I know it’s tough for educators to find time to fit anything extra into the curriculum, such as digital literacy. It’s easy just to check a box and deliver five online safety lessons per year or maybe have an assembly when an unfortunate “digital incident” occurs. But teaching students digital literacy should not be an “extra.” In today’s world, these are vital life skills for kids grade 5 and above. They need to know how to navigate and excel in a digital setting before entering high school. And the only way to get there, is by laying a foundation, offering sequential lessons that make sense, and repetition. This is what you do for Math, English, and Science. It should be the same for digital literacy. After all, what do you think kids will need more of down the road—the ability to solve for x or the ability to use their digital devices ethically and safely?
My experiences teaching high school students at the dawn of the iPhone along with my current role teaching middle school gives me a unique perspective. First off, kids WANT and feel a NEED to learn digital literacy. They’re not living under a rock, they hear the horror stories of what can happen with misuse of the powerful tool of a smart phone. On the other hand, they also see all the wonderful possibilities and opportunities the online world offers. That’s what teaching digital literacy on a weekly basis can do...preempt possible pitfalls and encourage positive participation and production.
The digital literacy program I teach to 6-8 graders is Cyber Civics. It’s by far the most comprehensive digital literacy and citizenship program I could find. What I love most about it is that it’s sequential. My students get weekly 45-minute lessons in Digital Citizenship (6th grade), Information Literacy (7th grade) and Media Literacy for Positive Participation (8th grade). Lessons build off one another and encourage students to be ethical and critical thinkers. This is done through role-play, group discussions and problem-solving activities. As students progress through the program, they negotiate and create social norms that will guide future online practices.
My Favorite Lessons
Last week I taught one of my favorite lessons. After learning about the personal information that’s collected from them online, students created their own online businesses and decided what information they would collect from users. This was all done by acting out an episode of "Shark Tank." I was the shark and they pitched me their business. They had to explain what info they wanted to collect and how they would (ethically) use it to customize user experience and, of course, make money. They loved it!
While that was a lesson for 7th graders, I was having my 6th graders create their own avatars (which is an online identity). Many times avatars are used to mask real feelings and physical attributes. While this is just one lesson in the Cyberbullying unit, it gives students a chance to learn about empathy – which is an important step to eradicating online cruelty. Of course students loved to draw and share their avatars. But they didn’t realize they would also be learning about how, with every online interaction, there’s a real person with real feelings and vulnerabilities on the other end. Needless to say, a great class discussion ensued.
From Digital Reputations and Cyberbullying in Level 1, to Online Safety and Personal Information/Privacy in Level 2 to Stereotypes and “Fake News” in Level 3 – Cyber Civics covers a wide range of digital topics. It’s absolutely the most comprehensive digital education you’ll find. Kids want and kids need these lessons. It’s up to educators to make it happen.
Educators, FIND THE TIME!
Cyber Civics can be taught as an elective, a leadership course, during an advisory class, in homeroom, or as a club. It can absolutely be an ELA class, or Social Studies, there’s even Math involved. There are so many options for you to fit this in your schedule!
Don’t just check a box, find the time and give your students repetitive, sequential lessons in digital literacy. It’s the only way they’ll actually learn it.
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