Tree Octopus Given New Lease on Life Thanks to Connecticut Middle Schoolers
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The Tree Octopus has been given a new lease on life, thanks to a study in which 25 Connecticut 7th-graders participated.

The study, conducted by Prof. Donald Leu of the University of Connecticut, looked at students’ online reading comprehension. Professor Leu’s thesis, in part, was that online reading comprehension is different from offline reading comprehension, and that we must prepare our students to be more proficient (or at least adequate) in the online version.


As part of his research for the study, entitled The New Literacies of Online reading Comprehension: Preparing ALL Students for Their Reading Future, Leu and his colleagues asked twenty-five 7th graders (age approximately 13) to research the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

Now, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is the invention of one Lyle Zapato. Ironically, the Tree Octopus was born at around the same time as most of the 25 students – in 1998. That was the year that Zapato created the famed hoax site dedicated to the Tree Octopus, complete with pictures of the apocryphal beast.

Tree Octopus

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Of course, Leu and Co. knew that the Tree Octopus was a hoax – that was the whole point. Those students who correctly discovered that the species they’d been told was an endangered species was in fact a non-existent species, would be deemed to have good Internet reading comprehension. Those who swallowed it hook, line and sinker would be considered to have poor online reading comprehension skills.

And the results?

“96% of 7th graders (24/25) recommended The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus site as reliable to another classroom [that was] studying endangered species,” says Leu.

 

So, does this mean that our public schools are filled with children who are Internet-research illiterate? We think not – after all, if a professor treats it as real, and if they find other sites on the Internet that have taken it seriously, how are 13-year-olds to know better even than adults who have been fooled by the site, and by the reliance of others on the information?

Perhaps even more interesting, and ironic, is that the study was first conducted and published by Dr. Leu at least 2 years ago, and yet, here it is in the news again, simply because somehow it got re-ignited on the ‘net by (at least according to one industry observer) journalists who somehow picked up the 2-year-old story.

And so, for really no reason at all, the Tree Octopus is once more in the news.

And so now, while we have you, let us confirm for you, so you no longer have to wonder: The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus absolutely does not exist, and never has existed.

It’s a shame, though – it’s awfully cute!

No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
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