How a Teacher Librarian in CO Prepares Her Students to Go Online. Spoiler Alert: They Must Earn a Digital Passport™ First.

October 25, 2013
Amy Wilson
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, In the Classroom

Here at Common Sense Media, we're proud of Digital Passport,™ the game we created to teach the basics of digital literacy and citizenship to upper elementary school students.

To date, more than 230,000 students have played Digital Passport and more than 40,000 of them have earned their Digital Passports,™ which means they've played through all of the levels on all of the games.

And at Hulstrom Options K-8 School in Northglenn, CO, a whole new crop of 3rd graders have just earned theirs. Hulstrom's mission statement includes the words 21st Century Learning, so they take technology integration especially seriously and have had many rich discussions among staff and students about what 21st Century Learning should mean. Web 2.0 tools, websites, and databases drive instruction and assessment as early as kindergarten there.

When students arrive in 3rd grade, they are given a Google Apps account complete with Gmail. But before they are granted access, they must first earn their Digital Passports. Laura Israelsen, a Teacher Libarian at the school who teaches 21st Century Learning, was first introduced to Digital Passport at a conference, and decided to "run with it." She says, "At first, we only used it with our 5th graders and mistakenly thought that 3rd and 4th graders were too young for these conversations about cyberbullying and cell-phone etiquette.  We quickly changed our minds after polling and listening to the kids."

When the school introduced laptop carts a few years back, they required students and teachers to complete training in order to check them out. They earned a laptop cart license and were then able to sign up for and use the resource. Israelsen explains that the same philosophy lead them to require all 3rd graders to earn their Digital Passport before they were given their Google Apps logins.




"We wanted them to understand that they were creating a digital footprint that would follow them throughout their lives and what to do if they encountered predators, cyberbullying or inappropriate content," Israelsen says. "We felt strongly that we were better off teaching our kids how to protect and conduct themselves online rather than worry about how many filters and firewalls we could create."  

Israelsen finds that Digital Passport is engaging and fun and that kids know when they have conquered a module because they receive a badge.  "As a teacher, I can easily track their progress and even ask some of the students to redo a module if their score wasn't quite high enough or they missed key ideas."

Before students play the games, Israelsen uses the lesson starters to initiate meaningful conversations about each of the modules.  She describes how when she was teaching about privacy and sharing information online, she used the lesson starter that asks students to write a secret on a slip of paper and to then try to erase it.  Students in her class talked about how it isn't quite erased and just like the secret, can still be deciphered even when erased. What you do online can be traced and becomes part of your personal digital footprint.  She likes how the games and the wraparound lesson materials make it all come alive for the students who then get to reinforce their learning with a short video of a real kid just like them.

Once the students have completed their digital passports, she gives them their Gmail login and they begin to collaborate in Google docs, Gmail, blogs and other web 2.0 tools. They use a common language and have a shared understanding of what to do when they encounter specific situations online.

According to Israelsen, teachers in 4th through 8th grades are pleased that students have had this training so that they can then spend their time building on these concepts and jumping right into using the internet and web 2.0 tools.

How do you use Digital Passport at your school? Log in to comment below.