In Santa Clara County, Teaching Social Media Smarts

April 29, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, In the Classroom

How early is too early to start teaching digital literacy? Educators, parents, and school officials across the country are asking this question. Given young learners’ connectedness to mobile and digital technologies—as well as their proficiency from toddlerhood —many educators are starting in elementary school. In the Santa Clara Unified School District, for example, digital literacy education begins as early as second grade, and administrators have plans to incorporate kindergarten and first grade into the program by 2014.

The district primarily uses our free online curriculum as the backbone of its digital citizenship program, which includes games to keep students engaged while helping them think through concepts of digital ethics. Buchser High School computer teacher Brian Van Dyck uses a game from our “Trillion Dollar Footprint,” lesson where students get to be producers of a pretend talent show and choose a host based on contestants’ social media profiles.

One recent round, for example, featured fabricated contestants Jason and Linda, but because Jason lied on his online profile, he lost the chance at winning the competition. The game was created to mirror the future “character tests” students may one day face from college admissions directors and future employers. The game is part of a a larger lesson on digital footprints that aims to help students understand that they can take some control over their digital footprint based on what they post online.  

According to KALW public radio reporter Charlie Mintz, the approach of Van Dyck and other Santa Clara teachers has been effective so far. “These kids have this lesson down solid,” Mintz reported.

“And there's evidence they take it with them when they leave the classroom,” he said.

“You should be careful about what you do in life,” one student told her teacher, “because it can pop up later and haunt you later in life.”

Mintz reported that an outside program evaluator recently found that kids who take these classes say they are better able to deal with bullying and more aware of privacy controls, which is exciting news. Getting students to retain information on digital literacy and apply what they’ve learned to their own habits is every teacher’s ideal. Hopefully the success of Santa Clara’s curriculum will help lay the groundwork for other schools and encourage them to adopt their own programs.

Mintz said the Santa Clara Unified School District is the only district to make digital literacy a prerequisite for high school graduation, but that others in the Bay Area may be following in their footsteps. More and more schools across the state are beginning to integrate aspects of digital literacy education into their curriculums, which is happening at the perfect time considering California’s Digital Citizenship Month begins on May 1.

Throughout next month, we encourage you to join schools and community groups across California in educating students and their families about how to act responsibly, safe, and ethically online. In partnership with the California Writing Project we’ve designed a free online free online toolkit of resources to help you bring this month-long celebration into your own classroom. The kit includes everything you’ll need, from lesson plans and handouts to digital storytelling tools and family workshop activities. Check it out, and let us know what you think!