When it comes to digital citizenship, we cannot just lecture or watch videos.
Everyone learns best by doing — whether it’s tying a shoe, mastering letter sounds, figuring out a science concept, learning to drive, parenting a new baby, or any other activity, including what we need to figure out on computers and digital devices. When people tell us how to do something by talking a lot, most of us can’t wait for the person to stop talking so we can try to do it ourselves.
Now consider how we have gone about teaching 21st Century children — at home and at school — about digital devices and digital world behavior. Mostly adults talk and talk, telling children, pre-adolescents, and teens about all the things that can go wrong and explaining what we don’t want them to do.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve spent way too much time talking to kids about digital life issues and not nearly enough time doing things with them. So these past few years I’ve changed the way I teach.
Now my goal is to design digital citizenship lessons that connect with the mission of my school, with age-appropriate social-emotional skills, and with each grade’s curriculum. I spend time developing ideas, sometimes borrowing parts of published lessons, but more often figuring out activities that correspond to the academic topics that my students are already learning about in their classrooms. I have limited time with students, and I need to use it well.
Each of my classes includes some talking, some moving, sometimes some improvisation, and a hands-on project. Most importantly, I’ve realized that the students don’t usually need to be anywhere near digital devices for digital citizenship lessons.
A Few Activity Examples
- Fifth graders learn about digital footprints by writing down their ideas, placing them on the board, and then organizing them into categories — demonstrating the endless ways that we make digital footprints and connect our footprints to others over the course of a day.
- After fifth grade students keep a family digital footprints diary for a day, small groups of students create large Venn diagrams to demonstrate how their digital footprints connect with others.
- To understand more about personal information third graders make and decorate personal information puzzles using 12-piece blank puzzles.
Kindergarten students read Goodnight Moon and then the newer parody Goodnight iPad. We talk about the importance of sleep to help the brain learn and organize information, and we identify with the bunny’s frustration when she finally decides to toss electronic devices out the window because the kids won’t stop and go to sleep. Lots of children share stories about the times when they did not want to stop using iPads.
- Near the start of the school year some grades schedule Technology Days which include four to six short workshops aimed at helping students think about the digital tools and to make the tools into the most helpful learning devices.
- Watching Google’s Gmail delivery video helps children (and adults too) understand how far and fast a message may travel to get from a sender to a destination. Google produced the video from video clips that were submitted by people from all over the world. After watching the video students take turns acting out the travels of their messages, texts, and other electronic missives might take. (This involves much running around.)
- Students in several grades make posters or pictures that depict the digital citizenship concepts that we covered in class. Each poster project becomes an art exhibit in the hallways or on bulletin boards, so mostly these projects are accomplished the old-fashioned way — with various art supplies.
The other day I bumped into a parent of a former student, now an eighth grader, who participated in digital citizenship activities during his elementary school years.
“You know,” she said, “I’ve observed my son communicating with his friends, and he clearly understands the idea of digital footprints and lots of the other digital citizenship concepts that you covered. My older son, who did not have these experiences at GDS, is less careful.”
Boy, did she make my day!