If you teach or think a lot about digital citizenship, take a few minutes to get acquainted with Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age. This new book is simple yet powerful, with content and context for adults who seek to support and mentor 21st Century digital kids. The goal is to help children develop a deeper understanding of the responsibilities that accompany their connected lives.
Authors Devorah Heitner, Ph.D., and Karen Jacobson, MA, base their book on a singular premise — that the 21 activities introduced in their book, when facilitated by imaginative adults, will make a positive difference in kids’ daily online lives. With its flexibility and its focus on adults as connected world coaches and mentors (not lecturers), Connecting Wisely stands head and shoulders above many other curricula in this category.
The lessons in Connecting Wisely focus on everyday digital life and each small unit is useable by anyone who works with kids — teachers, youth leaders, parents — almost anywhere they work with kids — academic classes, churches, scout meetings, or even at home. A CD in the back contains a PDF files to help reproduce handouts.
Each of the 21 activities aims is to help children and preadolescents gain social and emotional insight — perspectives that can help them identify potential problems, develop effective inner voices that speak up in difficult situations, and most importantly, learn how to analyze on-the-spot situations. With straightforward activities, manageable materials lists, helpful questions, and lots of guidance, Heitner and Jacobson set the stage for successful adult facilitators, who encourage kids to “…speak, share and shape their responses, and engage in lively conversation and community.”
Connecting Wisely is a book to hand to every teaching team in grades four to eight, although I’d also include grade three educators (and it’s just as useful for scout or church leaders).
The lessons can be used by a teacher who is responsible for digital citizenship training. Better still and with a bit of administrative organization and oversight, these activities can be adopted by teachers in a range of academic classes, infused into the curriculum at various grade levels (and maybe reinforced in other classes and grade levels). A multi-grade and teacher strategy is so much better than single lessons taught once or twice in a technology or health class. And please don’t look at these activities as yet another subject to be taught — a problem with many the other digital citizenships curricula. These learning units can be incorporated right into existing student lessons in just about any course or class.
While the book is primarily for grades four and up, I believe there’s a good argument for teachers simplifying some of these activities for third graders — even kids that age know a lot about what’s going on in the digital world. Some activities, in fact, such as image evaluation should be modified to begin as soon as children start examining images (Kindergarten, perhaps? Read my 2010 post on evaluating images in picture books.) A child emerging from early grades with a deep understanding of the images in daily life has a huge head start with digital citizenship.
Yes, I have all sorts of curricular thoughts bubbling around in my head, but way too many to list here in this review. I’ll be happy to share them later. My most significant thought, however, is that Connecting Wisely, used well, promotes digital wellness for kids and in the school community.
Every school, church, and student organization has a mission or a set of guidelines that community members are asked to live by in daily life. Yet these same institutions have not been especially effective at taking those everyday social skills — values that we fervently help kids develop each day — and amplifying their significance in kids’ learning lives. If a goal is to make it clear to today’s digital natives that we expect them to carry out positive and respectful values wherever they work and play, we need to take the time to develop a strategy that reinforces those values everywhere they work and play.
Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age is a book and a tool to help us get started.