Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Ask yourself, would you do this offline?

This isn't the tagline from a digital safety website, this is a submission for a new laptop background from a 6th grader at my school. Each 6th grade submission was full of great advice like this. Reading these submissions was so satisfying because it was clear that kids now understand a great deal about what is and what isn't okay to do when online.

I was thrilled that my school elected to spend 4-5 lessons of an advisory period on digital citizenship. Digital citizenship has become more and more important to me as I've watched my own children experiment and explore digital media and as I see more and more teachers using Web 2.0 and social media tools in the classroom.

I am a tech geek so I am excited about the digital world our children and our students can explore. The possibilities for young people to impact the world and to leave a positive digital footprint are unlimited. But we also know that there are many misteps along the way as well. Many a student will upload a silly-to-the-point-of-gross YouTube video of themselves or leave a comment that they think is funny but is actually hurtful. So we need a chance in school to get them thinking and reflecting about what online posting is all about. These 4-5 lessons were a great start.

We wanted a curriculum that was developmentally appropriate and that would loop each year, exposing all students to important topics each year of middle school. Sixth graders would study Internet scams and cyberbullying. Seventh graders would consider copyright and fair use issues in a unit called "Yours, Mine or Ours?" Eighth graders would delve into the murky world of social media and discuss what staying safe online really means. We were able to adapt all of our lessons from Common Sense Media, an organization devoted to educating and advocating for sensible use of today's media.

Common Sense Media's K-12 curriculum was the perfect starting point for our lessons. They had great activities and resources for the kinds of topics we wanted to pursue. We adapted the lessons to fit our time and format and then referred teachers to the website if they needed more ideas or information. Teachers appreciated having the lesson materials and kids liked the updated and relevant activities.

But what I really loved about our units were that each one ended with an authentic assessment. The 6th graders were asked to design a laptop background. The top winners across the school will actually become the background of our school computers next year!

The 7th graders produced "Creator's Checklists" - a list of items students should consider when creating with digital content. Again, the best examples will be used to make a creator's checklist that will become part of the published student agendas for the next school year. That's right, the best checklists will actually be printed in the student calendar/resource that every students carries around every day, all year long!

And finally, our 8th graders were asked to make Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about staying safe online. Now, I have to say that asking 8th graders to take on a task like this in the spring was a major challenge. I am looking forward to moving this digital citizenship unit into the fall for next year when I think we'll get much better responses. *smile*

I am really proud that the staff and the administration at my school understood that we needed a systematic approach to teaching digital citizenship at our school:
  • lessons that every student were exposed to,
  • tasks that were engaging, relevant and authentic, and 
  • materials that any teacher could use and that any students could understand. 
If these desktop background submissions are any indication, our kids have learned a lot about how to be digital citizens now!

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