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How One Middle School Gets Creative to Teach Digital Citizenship

Cartoons, posters, and videos drive home responsible online behavior.

November 03, 2016
Joyce Slaton
Editor and Parent

CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, In the Classroom, Students

When entering middle school, the typical tween may have just gotten a mobile device -- or is begging for it -- and doesn't spend a lot of time on social media. But by the time they turn from tween to teen, the average student spends an hour and 11 minutes using social media every day. 

That's a big change, and there's a lot to teach middle school students about responsible online behavior. That's why the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative's yearly Digital Citizenship Project targets middle schoolers -- specifically, the sixth- to eighth-graders at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

Each year, Professor Liz Kolb of the University of Michigan School of Education leads a team of University of Michigan teaching interns through Common Sense's Digital Citizenship Curriculum, teaching the students such concepts as formulating strong passwords, standing up to cyberbullies, and identifying harmful posts. The teaching interns facilitate activities and discussions on digital safety and responsibility and create opportunities for teachers to learn how to talk about digital citizenship. The goal: teach middle school students how to be wise digital citizens.

"[I]t's something you want to open the door to, especially in middle school, because so many students are introduced to social media at this age," Professor Kolb told AAPS District News. "You want to make sure they're comfortable talking to you about what they're doing online, what they want to do, and keeping those lines of communication open at all times. Instead of immediately having a reaction of 'no, don't,' say, 'Tell me more about it. Let's look at the software you want to use. Let's set up a profile together to make sure it's safe and private.'"

Since different digital citizenship concepts are relevant at different ages, the Digital Citizenship Project's aims change for each grade, as do the final projects that students complete to show what they've learned. 

Sixth grade

Digital safety is the focus with sixth-graders, who are likely to be making their first tentative social steps online. They learn what personal information should be kept private, how to tell the difference between public and private communications, and how to safely "friend" and "follow" others. Students in sixth grade also learn the basics of copyright and what they can ethically use for their own creations. Perhaps most importantly, they learn to "stop, block, and tell" when a stranger is making them uncomfortable online. 

Here are some of the comics Scarlett Middle School's sixth-graders made about digital citizenship using Storyboard That

 comics that Scarlett Middle School's sixth-graders made about digital citizenship using Storyboard That

 comic that Scarlett Middle School's sixth-graders made about digital citizenship using Storyboard That

Seventh grade

Digital identity is paramount in the seventh-grade Digital Citizenship Curriculum. It covers understanding the footprint you leave online, learning what's both safe and positive to say and do, and grasping how stereotypes can affect how they relate to others and how they're perceived.

Here are some of the infographics on digital identity and reputation created with Piktochart.

infographic on digital identity and reputation created with piktochart

infographic on digital identity and representation created with piktochart

Eighth grade

Empathy is the focus of the eighth-grade curriculum. Students learn how to become upstanders when they see others being treated poorly online, understand what it means to walk in someone else's shoes, and learn to identify flaming, hate speech, and harassment.

Click on the following images to see Animoto videos by Scarlett's eighth-graders.

animoto picture about cyberbullying created by Scarlett Middle School's eighth graders