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Taking a District-Wide Approach to Teaching Digital Citizenship

How Kent School District in Kent, Washington became Common Sense Media's first Digital Citizenship Certified District

Greg Whiteman | March 19, 2014

As the Director of Technology Integration for the Kent School District in Kent, Wash., I am responsible for ensuring that technology plays a meaningful role in supporting, extending, and individualizing learning opportunities for all students. We’ve always known that students show up in our classrooms with uneven levels of experience and opportunity. Although technology access is as common as air for many students, there is still a divide when it comes to the digital experiences they've had, and how they've interpreted them. As youth researcher danah boyd identifies in her recent book, It’s Complicated, “Many of the technologies that youth encounter [. . .] require users to engage critically with the information they are seeing. When we assume that youth will just absorb all things digital through exposure, we absolve ourselves of our responsibility to help teenagers develop necessary skills.*”

Knowing that 52% of our 28,000 students come from homes of poverty and that many come from immigrant refugee communities, the Kent School District embarked on an effort to provide specific digital citizenship instruction to all students to, in essence, level the playing the field.  With a technology-infused school environment that includes district-provided laptops for all students beginning in the seventh grade, and plans to expand access in elementary classrooms, helping students develop media literacy skills felt like a moral mandate for our district.

Drawing from the Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum available for free at Common Sense Media, we have established our own scope and sequence for grades 1-12. The lessons are taught by all teachers at the identified grades, not just by a tech teacher down the hall. The target is to engage students with all lessons by the end of October. Secondary schools teach the lessons by either designating which lessons will be taught through specific content areas, or by teaching the same lesson school wide through the advisory period on the same day.

To inaugurate our digital citizenship curriculum, a presentation was shared by the principal at every school. The principals each attended a summer training session to review the materials and prepare for sharing them with teachers during the start-of-school workshop days.

Information provided to teachers guided them to Common Sense Media's online curriculum training. After completion of the hour-long training and submission of the certificate, teachers received one hour’s pay. This was done in the fall of 2012 to launch the program. Now, teachers who are new to the district also go to the training page to complete the online program.

The digital citizenship lessons we use have been compiled into SMART Notebook files and posted on the district’s internal staff Curriculum Center webpage. All the resources needed to teach the lesson are attached to that file including links to stream the videos from the Common Sense Media site.

By systemically teaching digital citizenship across all grade levels across the district, our goal is to help our students productively and safely “navigate networked publics and the information-rich environments that the internet supports,” to quote Ms. boyd again.

If you are interested in learning more about how we made sure that every student in our district received instruction on digital literacy and citizenship, join me and my colleague Laurie Kirkland, Technology Integration Program Specialist, for a webinar co-hosted by Common Sense Media and on Monday, March 24 at 4pm / Eastern Time. To register for this free webinar, either join Common Sense Media's Digital Citizenship Community on EdWeb, or go directly to the Edweb webinar registration page. Hope to see you there! 

* Boyd, D. (2014). It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Interested in applying to be a Certified Educator, Certified School, or even a Certified District? Start by visiting /education/recognition to get started.