As I’ve expressed in previous articles, teaching digital citizenship is arguably one of the most important jobs of a 21st-century teacher. As our students learn to navigate the technology-filled landscape of social media, screen time, digital information, misinformation and more, we need to ensure they know how to discern fact from fiction, appropriate from inappropriate and kind from unkind.
This instigated our push to include digital citizenship as the starting point of our creative computation curriculum in the Lower Division. How could we possibly expect students to create using technology if they didn’t have a clear understanding of the rules for existence in the digital world in which they will be participating?
Third grade is a crucial year in technology development. Students begin coding on Scratch using a shared laptop cart, adding a new piece of technology to their repertoire. They begin learning to type, replacing some handwritten assignments with typed ones. They begin conducting more research online, submitting homework digitally, collaborating on projects in shared documents and many other activities that wouldn’t be possible without the help of technology. As such, we needed to ensure our curriculum addressed the newly introduced social nature of the 3rd grade digital citizen.
The four lessons all focused on how each student fit into a larger digital community, one that has its own rules and expectations. The very first lesson in 3rd grade was inspired by the 1st grade World Course curriculum, where students learn about our physical community and how everyone works together to help run it and keep it safe. Students outlined their digital communities, starting with themselves and expanding to their family and friends, our school and the wider world. They talked about how the internet is a different kind of community where everyone needs to act in a certain way to make sure it runs smoothly and everyone stays safe. Last, they looked through a series of statements and discussed which community it applies to (for example, cyberbullying applies to your family and friends, visiting sites that are safe and appropriate affects yourself, and so on).
Building on this lesson, students learned that it’s better to withhold some information from others online. Private information is the information someone could use to identify you, and it is never a good idea to share that with others online. This is different than personal information, which is information about you like your interests and hobbies, and this information can’t be used to identify who you are. This distinction is important because the internet is a big community where you don’t always know who the other members are, so it’s better to keep some information off it.
Students then dove into the importance of respectful behavior online and what to do if they encounter someone who isn’t being kind. The theme of this lesson is cyberbullying, a term students encountered for the first time. Through evaluating a few different situations, students discover the different kinds of cyberbullying that exist and more importantly begin to brainstorm ways to combat it. The most important rules at this age is to stop using the device and end the conversation and go tell a trusted adult if someone is being unkind online. Explicitly telling students to do this is very important starting at an early age so they know they are never alone in fighting disrespect.
Last, we aimed to empower our 3rd graders to be upstanders by having them create their own super digital citizen. The students created their own superhero and gave him or her special powers to combat bad digital citizenship. They pledged to embody these traits as they themselves worked to be the best digital citizens they can be.
At the end of the unit, as in every other grade, each class held a small ceremony celebrating their newfound online responsibilities and committing themselves to be upstanding digital citizens for the year to come. This celebration united the class to a common purpose, and it put the onus on the students to be the creators of a kind, safe and respectful digital world.