They know the answers. Be kind, don't be mean, treat others how you want to be treated, help each other, follow the rules/laws, et cetera. Then we go a little deeper: Make "it" a better place, know the facts and history about "it", participate, be a contributor, and more.
Above, "it" refers to the many "places" they are citizens of: Their home and family, city, school, state, country, world... naturally the discussion goes off-topic for a while as we consider interstellar citizenship and the implications therein, and the introverted sci-fi fans of the class become much more engaged. After the minor digression - we agree that yes, the importance of being a good citizen throughout these many venues is very easy and clear. It's a great introduction to the topic and a heartwarming verification that we've been teaching these boys and girls very well.
But once you throw the word "digital" or "online" in front of citizenship, things are not as clear. Not at first, anyways. Where, and how, are we citizens online? And why do we care?
Here's where things get interesting. No matter their age or grade, students always veer towards the negative stories, sharing doom-and-gloom tips about online use. Why no one should use YouTube. Or reasons not to go online or chat with an emphasis on cyberbullying. Why you should never use Facebook or post pictures anywhere, ever. The mutual feeling of the room tends towards avoidance of the internet, because of the many warning signs they are presented with at home and at school. Over, and over, again.
Don't get me wrong: A small dose of healthy distrust and skepticism online is a great asset on the wild-west of the internet. In middle grades we talk about everything from trolling to phishing and all the other negative actions with silly names. We discuss how online reputations can go sour quickly, and - yes - how what goes on the 'net stays on the 'net. We do determine that because the internet is one "place" we will be citizens of, we need to formulate our own rules and laws and have the smarts to follow them.
This feels very backwards to me. While I want to see our children fully aware of the wrong turns they can take online, I'm excited to show them their online potential. Digital citizenship is unavoidable, so why not make it a positive ride?
I tell the kids exactly this: Aim for awesome. Take everything you know about being a good citizen and apply it on the internet. Build a great reputation that everyone can see. Write your story online, and make it a great one.
One of the most important lessons of digital citizenship relates to the concept of your online identity. In other words, who you are online. This is essentially your online reputation, and really begins the moment you set foot on the internet. As you travel among sites and services, set up accounts, and interact with the digital world, you are building this identity. As digital identities are unavoidable in our hyper-connected world, it's critical to manage them - and important, in my opinion, to begin early. We partner with Common Sense Media as a foundation for our Digital Citizenship Curricula, as they have built a program suitable for every grade level - and even offer outstanding resources for parents and educators alike. Click the poster or here to see what they offer.
Let's model this as parents, teachers, administrators - all as part of their online world. Yes... look both ways before you cross the street. But isn't it amazing how we have streets, and such an amazing infrastructure in this country? We can go anywhere we want to, and less and less on fossil fuels? And what are the implications of the high-speed rail for California? And check out the architecture on that building across the street, too... And yes, don't talk to strangers. But isn't it amazing that we can communicate so easily, instantly, across the world? Even live with video - and soon almost in person, with the growing VR technology. Compare that to the telegraph, not so long ago! Amazing. And of course, don't play too many video games. But... do you know how that game is programmed? Did you know you can make your own video game? Give it a try, here's a start....
These are the conversations I like to have with students - because these are the conversations that lead them to innovate. Knowledge is power, as they say - and I would rather tell tall tales and teach opportunity rather than fear.
Aim for awesome.