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Teach Middle Schoolers About Social Media with Fun Online Sim

These engaging activities can spark conversations about oversharing, digital footprints, cyberbullying, and more.

Daniel Vargas Campos | October 12, 2020

As physical distancing becomes a feature of students' everyday lives, social media has emerged as an important outlet for them to stay connected with friends and family. At the same time, not all students have access to the support they need to learn how to use social media in a way that's healthy. And for students from lower-income families, online negative experiences are more likely to spill over into their offline lives. Yet, having a conversation with young people about how they use social media can be a daunting task.

To prepare young people for the real-life digital dilemmas they will face on social media, Common Sense Education and a group of researchers at the Cornell Social Media Lab co-developed Social Media TestDrive. This online simulation allows middle school students a chance to explore a social media interface without actually having to create a social media account.

For Digital Citizenship Week 2020, we encourage you to try out Social Media TestDrive in your classroom. Each Social Media TestDrive module is aligned to one of the core digital citizenship topics and lessons from Common Sense Education's K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (for more information, see the educator guide). Each module is organized into four sections: a tutorial, a guided activity, a free-play section, and a reflection page. A module takes 20-25 minutes to complete.

Here are some ideas for how you can implement TestDrive during Digital Citizenship Week:

  • For review: If you taught one of our lessons at the beginning of the year, you can have students complete a TestDrive module as a way to revisit key digital citizenship concepts they might have forgotten or that might have become more relevant since the start of the school year.
  • For homework or asynchronous activity: TestDrive modules are designed to be self-directed, so you can have students complete them as homework. Ask students to save their answer to the module's reflection questions as PDFs so they can share them with you.
  • For synchronous class discussion: Have students complete a module and discuss their experiences with the rest of the class. You can use the guiding questions below to make sure students address key topics from the lesson.

Once you decide which approach works best for you and your students, use the schedule below to identify which modules align best with the topics or themes you want to emphasize during this year's Digital Citizenship Week.

Monday: Media Balance & Well-Being

The Ups and Downs of Social Media: Students reflect on how social media can make them feel and learn how to use social media in a positive and balanced way.

Discussion questions:

  • What is oversharing? Give an example.
  • How can oversharing affect the way you or others feel when using social media?
  • What can you do if you experience a red flag feeling when using social media?

Healthy Social Media Habits: Students explore how social media platforms are designed to keep their attention and practice healthy media habits to achieve media balance.

Discussion questions:

  • What is attention-grabbing design?
  • Can you share an example of a feedback loop you have experienced in your life?
  • How can you build healthy media habits?

Tuesday: Privacy & Security

Scams and Phishing: Students understand the consequences of identity theft and learn how to identify and take action against phishing scams on social media.

Discussion questions:

  • What are some examples of private information?
  • What are some clues you can use to identify phishing scams?
  • Why do you think it is important to protect yourself from phishing scams?

Social Media Privacy: Students understand how social media sites collect information about users and learn strategies for protecting privacy on social media.

Discussion questions:

  • What are privacy settings?
  • Why is it important to read the privacy policy of a social media app?
  • What can you do in the future to protect your privacy on social media?

Wednesday: Digital Footprint & Identity

Shaping Your Digital Footprint: Students explore how actions on social media create a digital footprint and learn skills to positively shape digital footprints.

Discussion questions:

  • What is a digital footprint?
  • What are examples of things that contribute to your digital footprint?
  • What can you do in the future to be mindful of your digital footprint and that of others when you use social media?

Online Identities: Students learn how to manage self-presentation and how online identities can change with different audiences on social media.

Discussion questions:

  • Did you create a post on the TestDrive timeline? If so, did you think about your audience?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of having multiple social media accounts?

Thursday: Relationships, Communication, & Cyberbullying

Is This Private Information?: Students learn what is safe to share with different social media audiences and what kind of information is inappropriate to share on social media.

Discussion questions:

  • What are examples of private information?
  • How did you respond when you received a message asking for private information?
  • What can you do in the future to protect your private information and that of others when you are on social media?

How to Be an Upstander: Students identify signs of cyberbullying and practice how to respond when seeing cyberbullying happening to others.

Discussion questions:

  • What are signs of cyberbullying on social media? Did you notice any on the TestDrive timeline?
  • Why is it important for people to act against cyberbullying on social media?
  • What will you do in the future to be an upstander if you see cyberbullying on social media?

Friday: News & Media Literacy

News in Social Media: Students learn why fake news exists and how to identify the telltale signs of fake news on social media.

Discussion questions:

  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of getting news on social media?
  • Why is it important to evaluate the information you see on social media?
  • What would you do on real social media sites to make sure the information you see is credible?

Responding to Breaking News!: Students learn how to react to breaking news on social media and practice strategies for identifying reliable news online.

Discussion questions:

  • Did you read any of the articles on the Social Media TestDrive timeline? Did you notice any signs that an article may be inaccurate?
  • What strategies can help you know whether the information in a news article is accurate?
  • Why is it important to get the full story before reacting to or sharing breaking news on social media?

Using Social Media TestDrive as a family engagement resource

Social Media TestDrive works best with students who are considering joining social media in the near future or those who are new users. This makes TestDrive a great way to spark conversations with kids about thoughtful and responsible social media use. Here are a few ways to engage families using TestDrive:

  • Assign Social Media TestDrive as a family activity after teaching one of the aligned digital citizenship lessons.
  • Encourage family members to go through the simulation with their student. Each module introduces digital citizenship topics that can help family members better understand the challenges and dilemmas their students might encounter online.
  • Share the above discussion questions or the ones in the educator guide to help family members have a nurturing discussion with their kids.