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Teaching Digital Citizenship in the Elementary Classroom

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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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.

Lesson Resources

Online Learning Tools

Digital Learning Tools That Incorporate Social Networking

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Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Yes, Mark. I wonder how many schools know this is coming down the line? The Common Sense Media curriculum is great if schools don't have anything in place yet (which is a bit scary to think about!)

Connie's picture
First grade teacher from Minnesota

I am just now researching how to use blogs with my first graders. My first concern was and continues to be: Is it appropriate and safe to have first graders social networking on blogs. We spend so much time teaching them social skills they need to have in the classroom, now it is just as important to teach them the social skills they will need to use and stay safe in the digital world. Thanks for the article which included some really good links for more information.

Kirby VanDeWalker's picture

As a 5/6 grade health and pe teacher, the curriculum has changed recently in the past years about what social skills we teach. We still have the face-to-face character education lessons about social responilities and actions, but also internet safety and virtual interaction. I think students this age are oblivious to what could happen to them when chatting with people they do not know or knowing that what they post on facebook or other social networks can be seen by many people! I agree that they need to be taught or they may never learn the respectful way to comment on others online work.

Heather's picture
K-6 Teacher, Graduate Student from Virginia

I consider myself to still be a new teacher; one with many fresh ideas and an enthusiasm for incorporating technology into lesson plans and in the classroom setting. While I am a "new generation" teacher, I am still very old fashioned when it comes to social etiquette, manners and inspiring kids to be kind to everyone. I enforce a strong "bully free zone." I appreciate your blog and highlighting the importance of teaching students how to be a good online citizen! I find that even students who are generally polite and have manners often let their guard down and take a walk on the wild side when they enter the tech-world. Unfortunately, some students who don't come across as a bully in a general social setting, may feel "safe" or "untouchable" behind a computer screen and keyboard. Just as teachers spend time in the beginning of the year (or before any group work or activity) explaining acceptable and appropriate behavior, this should be applied to technology learning settings as well. Teachers must first have a realistic idea of all that could potentially go wrong or ways students could get themselves into trouble, and then create a code of conduct and expectations for students to follow. There is much to be considered before placing a laptop or social networking site at the student's fingertips. Set the standards high, and remind students that technology is a privilege to enhance their learning. They must prove and earn their rights to interact in a respectful way with all of their classmates. And finally, teachers must know how to monitor all student activity to hold students accountable and responsible for their actions. A student can quickly sense if their teacher is or is not tech-savvy.
On a side note, I really enjoyed reading many of your blog posts as well as the resources and links you provided! Thank you!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Thanks! It is all about the expectations we have for our students and our own level of knowledge of digital tools and social media.

Asma Aamer's picture

As teachers, we should teach the themes of digital citizenship and that is "Respect,Educate and Protect". Each area should be taught beginning at the kindergarten level. Our students need to learn how they can respect others and be respected by others just as in daily life. They should be taught the importance of their on-ine protection by counselling and educating. Activities/ scenarios educating online Civility can make a big change. Ethical education is also required for making students good and responsible digital citizens.They can also be taught not to misuse the opportunities of displaying information on certain websites.For example,students unnecessarily spot Land marks on google earth or write unauthentic information on Wikipedia.Though corrections are done by admin , but our students need to learn , not to use any space just for the sake of being visible worldwide.

Annika Schneider's picture
Annika Schneider
Education Student at Kansas State University - Music and Spanish

Yes, I completely agree. Not only does teaching digital citizenship allow our students to be safe and polite online, it teaching digital competence, which has increasing importance in today's world. Thank you for your information and resources!

Julie's picture

Hello. As a second grade teacher I love your idea of incorporating the writing of stories on Storybird and students response. When my students peer edit they are first to start with stating something positive and then constructive "criticism". Using this website would integrate both peer conferencing and digital citizenship. Thank you for the great idea.

Stacy Maldonado's picture

Hi. As a 5th grader teacher, I am grateful to have found your blog regarding digital citizenship. I will be sure to include all that is needed to ensure the safety of all students. In the past, we have had our students and parents sign an online agreement that ensured their safety. We spent a lot of time introducing online etiquette and of course reviewing it throughout the year. This is such an important topic as we pursue more and more online opportunities for our students.

Tammy Matier's picture

As a special education teacher, I often have to be explicit in teaching my students social skills that lead to being a positively contributing member of a community. As I begin to explore the use of digital tools within my classroom, in specific the use of social media, I find that I will need to directly teach the same skills of citizenship as applied to an on-line presence. Many of my colleagues are timid to bring social media into the classroom for fear of cyberbullying under the cloak of anonymity or the inherent dangers of exposing yourself too vastly to the on-line universe. The reality is, however, our students are part of a generation where an on on-line presence/persona is the norm, and it starts at a very early age. Just as we teach students interpersonal skills, such as being an effective communicator, demonstrating respect, and how to collaboratively work in groups, and bring in presentations on "stranger danger" and "safe touch", we must begin teaching students about how to safely and responsibly become a member of an on-line community. It seems to me that the best way to do this is to give them a "sand box" to practice these skills. Like you said, we start with training wheels and release them into independence when they demonstrate readiness. Thanks for your blog. I found it refreshing and thought provoking!

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