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Opportunity and Social Mobility #2: Information Wants to be Free

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students explore the concept of equal access to information.  The key concept is causation: Why do some people have access to more and better information than others?  What difference does access to information have in the lives of people today?  If you have access to information, how will you be better off?  Using tales from a Ukrainian village, the history of one of the richest men in the world, and recent footage of information experts, we can safely conclude that “information wants to be free.”

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



For students to understand that access to information is important for economic and personal well-being.   Also, to identify a common theme from multiple information sources.  (AASL 1.1.6, “Read, view, and listen for information presented in any format . . . in order to make inferences and gather meaning.”)

Suggested Time:

45-50 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will capture the main idea from three different information sources, then use that main idea as the foundation of a personal statement about the importance of access to information.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Remind the students that last week they considered equal access to schools and education.  Ask them to tell you a few things that they learned or remember.

Explain that this week, they’ll be working with the idea of equal access to information.  Ask the students to imagine a small village, cut off from the rest of the world.  Information can only go in and out of the village on paper or with a telephone. The village has no Internet.  Consider asking these thinking questions:

  • How would the lives of the villagers be different from people who have access to the Internet?
  • What difference does access of information have in the lives of people living today?
  • What can people with better information do that people without information can’t do?

Show this video clip, which highlights what happened when the Internet was brought to a small, Ukrainian village:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0tmJL_GIhQ

Hint:  The video is in Ukrainian but it does have English subtitles.  I’ve used this video many times and it never fails to amaze the students.  They especially love the lady in the market yelling about pushing the buttons and having all the information appear!  The Ukrainians are very enthusiastic, and your students will be, too!  The dialogue proceeds quickly, so you may need to pause a few times for the students to catch-up reading the subtitles.

2. Main:

While the students are still discussing the tomato-growing success of the Ukrainians (thanks to the Internet and access to information), pass out the student assignment sheets.  Go over the instructions, which are simply to record the main ideas from three information sources.  Information source #1 is the video clip about the Ukrainian villagers.  Have the students complete that section of the assignment with a partner.

Next, choose information from either the American Heroes Channel, the Public Broadcast Service, or World Book, on the life of Andrew Carnegie.  The source you choose will depend on the amount of time you have and the subscriptions your school has.  Because this lesson already uses two video/audio sources, I prefer to use a written source for the Carnegie segment.  If you can access it, print copies of the World Book article on Andrew Carnegie.  Teach the children that a massive part of the Carnegie fortune was spent in establishing public libraries so that common people would have access to information.  Ask students to record their second answer on the assignment sheet.

Finally, show the video clip from Getty images.  Ask students what they think the phrase, “Information wants to be free”, means.  Discuss this with the class and have students record their third response.

3. Conclusion:

Point out that approximately half of the information online is not free, it is available only behind a paywall, most often in the form of a subscription.  For example, World Book charges fees to access their information.  The same is true of BrainPop.  Use your school’s subscriptions to make this point.  Children whose schools do not have these subscriptions cannot access the information!  In today’s world, information is not always free!  Ask the students to record a response to the last question on their assignment sheet.

If they are interested and if you have time, challenge the students to find out what information resources a friend living far away, perhaps in another state or country, has.  Compare the number of books, magazine titles, or digital subscriptions.  Does everyone have access to the same amounts of information?

  1. Student Handout, “Information Wants to be Free” (attached)
  2. “Effects of Introducing Internet at a Village Public Library in Ukraine.” Available on YouTube at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0tmJL_GIhQ
  3. “Information Wants to be Free,” original quote as found in Getty Images archives: http://www.gettyimages.in/detail/video/at-the-first-hackers-conference-in-1984-steve-wozniak-and-news-footage/146496695
  4. “Andrew Carnegie and His Early Rise from Poverty” by the American Heroes Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5ayVoY2qcY  (less than four-minute clip)
  5. PBS’ Andrew Carnegie, The Richest Man in the World (multiple articles and video segments): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/carnegie/ – part01
  6. World Book Online’s article, “Carnegie, Andrew.” (By subscription only.)

Today’s students live in an information-rich world.  Every time I work with these concepts, students are shocked to discover that not all information is free and that not all people have access to the same information.

I have not delved into the concept of censorship in this lesson, but will touch briefly on that idea in a subsequent lesson.

Recommended books for this lesson:

None.  The juvenile biographies I found for Andrew Carnegie were at least ten years old.  That is too old for a new book purchase, so I would stay with digital resources for this lesson.

Key Terms:

Information, Equal Access to Information

Student Handout, Information Wants to be Free