Look out! It’s the Internet: Teaching Digital Citizenship

The beauty of being the only 8th grade language arts teacher on my campus is that I don’t need to coordinate my lessons with anyone. The other side of that coin: I have no one with whom to collaborate. Luckily, I have the internet. Sometime in early August, I had the idea to start the year with a unit on digital citizenship. Since my focus will be digital literacy this year, I figured it was wise.

Common Sense Media has a great program. They break it down into lessons that could be easily implemented, with little preparation from the teacher, each in one class period. The material is age appropriate (there are three ranges), and has engaging activities for students, plus informative material for the instructor. You could easily hand the unit to a first year teacher and have success. Plus, there is a mass of additional resources and ideas for projects.

Enter Mrs. Allison, the language arts teacher. I knew I had to do more than simply get them thinking about how to behave online. I needed to attack my Common Core Standards. I started with the units Digital 101 and Scams and Schemes. With these, we set up our interactive notebooks, taking Cornell style notes, and reflecting on what we’d learned. Next, I tackled Cyberbullying. Here I stayed for almost two weeks. Two weeks! What was supposed to be a class period or two, took on a life of its own.

I had their attention, so I needed to take advantage. I pulled an article and went through the steps of critical reading, underlining and annotating. I pulled in videos from the Common Sense Media site. We also watched Amanda Todd’s video. We held our first Socratic Seminar. Students wrote their first blog on their websites. The topic of cyberbullying turned out to be great fodder to teach the beginning of the year required skills.

We ended the unit with Trillion Dollar Footprint, which was my favorite of all the lessons in the program. The activity involves the students trying to pick a host for a television show. Included is all the candidates’ social media posts. It’s eye opening for most of the students. So many still have no clue that the world can see what they do online. Of course, I also taught them how to cite evidence. Language arts geek!

Schools have long taken it upon themselves to teach kids how to be good human beings: be responsible, be respectful. It’s equally important to teach digital citizenship. It’s easy to find the time if you incorporate teaching the skills you cover anyway.

“How should you behave online?” I ask my students. In chorus, “The same way you should behave in person.” Exactly.

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