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Our 2019 Highlights from Cyber Civics

As this year draws to a close, our small team here at Cyber Civics would like to share some of our favorite teaching moments.

Cyber Civics class

Diana: I’m in the middle of our “Designing a Positive Online Community” lesson, in which students imagine how they'd integrate the five principles of good citizenship (Honesty, Compassion, Respect, Responsibility, and Courage) into online life. Even though this is my 10th year teaching this lesson, I’m still blown away by the kind and creative ideas kids come up with… like a website called Struggle Buddies, whose motto is “Never Study Alone,” where kids meet to help each other with tough homework assignments. Or a book lover’s site that sends out an uplifting book quote every day. And The Fame Game, an app that rates your interactions on all the games you play and gives you a “civility” rating. If your rating falls too low you are banned from playing any new games (“No Fame, No Game”). The app also puts users into a “time out” to think about any mean or impolite things they have posted (you listening Twitter??).

For my 7th graders I tweaked the “Privacy Policies: Who Reads Them?” lesson a bit. Instead of using the Snapchat or Instagram policies in the lesson, I had my students read and analyze TikTok's Privacy Policy. This Chinese social media app is extremely popular at the moment, plus it is under intense scrutiny for its privacy policy violations. Currently there are two lawsuits filed against TikTok. My students were totally engaged in this lesson, you could literally hear a pin drop in the classroom (and a few gasps) as they discovered how TikTok handles user data, uses cookies and treats personal information. They were stunned and I think you’d be too if you read TikTok’s policies!

Peter: Having taught a few Level 3 lessons over the past couple years, I was super excited to get a chance to have my very own 8th grade classes this year. While it's always fun to see the younger students navigate the situations addressed in Levels 1 and 2, it's even more fun to see the older students put what they've learned the past two years in action and watch real critical thinking take place.

My students took a real interest in "Fake News" and learning how and why misinformation is spread online. We've had several great discussions, but my favorite was when we talked about whether it's alright for Facebook to post political ads that include lies. To my surprise, most students did not have a problem with this. Although they partly argued pro-First Amendment, mostly they felt confident about their own abilities (learned in these classes) to spot misinformation. They felt that everyone else should know how to as well (especially adults!).

Having taught high school students about metaphors when I was an English teacher, I always love it when I get to weave metaphors in with our "Elements of A Web Search" lesson. This year, my 7th graders exceeded my expectations when using metaphors to describe search terms. Comparing the windshield of a car to the web browser and the steering wheel to the search engine made it easy for their classmates to remember the distinction between the two. And when the always tricky URL (Uniform Resource Locator) term was given to a student, he got right to work. He compared each car on a train to a part of the URL. He then explained that the train (or URL) allows an Internet user to their final destination.....the website they are searching for, which in this case was YouTube. Brilliant! Metaphors help students remember and make sense of new terms. Plus, knowing how to use a good metaphor is a skill that will come in handy in high school and beyond!

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Arias: This is my first year teaching Cyber Civics. I have been a teacher for over 10 years, and I have never seen students light up for lessons as much as they do for Cyber Civics. These classes give kids a safe space to talk about technology and how they interact with it daily. This is important given how much time most kids spend online today.

Last week, my students presented their own positive online community plans too. While a few innovative ideas stood out (Book Nook, a platform that recommends great books and encourages positive online interaction by rewarding members with a free coffee during a monthly book club meet-up and The Knightly Society that plans historical reenactments, debates historical accuracy, and analyzes recent archeological discoveries), I really wanted my students to think deeply about ways users could be protected from unsafe or inappropriate online behavior. The inventor of the The Knightly Society thought that offenders who acted "unknightly" could be taken to 'Google Prison' where Google would lock them out of the Internet forever! While that was a bit drastic, other students had more realistic plans... some thought that online users themselves should be more diligent about flagging inappropriate comments, and that founders should directly communicate with the offending parties and counsel them on the expectations of their sites. Overall, students felt that we could all do more to protect Internet users and foster civil discourse.

Sometimes when I see kids on their screens so often, I feel disheartened. But after listening to my students’ creative ideas for the future, I am filled with hope. Teaching children to think critically and ethically about their online behavior and the behavior of others makes me incredibly proud. I am so excited to teach this curriculum, and look forward to the new year ahead!

What's happening in your classroom? Tell us!


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