The mission statement at our school includes the words 21st Century Learning. We have had many rich discussions with staff members and students about what this phrase and words mean, and how 21st Century Learning "looks" at our school. We are a K-8 school environment, and educators collaborate and vertically plan instruction. This instruction then builds and scaffolds in a meaningful way throughout a student's 9 grade journey, and then onward as they transition to high school. Our school collectively employs carefully evaluated web 2.0 tools, online websites, and databases to drive instruction while providing assessment mechanisms which begin in kindergarten.
In 3rd grade, students are given a Google Apps account, complete with gmail. As educators we feel that it is important for our students to be educated about how to handle themselves in the global web environment before "handing them the keys" to their own information highways. As adults we understood that this Google access provides the transportation for them to access, explore, evaluate, and use digital resources.
In our planning, our team decided that it is critical that they understand that they create and leave a collective, and more importantly and individual digital footprint in cyberspace. This footprint has definite impact, and can also have benefits and consequences. We know that they also need to understand that this footprint follows them throughout their lives. Additionally, just as in the non-digital world, they would have to make decisions, they would encounter bullies, and they may encounter an online predator. We stress to our students that safety is a priority and finally, as unfortunate as it may be, we want them to know how to deal with inappropriate content.
As a team we feel strongly that we are better off teaching our kids about how to protect and conduct themselves online rather than worry so much about how many filters and firewalls we can create. After all, the real world only has so many filters and our kids seem to figure out how to climb over many firewalls in a short amount of time and with record flexibility and ingenuity.
We then launched into research mode and started looking to resources to help us prepare our students for their new learning adventures online. The light bulb went on in our heads when at a technology conference we were introduces to Common Sense Media's Digital Passport. From that point forward our walk became a run and we integrated it seamlessly into our lessons and technology learning for our students.
At first, we only used it with our 5th graders and mistakenly thought that 3rd and 4th graders were perhaps to young for these conversations about cyber-bullying and cell phone etiquette. Well that was one big fail. BIG. We quickly changed our minds after polling and listening to the students themselves. (We should have polled them in the first place!) Over half of the kids in our 3rd grade classes have cell phones, and after one 3rd grader shared that she was currently in counseling over a cyber-bullying issue, we knew that we had to address these issues at a much younger age. We stopped, reflected, and hit rewind. Currently we share technology resources in our building and require both students and teachers to complete training in order to check out the laptop carts. No exceptions are allowed. They earn a laptop cart license and are then able to sign up for, and use, this resource. That exact same philosophy drove us to the collective decision to require that all 3rd graders earn their Digital Passport before they were given their Google Apps logins. It has made all the difference! Our students are smarter, more aware, and more thoughtful about their use of technology after completing this fun and educational training. It has been a win-win situation for students and teachers, and an added benefit in the engagement of parents in this training as well.
The Digital Passport is engaging, fun and students know when they have conquered a module when they receive a badge. For any online technology lover, geek, or student, badges are just plain great! But their are added benefits as a teacher. I can easily track their progress and even ask some of the students to re-do a module if their score wasn't quite high enough, or if they have missed key ideas. The developers of the Digital Passport have also created lesson starters which provide an instructional foundation to help me lead wonderful conversations about each of the modules. For example, today we talked about privacy and sharing information online. The lesson asks for kids to write a secret on a slip of paper and to then try to erase it. We talked about how it isn't quite erased and just like the secret can still be deciphered. Just like this traditionally written secret, an online message can be traced even when erased, and becomes part of your personal digital footprint. We constantly refer to writing on the internet as writing with pen. This writing can be a permanent primary source linked to the message of who you are as an individual, and can shape a person's view of who you are. We have to be thoughtful about what we want to be remembered for in the future! The Digital Passport makes the lessons come alive for the students who then get to reinforce their learning with a short video of a real student just like them who has experience with these issues. Finally, a game makes them connect the content "dots" and provides them with a safe place to make decisions online.
Once the students have completed their digital passport, we give them their gmail login and begin to collaborate in google docs, gmail, blogs and other web 2.0 tools with common language. More importantly though, this common language then develops into a clear understanding of expectations while providing safe and thoughtful strategies about what to do when they encounter specific situations online. As an added bonus, our 4th-8th grade teachers know that their students have had this training and can then spend their time building on these concepts and moving ahead at light-speed with their instruction that includes the internet and web 2.0 tools.
Common Sense Media's Digital Passport is just that - a passport to the wide open world of digital resources and tools on the web, mixed with a healthy dose of learning, safety, and fun. This tool continues to be a powerful resource for our students and is now a rich, required part of our 21st Century Learning Instruction. Thank you Commonsense Media for this wonderful resource and for making internet safety and strategies as simple as everyday common sense!!