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DigCit Lesson Mash-Up: Common Sense and Scratch

Kids learn key digital citizenship skills as they create interactive animations.

Shad Wachter | December 11, 2014

Every teacher aims to make learning fun and to help students make meaningful connections. Two topics I cover in my technology literacy classes are digital citizenship and computational thinking through computer programming. As I examined Common Sense Education's digital citizenship lessons and explored the new Scratch programming curriculum, I came up with a surprising mash-up of the two. My fifth-grade students could learn about staying safe, responsible, and respectful online with the Common Sense curriculum and then create interactive computer animations in Scratch to demonstrate what they learned. The inherent excitement of creating something on the computer was all the motivation my students needed to become champions for digital citizenship. How did we do it? Read on!

Start with Common Sense's digital citizenship curriculum.
First, we start with the "Super Digital Citizen" lesson from the Common Sense curriculum. Using Spiderman’s motto, "With great power comes great responsibility," students discuss the power that the Internet gives us and ways they can stay safe, responsible, and respectful online.

Use design journals to help students plan projects and reflect on learning.
Students use PowerPoint to create design journals so they can reflect on their learning and plan out projects. Students first use their journals to brainstorm and then write a brief description of a Digital Citizen Superhero. Similar to an everyday superhero found in any comic strip, a Digital Citizen Superhero uses his or her powers to help people stay safe, responsible, and respectful online.

Once students create their superhero’s backstory, they go to Marvel's Superhero Avatar Creator and create their superhero. They copy and paste a screenshot of their comic book creation into their design journal. Next, they storyboard a "digital dilemma," in which their digital superhero saves the day by helping an Internet user learn an important digital citizenship tip. They draw their story like a comic strip, take a digital picture of it, and add it to their design journal.

Teach computational thinking through Scratch.
Once students have their comic strip storyboarded, it’s time to learn the programming basics they need in order to create an interactive animation in Scratch. Students practice working with characters, or sprites as they're called in Scratch. As a guide, I use lessons from Creative Computing: An Introductory Computing Curriculum Using Scratch. I demonstrate how two or more sprites can carry on a conversation about talking safely online. Students then write their own scripts as part of the "Talking Safely Online" lesson from the Common Sense curriculum and program two sprites to talk to each other. 

Next, they are ready to set the scene: I show students how to change backgrounds in Scratch in order to create a setting for their animations. We go online, and students import backgrounds from Google image searches. This is a great time to remind students about the importance of giving credit when using other people’s work. Students then write programming code to switch scenes and show and hide characters. 

After completing the project, make a space for peer feedback and self-reflection.
Finally, it's time to bring it all together. Referring back to their design journals, students copy, paste, and edit their Digital Citizen Superheroes as sprites in their Scratch animations. Their comic strip storyboard comes to life with sprites, backgrounds, and dialogue between characters to help tell the stories. Students add their projects to an online studio and offer feedback to each other. I provide a lot of guidance around the feedback process. They practice leaving both nice and helpful comments. Just saying “I like this" isn't enough; their critiques should provide suggestions for improvement. Students end by adding a final reflection to their design journals. 

The unit takes roughly eight 40-minute class periods. 

  • Period 1-2: Create the superhero and comic strip. 
  • Period 3: Students learn about talking safely online and write their dialogues. 
  • Periods 4-6: Students explore characters, conversations, and backdrops within Scratch. 
  • Periods 7-8: Students create their Digital Citizen Superhero comic strip animation in Scratch. 

How do I know it was a success?
This project is one of my favorite units to teach. Students learn important skills and retain more information when they have the opportunity to make connections across content or topic areas. The greatest challenge we encounter is time. Students are often so engaged, they want to take longer than the allotted time to add more detail to their projects. Many students are so motivated that they work on their animations at home. Some kids who need extra help or more time ask to work on the project with me or with classmates during lunch and recess.

Very few students struggle with this unit. Even those who aren't strong artists are able to draw stick figures for their design journals. When it comes time to create characters and backgrounds in Scratch, they can use those already in the program’s library or search the Internet for images. The spiraling Scratch curriculum introduces new skills by building off of past experiences, and students can accomplish similar tasks in various ways depending on their comfort level.

I encourage interaction between students, especially when using Scratch. I try to foster a culture of fearlessness, exploration, and peer collaboration. Through the reflection questions in their design journals and peer feedback within Scratch, students assess and monitor the quality of their own work against the assessment criteria rubric and their classmates’ projects. In the end, the Digital Citizen Superheroes save the day, and my students do their part to help make the Internet a better place for everyone.

Photo: "Scratcher" by ransomtech. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA license.