Educators help prepare young students for online obstacles

Third-grader Zoey Johnson knows how to be a good online citizen.

She knows how to be nice and not say mean things to others in messages. She knows what personal information should not be shared on the Internet. And she knows that if a suspicious link or message pops up on a device, she should stop what she’s doing and ask a teacher or parent for help.

She doesn’t know if these things apply to her life yet, but she thinks she’ll probably use these skills later.

Zoey and her classmates at Center Woods Elementary in Weare learned about digital citizenship in their enrichment class with teacher Kate Rodgers. On Friday afternoon, third graders huddled on a colorful mat in the corner of Rodgers’ classroom and listened to Rodgers talk to them about following “circles of responsibility” when doing things online: being responsible for yourself, your community and the world.

After the lesson was over, students got to try using the Blockly app to program robots to move through an obstacle course.

“They’ve grown up with technology from a young age, so I really can’t focus enough on teaching them about online safety,” Rodgers said. “Nowadays a lot of students are using computers and tablets without their parents watching and supervising them, so I think it’s important to talk about it as soon as possible because the internet is not not always a safe place.They need to protect their information and their digital footprints.

New Hampshire teachers are integrating media literacy and digital citizenship classes with elementary students, starting in kindergarten, to equip students with the skills they need to navigate an online world. Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has increased screen time for students in and out of school, making digital wellness lessons even more important.

Heather Inyart is the executive director of Manchester-based organization Media, Power, Youth, which teaches young people how to interact with media in thoughtful and constructive ways that promote well-being. Inyart says teaching children about media literacy should start from the moment children are introduced to technology and exposed to media.

“We see kids as young as preschoolers unsupervised on these different platforms,” Inyart said. “And so we see that media education starts with parents, from the moment their children are born, and all the way through high school.”

Media, Power, Youth regularly collaborates with schools or youth programs and has created different programs that educators can use in their classrooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools and extracurricular activities moved online, Inyart says more schools adopted individual Chromebook devices and many parents relaxed their limits around school time. screen, with the result that many students now find it hard to detach themselves because they’ve spent so much time on the devices.

“There was exponential use of technology in schools during this time, and because change happened so quickly, schools didn’t necessarily have as much time to talk to students about building some of the habits. use of technology,” Inyart said. “This spring, we did a lot more programs with schools, addressing some of them and helping students build those healthy habits around using technology.”

Media literacy instruction is slightly different in each school district. Some, like Concord, have full-time digital learning specialists on staff, whose roles span digital citizenship courses, but also computing, robotics and other technologies. In other schools, lessons or units on media literacy are integrated into the curriculum by librarians, STEM teachers or classroom teachers.

Digital citizenship lessons for younger students, K-3, tend to focus on being kind to others online and learning to balance screen time. Older students will learn about the risks of oversharing online, chatting with strangers, visiting dangerous websites, and cyberbullying.

Jessica Knight, a digital learning specialist at Mill Brook School in Concord, leads activities to help her K-2 students notice how they feel when using devices and recognize the cues they their body sends them that it is time to stop.

“A lot of them said, ‘My eyes are going to hurt,’ ‘my body is squirming,’ ‘my back is tight,’ ‘I’m grumpy,’ ‘I’m tired,'” Knight said. “They could recognize these different ways they felt when they knew it was time to get off the device and get out or do something like move their body.”

Peter Osiecki, digital learning specialist at Barnstead Elementary School, tries to encourage students to identify other activities they can do outside of screens.

“Some students really don’t know how long they’re watching TV or using the computers or being on their parents’ phone in a restaurant, or anywhere,” Osiecki said. “My job is to recognize and make them recognize the alternatives in their lives.”

Some studies middle and high school students point to a link between social media use and screen time and depression and anxiety in young people. Inyart said those are more likely to occur when children passively consume content.

“Playing, say, a math game on your Chromebook in your math class is a different type of media use than scrolling through Instagram,” Inyart said. “We have to make that kind of distinction between the quality of the time and what the kids are doing there, versus the passive media time.”

About 20% of New Hampshire college students experienced electronic bullying in 2019, according to Youth Risk Behavior Surveyand girls are more than twice as likely to be victims of electronic harassment as boys.

Osiecki, who teaches units of digital citizenship to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and uses resources like Google’s online game Interland, which teaches young children skills such as online kindness. It also uses Social Media Test Drive where older students can navigate mindfully through simulations of different real-life scenarios that can occur on social media, whether it’s a conflict or seeing something that bothers them. upsets.

“It’s an awareness tool, because recognizing a problem, a situation or an opportunity is really empowering for students,” Osiecki said.

At Mill Brook School, Knight teaches his students the difference between personal information that’s okay to share online (favorite movies, favorite ice cream flavors) and information that’s not okay to share , such as full names, addresses, phone numbers, and passwords.

Knight asks her elementary students to fill out a practice form that mimics the type of form kids might encounter when creating an account on a new website. The practice form has questions ranging from “what is your favorite genre of music?” to “what’s your full name?” and “what’s your parents’ credit card number?” and students are responsible for identifying questions that should be answered and crossing out those that are not.

Osiecki said it’s important to teach children to ask for help when something unusual happens online that they may not know how to handle.

“It’s very difficult for them to recognize when they might be in a bad, compromising situation,” Osiecki said. “So one of the things that we talked about is understanding who the trusted adults are, so that when they recognize something out of the norm – maybe a chat box opens up on a game they normally work on – they just know shut down, shut down the computer and find mom, or go get dad or find MO”

But knowing that many students are still browsing the Internet unsupervised, Knight also began teaching his first-graders to identify appropriate or inappropriate websites for their age, from “green light” websites that are obviously intended for children, with fun and simple images. words to “yellow” or “red” websites intended for seniors, which may be more difficult to read, or may require entering information or filling out a form.

“If we start now, they will become more balanced people,” Knight said. “Even as adults we spend a lot of time on our phones, laptops, iPads. I think if we model ways to balance our lives instead of just focusing them on ways they can use technology , it’s going to be really important, and if we teach them how to use it appropriately, we hope it makes a difference in how they use this technology in the future.

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