorers aren’t true. (Christopher Columbus was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1951, anyone?) I tell students that the About or About Us section of a website can provide valuable insights onto its goals. In the case of All About Explorers, the goals are not malicious, but rather educational–it was created by teachers hoping to show students that not everything on the internet is true.

What do domain names tell us? We might explore source reliability from a .edu website versus a .com website, using research examples like dog food–if you were looking for impartial information about dog food, would you want to go to the Iams website or the website of a veterinary college?

How can search engines help? Students love learning about tools like adding “” after their search topic in order to return results from a trusted site. On Bing, inquisitive searchers can mouse over links to read snippets from the website, giving them added insight before they click.

While this may seem like a lot of work to do while browsing the Internet, it’s just part of a day’s work for a successful Web detective. As researching online becomes easier with new advances in search technology, like those we see from Bing, anyone can become an internet investigator. The skills that we’ve learned from investigating websites won’t just help us find reliable facts for our research papers; they’ll help us learn about asking questions, making inferences, and critical thinking–skills we’ll need on, and off, the “crime scene.”

Adora Svitak

Adora Teaches Web Detection to 5th and 6th graders



Education technology and internet literacy advocate, teacher and speaker, author of Flying Fingers, Dancing Fingers, Yang in Disguise, Redmond, WA

Called a “tiny literary giant” by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America, twelve-year-old Adora Svitak is the world’s youngest teacher and the published author of three books. She explores new technologies and their possibilities in education through her teaching and speaking. Adora’s daily video conferences with students from around the world have earned her Berrien RESA’s “Best Author and Expert” award for distance learning two years in a row.

To further her goal of inspiring today’s teachers, Adora works with school districts across the country—and to inspire the teachers of tomorrow, she speaks at schools of education in universities including DePaul and Bowling Green State University. Adora frequents national and international media outlets (NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Outlook from BBC, etc.) to advocate for education innovation around the world. A prolific writer on education and education technology, Adora has written for EdTech Magazine and the New Oriental Magazine (China). Adora is a prodigious blogger, she writes frequent posts on 21st-century learning at The Educators’ Royal Treatment, a blog dedicated to education. She was nominated in 2009 for the Edublogs Student Blog Award. Adora’s books are Flying Fingers, an engaging how-to handbook on writing for parents and kids from a student’s point of view; Dancing Fingers, a collection of poetry she co-authored with her sister Adrianna; and Yang in Disguise, a coming-of-age fantasy novel with undertones of political satire.

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