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17 Topics to Teach K-8 About Digital Citizenship

Jacqui Murray

17 Topics to Teach K-8 About Digital CitizenshipEducation has changed. No longer is it contained within four classroom walls or the physical site of a school building. Students aren’t confined by the eight hours between the school bell’s chimes or the struggling budget of an underfunded program.

Now, education can be found anywhere, by teaming up with students in Kenya or Skyping with an author in Sweden or chatting with an astrophysicist on the International Space Station. Students can use Google Earth to take a virtual tour of a zoo or a blog to collaborate on class research. Learning has no temporal or geographic borders, available wherever students and teachers find an internet connection.

This vast landscape of resources is offered digitally (more and more), freely (often), and equitably (hopefully), but to take that cerebral trek through the online world, children must know how to do it safely, securely, and responsibly. This used to mean limiting access to the internet, blocking websites, and layering rules upon rules hoping (vainly) that students would be discouraged from using an infinite and fascinating resource.

It didn’t work.

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Best practices now suggest that instead of cocooning students, we teach them to be good at digital citizenship, confident and competent in 17 areas:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Digital citizenship
  • Digital commerce
  • Digital communication
  • Digital footprint
  • Digital law—plagiarism, copyrights, fair use, public domain
  • Digital privacy 
  • Digital rights and responsibilities
  • Digital search/research
  • Fair use/Public domain
  • Image copyrights
  • Internet safety
  • Netiquette
  • Online plagiarism
  • Passwords
  • Social Media
  • Stranger danger

But how do you do that? How do you teach kindergarteners to beware of the digital neighborhood, the home of Legoland and virtual pets? How do you teach fifth graders to be careful when the cool middle schoolers aren't? How do you teach eighth graders that they aren't invincible despite the anonymity of the world wide web.

It's easier than you think. Do it the same way parents have always taught students to be safe in their physical neighborhoods: a little bit at a time, with age-appropriate information that's repeated like a mantra:

Don’t talk to strangers. Look both ways before crossing the (virtual) street. Don’t go places you don’t know. Play fair. Pick carefully who you trust. Don’t get distracted by bling. Sometimes, stop everything and take a nap.

One of my favorites of all the above, is 'digital rights and responsibilities'. With great virtual wealth comes obligations. You can't have one without the other. It's never too early to start that conversation.

How do you do it, in your school?


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogger, a columnist for Examiner.com, featured blogger for Technology in EducationIMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.