From digital citizenship to digital leadership in a South Carolina elementary school

From digital citizenship to digital leadership in a South Carolina elementary school

Where we started 

Technology is present in kids’ worlds now more than ever before. Whether it be social media, school use or gaming, students are almost always on some sort of digital application. I am currently a fifth grade teacher and Digital Learning Coach at Oak Grove Elementary School in Lexington, South Carolina. We have 672 students with class sizes 20-25 students. The school community is in a mid-low income area with 42% of our population on free/reduced lunch. Before Hāpara, our digital citizenship consisted of walking around and monitoring students’ technology use in class. We were what would be called the “locked-down learning” method. Students were only allowed to be on the site or app that was given by the teacher. Since implementing Hāpara, we have evolved by learning about the many aspects of the program into the independent stage of learning with the help of Highlights and Workspace from Hāpara.

Digital citizenship for younger learners 

Being in an elementary classroom, it is hard to help students understand how their digital habits affect themselves and others. Students come to us having already formed technology habits and it is difficult for them to switch to healthier ones. In my school, we have been working hard to improve digital citizenship with students and how they approach technology through Hāpara. We have two teachers that are Hāpara Champions that have been helping other teachers through professional development to further understand Hāpara. The certification training definitely helped us understand the ins and outs of Hāpara and allowed us to help the other teachers in our school. Some teachers have been developing digital citizenship lessons for their students using Hāpara. The teachers define their goals (mainly based on grade-level ages) and we have morning meetings to discuss the topic of the day either about digital citizenship or social emotional learning. 

When I initially asked students in my fifth grade class what digital citizenship meant to them, they questioned what I was talking about. One student said, “Being a person online…?” While not entirely incorrect, I realized they didn’t actually understand what it meant. Luckily, we had a plan to move our students forward on the path to digital citizenship.

Scaffolding digital citizenship instruction

The following four key ideas were developed to include in classroom instruction. They helped us decide how to help students understand healthy, responsible technology use.

1. Differentiate between grade levels

Students’ levels of digital citizenship are different depending on their grade level and age. In elementary schools, differentiating between early childhood (K-2) and upper elementary (3-5) allows for instruction to be catered to age-appropriate lessons. We use the following main skills of digital citizenship to lead instruction:

  • Media balance and well-being
  • Privacy and security
  • Digital footprint and identity
  • Relationship and communication
  • Online empathy
  • Critical thinking with news and media

Using Hāpara’s Workspace, I can differentiate for grade-level needs. Cards in Workspace allow for lessons to be separated between grade levels and the main skills of digital citizenship. Hāpara Workspace cards can be developed to pinpoint skills that are needed within your classroom. For example, if your class needed to start with media balance and well-being, creating a Workspace with cards that have resources supporting media balance can guide students’ lessons in class or virtually. 

We also have live browser monitoring through Hāpara Highlights. To differentiate levels of learning, we put students in groups through Highlights to create small learning groups. They can be directed to group resources that are based on their needs. Highlights is also helpful when students are remote or online learning to guide browsing for students. Highlights allows us to see what the students are working on in real time. We can see students’ current screens and browser tabs to ensure they are working on the correct assignments and to have focused lessons to limit distractions while in class.

2. Be flexible with what’s happening in the moment

I believe that lessons are fluid and reflect on what students’ needs and wants are. This is especially needed for digital citizenship conversations. I think back to the old PSA, scare-tactic commercials and how ineffective they were. Kids will do what they want to do but the least we can do is educate them on what is right and wrong. This leads to being flexible with the needs of the students. My students are always telling me about the new technology or app that they are on or playing. When you understand what students are doing, you can help them by staying safe and guiding them through what’s appropriate digital use. 

We use Hāpara for sharing meaningful resources to our students for in the moment conversations. It’s a fast and easy way to open sites that students would like to share and talk about. Some student discussion questions that have come up in class are, “How do you stay safe when chatting with others?” or “Why do people put mean things online?” and “How do I have a friendship with someone I’ve never met?” All of these questions were brought up and discussed on the spot. The teacher was able to push out real-world examples to students through Hāpara to show how to handle some of these situations.

3. Be open to one-on-one conversations

Many of my students find it difficult to have conversations about what they are actually doing online with their parents or guardians. These digital citizenship conversations are meant to be a safe place to bring questions or concerns about their digital use. Many things that we do in elementary school are anonymous boxes where students can write questions or concerns in a dropbox, open office hours and share private messages through Hāpara to their teachers. This has brought many questions that students wouldn’t be able to bring up at home to other students that would probably have the same question. One comment in particular dealt with online empathy: “They can’t see me so why can’t I be mean.” The comment led to a great discussion about what is said on the internet is said to a real person. Some believe that since it isn’t said to someone face to face that they’re not really hurting their feelings. The lack of seeing someone is affecting how they perceive their feelings and is a great conversation starter for lessons.

When using Hāpara Workspace, we can generate a card of resources that students might want or need to see when they are not in class. Some resources that might help guide them through the difficult terrain of online safety are listed here:

4. Create digital leadership

The last step that we take in our elementary school is to transfer students’ knowledge of digital citizenship into digital leadership. Digital citizenship is the knowledge of how to stay safe and follow the “rules of the internet,” whereas digital leadership is making a difference and improving yourself or someone else’s life online. We like to instill leadership in our students whether they are learning in person or online. This can include student led blogs, being digital role models or involvement in outreach programs to the community.

Digital citizenship can start at any age. The average 8-12 year old’s screen time is 4-6 hours a day and increases with age. Much of this time is not instructional material used in classes. After completing a full cycle of digital citizenship lessons with some of my fifth graders, I asked students how learning about digital citizenship was going so far this year. One student exclaimed, “Hāpara makes it really easy to follow along and follow my teacher’s directions when she can send me the link that we’re working on in digital citizenship.” Another replied “I learned that you shouldn’t be mean online because you’re not face to face. People being mean online would be more mean than they would be if they were standing in front of them.” By instilling digital citizenship at an early age and continuing through school, this will allow them to develop healthy habits throughout their lives.

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