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3 ways to foster digital citizenship in schools

By Allison Starks 9/28/2017 Digital citizenship

As students become more fluent with technology, their skills must reach beyond merely knowing how to use devices.

Sure it’s important for students to have the basic computer skills they need as well as soft skills, such as collaboration, creativity and inquiry-driven thinking. But even that is not enough; students also need to learn how to become good digital citizens.

That means they should know what a digital footprint is, how to use their privacy settings to protect themselves, which online sources they can trust and how to apply their skills to pursue their passions and do good in the world.

Digital citizenship spans a wide range of topics, and for teachers it can be difficult to know where to being to instill these skills.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to weave digital citizenship into the school day and for parents to reinforce it at home.

Jack Jouett Middle School, in Albemarle County, Virginia, was recently recognized as a  Common Sense Media School for Digital Citizenship, a distinction our school earned by integrating digital citizenship in these three ways:

1.  Beginning-of-the-year badge training

 This is a fun, engaging way for students to learn the basics of school technology use. Students move through different online experiences and tasks to earn various badges including a digital citizenship badge. Each grade level addresses different parts of digital citizenship, but the badge training follows a similar pattern.

Most badges involve the sharing of information (video, infographic, definition, etc.), a discussion, a small-group activity and a badge goal. Once students master the badge goal, they receive a sticker “badge” printed with the unique logo of the digital topic.

These topics include laptop care, viruses, digital writing, and, of course, digital citizenship. Most students at Jouett place the stickers on their computers, or on their binders. Teachers also appreciate the support that badge training provides because students enter class with a firm foundation in laptop care, troubleshooting, digital citizenship, online collaborative tools and digital communication.

2.  After-lunch meetings

 Jack Jouett Middle School implements the Responsive Classroom approach through after-lunch meetings at each grade level. Immediately following lunch, students return to the classroom for a 15-minute meeting each day. Once a month, those meetings are focused entirely on digital citizenship. That is 15 minutes a day, for 5 days, totaling 75 minutes of digital citizenship instruction each month!

This is how it works: The tech lead teacher proposes a topic to the Responsive Classroom Committee. The committee discusses it and then the tech lead teacher constructs the lesson plans.

The Response Classroom Committee sends out plans for the week on Monday morning to all staff members for the after-lunch meetings.

One of the first topics addressed during the school year was digital privacy and safety, an essential concept for students to understand. Students engaged with material and participate in discussions about privacy and safety online.

The process repeats each month, enabling the school to address numerous aspects of what it means to be a digital citizen. These lessons are straightforward and maximize the work of the Responsive Classroom Committee by reaching every student in the school.

Teachers are pleased that the topics covered in classroom meeting time do not detract from their instructional time, as the schoolwide schedule gives 15 additional minutes to the third block classes. Many teachers also weave the material from classroom meetings into their content instruction.

3.  Parent tech talks

Once a month, Jack Jouett Middle School invites families to a Parent Tech Talk in the school library. Local volunteers from the high school babysit any younger children as well as teens who would rather not sit in on the talk.

We address a different topic each month related to digital citizenship and middle school students. Some of the topics discussed this year include: Making a Family Media Plan, All About Apps, How to Monitor Without Over-Monitoring, and a Common Parent Concerns Overview.

The Parent Tech Talk organizers make a point to base these talks on what parents need and are asking for, rather than starting with what the school staff would like to share.

Parents sign up using a Google Form on the school website and include any questions they have. Parents without internet access are encouraged to call the front office and do the same.

The Parent Tech Talks begin with a brief discussion about how students benefit from technology. We might, for example, share statistics about the projected number of unfilled computing jobs and highlight the opportunities open to students who are proficient with technology.

Next, the facilitator will share information and ask families to weigh in, offer their experiences and learn from each other. At each of these events, there is a table set up with copies of parent tip sheets from Common Sense Media. Parents enjoy taking a tangible resource home with them.

The Parent Tech Talk facilitators encourage parents to use the information to start an ongoing conversation with their families about technology use both at home and at school. 

At each Parent Tech Talk, the last 5-10 minutes are reserved for discussing topics for the next Parent Tech Talk. The central idea guiding decision making is that schools and families benefit from working together, listening to each other’s concerns, and having a shared conversation about how best to ensure a safe, fun and learning-rich online experience for students.

Allison Starks is tech lead and classroom teacher at Jack Jouett Middle School in Albemarle County, Virginia.

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