Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2018

Digital Civics Toolkit

Superb, timely civics lessons focus on social media and student voice

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
7–12
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Pros: Lessons encourage students to find their voice, plus there's a lot of student-created media.

Cons: The vast array of resources, many from partners, don't all follow the same format.

Bottom Line: For teachers looking to make civics relevant to students, there's nothing else out there as extensive or relevant.

Teachers can pick and choose individual Digital Civics Toolkit modules or lessons, or even individual components of lessons (e.g., the Conversation Starters or individual activities), but to maximize learning and the potential for students to truly become engaged in the issues, it's best to do all of them. This is a thoughtful, reflective approach to big ideas -- not a quick fix. It's an ideal fit in the social studies classroom but could easily fit in an ELA classroom or as part of a media lab or library's program schedule. You can use these lessons as a complete unit on civic engagement or make them part of a weekly routine. Teachers will also want to prep by reviewing the links included in the Teacher Background section. These articles provide essential context to the lessons that will inform instruction and help guide discussion.

The Digital Civics Toolkit is a particularly fantastic companion/extension to digital citizenship instruction, encouraging students to use media not just thoughtfully and responsibly but also as a tool for social change. If you're a teacher who gets excited at the idea of students using their voices and connecting with others to effect change in society, this is a can't-miss resource.

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Digital Civics Toolkit is a free, teacher-facing website with lesson plans for exploring and fostering modern civic engagement and participation. Funded by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, the site's five modules (Participate, Investigate, Dialogue, Voice, and Action) help students to identify issues that really matter to them and to find ways to become active participants in the political process. Digital Civics Toolkit recognizes the powerful role of social media and digital tools in students' lives and helps students to use those tools to find reliable information, exchange ideas, and consider how they want to express themselves.

Each module consists of a Conversation Starter and then a set of activities that involve discussion, reflection, writing, and the use of digital tools to express ideas. Lessons include all the necessary resources and support materials -- many of which are provided by and/or hosted by partner organizations -- and vary in length from short to full class period. Media come from a wide range of sources, including quite a few created by youth journalists.

Full Disclosure: Harvard University's Project Zero, one of the research labs responsible for the Digital Civics Toolkit, is also a research partner on Common Sense Education's Digital Citizenship Curriculum. We make every effort to ensure the independence of our rating and review. To this end, the author of this review was not aware of the partnership. Moreover, this review has been solely authorized by the Common Sense Education editorial team with no influence or input from other individuals within Common Sense Education or Harvard University.

This is an outstanding set of resources -- many of which are curated from other trusted sites -- for teachers who want to empower students to engage in the thoughtful dialogue necessary to make meaningful change in society. Unlike a lot of existing civics curricula, these lessons demonstrate an understanding of social media's role in shaping discourse around social and political issues. To this end, there's an important focus on media literacy/digital citizenship in the activities that get students digging deep into the double-edged nature of participating on social media platforms. The lessons will definitely get students talking, pushing them to examine how we should approach controversial issues (as opposed to the way we often do). The many examples of youth-created media offer students healthy models for how to engage in this kind of civic discourse.

While the basic framework of the site is standardized (five modules, each featuring lessons that have the same components), teachers should be prepared for activities that come from a variety of partners and weren't designed for this toolkit specifically. There's also no delivery platform and no uniform slide format for presenting these lessons to students. And yet, because the content is so extensive and well-thought-out, this is an indispensable collection of resources for civics learning that teachers will have no problem adapting for their classroom's needs.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

These resources foster lively discussion, analysis, and reflection. To do them well, though, teachers need to spend the time to explore topics in depth. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

This toolkit encourages students to develop a deep and modern understanding of civic participation that's all too rare in civics curricula. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

It's a well-organized, if dense, site. The lesson plans are clear and thorough, making them easy to implement and adapt. It could use an initial tutorial, however.


Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Mary O. ,
Southwest High School
Jacksonville, United States
Put This Digital Civics Toolkit In Your Toolbox!
I like how it incorporates some of the digital citizenship curriculum into the civics lessons. It is FREE and it a great tool for students in the middle and high school settings.
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