When kindergarten students are given a book, teachers patiently guide children though picture walk and read-aloud activities to scaffold knowledge and skills necessary for becoming independent readers. When the time comes for kids to start driving, parents send them to driving schools to build new knowledge and skills with an expert. Throughout their childhood, kids develop life-long skills with support of an expert adult, and their mastery level often determines how successful their future may be. Demands of the 21 century flooded education with thousands of interactive web tools, online resources, global e-communities, opportunities for instant publishing, and diverse technology gadgets that kids bring to school. When Katrina Schwartz wrote in her blog: “It’s becoming less and less effective to block students from websites,” I thought of all don’t-s and not-s we list for our students when teaching them about digital citizenship and the Internet safety. How effective are we with such strategies? Is it better to focus on do-s and how-s instead?
Every educator and parent would agree that teaching how to use the Internet safely and effectively is a necessary topic that needs to be addressed in schools. Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, a Common Sense Media research study, is a certain confirmation of how imperative it truly is. Teachers cannot afford to ignore technologies in a classroom with an excuse of keeping students safe on the Internet. Instead, it is an emergency skill that needs to be introduced to students at an early age. The most difficult task for teachers and parents is to balance the safety of students with the benefits and learning opportunities that come with the Internet use (Richardson, 2010).
Another powerful strategy for teaching the Internet safety is integrating it into everyday curriculum. Teachers should use reading passages and writing prompts that address the topic of online safety. Such integration will increase student understanding of the issues. Edutopia (specifically the blog section of it) is full of lesson resources, tips, and specific strategies on how digital citizenship may become a content base for teaching the core curriculum. NetSmartzKids is a student-centered resource that can be easily implemented in daily instruction and allow children to explore the Internet safety topics and practice skills for appropriate online behavior.
The Internet safety is more than not publishing students’ names and pictures online. It is about responsibilities, expectations, and trust (Richardson, 2010). Building a classroom community where these characteristics are embedded into everything students and teachers do is one more strategy that can help kids stay safe when using the Internet. An open and consistent communication with students and parents is crucial in developing an environment like that. In addition to kid-friendly curriculum ideas for elementary classrooms, iKeepSafe is a powerful resource teachers may utilize in educating parents about the Internet safety through classroom newsletters or after school workshops.
There are many great websites that can help us educate students about safety online and digital citizenship, but, in my opinion, the best online resource for this topic is the #digcit on Twitter. I encourage every teacher to participate in their biweekly chats at least once to experience the power of social professional learning.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.