As elementary level teachers, we are charged not just with teaching academics, but teaching social skills as well. "Ignore bullies and tell an adult if you feel threatened," "Don't talk to strangers," "Treat people the way you want to be treated." You're probably familiar with phrases similar to these if you teach the younger grades. Young children are still learning the norms of social behavior and how to handle strangers.
However, when was the last time you talked to your students about how to use good manners when leaving a comment on a blog post? When was the last time you and your students discussed what to do if someone is harassing you online or wants to meet you in person?
These are the new social skills for our students.
While we shouldn't stop teaching children how to say "please" and "thank you," and bullies still exist in the face-to-face world, it is vital that we treat online safety and digital citizenship with the same amount of seriousness and attention. Students as young as 6 are joining social networks and conversing with other kids through online gaming and networks built around their favorite TV shows and movies as well as through products they see on TV.
Each year I spend at least a month reviewing digital citizenship and internet safety with all my classes. We complete a project that will help us remember appropriate practices throughout the year as we use various online tools that incorporate social features. My 2nd graders wrote stories on the fabulous site, Storybird, last year, and then got a chance to practice proper commenting techniques by leaving comments on each other's stories. I use Schoology with my 5th-7th graders at the start of the year as a walled garden where we learn how to blog, comment and use discussion forums. Last year there were a few hairy moments and instances of either cyberbullying or 'mean girls' type chatter. These were great teachable moments in digital footprint, handling negativity and removing our own comments and making virtual amends all within a closed environment. I consider these experiences like training wheels. Eventually, we don't need them anymore.
My students in particular, do not often have a chance to use these kinds of online social tools due to lack of access, so it is imperative that they learn it at school.
For more resources on teaching Digital Citizenship and teaching Cybersafety, check out these resources.