An elementary school librarian helps students take their learning to that next level.

GUEST COLUMN | by Beth Budinich

Students spend almost the same amount of time each day in school as they do online, according to a report by Common Sense Media. In fact, this research shows today’s students ages 8-12 consume up to six hours of online media per day! Given that students have so much daily digital exposure, educators can’t fight the trend and instead need to facilitate it. We must not only help students interact appropriately in person, but also teach them how to behave safely and productively online.

There is a growing disconnect between the increase in the number of school-aged kids interacting online and their ability to responsibly evaluate, produce, and share content. And with virtually unlimited information at the touch of one’s fingers, this lack of digital literacy is alarming. Therefore, teaching digital citizenship, which we’ll define as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use, has become increasingly important.

Digital Citizenship at Foothills Elementary School

At Foothills Elementary School here in Washington state, every student in grades 2-5 has access to a Chromebook as part of our district-wide one-to-one digital learning initiative. Over the past few years, I’ve worked with district elementary librarians and other school leaders to build a curriculum that teaches students how to appropriately use technology and evaluate online content. Even for adults, this isn’t always easy, and now it’s become an essential skill for our youngest learners. Today, our library offers students a robust digital citizenship curriculum for students grades 3-5.

The curriculum first focuses on teaching students the foundations for communicating online and progresses to more complex issues, including internet safety and cyberbullying. We have organized our curriculum into age-appropriate content for students, who visit the library once a week for 45 minutes and work with a variety of digital tools to complete each lesson.

Project 1: Build a foundation for online communication

In the first semester, we help students develop keyboarding skills. Students use a free online program called Typing.com, which also tracks their progress. Typing.com uses gamified learning and self-pacing to teach students the correct fingering techniques. After mastering home row keys, students progress to other rows and advanced punctuation to build upon sentence complexity and increase speed and accuracy. In order to meet the required 90 minutes per semester, students are also able to work in their Typing.com account during classroom stations and some even opt to extend their practice at home.

Project 2. Teach appropriate use of the internet

Fourth and fifth graders use Google Classroom to focus on two main projects in the second semester — digital citizenship and cyberbullying prevention. Students learn about the importance of protecting private and personal information, and how all online interactions are building a traceable digital footprint over time. Many of the lessons use additional websites, like Netsafe videos, to increase student engagement with the materials, such as the video, What is Personal Information? In addition, we added a lesson for fifth graders on preventing cyberbullying. Students are equipped to address this kind of behavior through strategies that include how to identify, report, and responsibly stand up to bullying online.

Project 3. Share best practices for online research

Today, it is unlikely that one can consume media without hearing about “fake news,” which is a growing concern about the widespread dissemination of false information. The final project teaches student how to evaluate online content for validity. For example, one lesson shares tips for assessing the purpose of a website using the domain suffix. Students learn how .org and .edu have historically ensured more quality information and are taught to use caution when reviewing a .com or .net webpage. Students are then put to the test with a research project to demonstrate their ability to evaluate online resources.

A Continuing Evolution

As technology continues to advance, our digital citizenship curricula must continue to evolve to meet the new capabilities afforded by advancing technologies. Our goal is to best prepare our students to be socially competent and responsible decision-makers within their communities, both in person and online, to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Beth Budinich has been an elementary school librarian since 1995. She earned a Master’s Degree in Information Resources and Library Science from the University of Arizona and is nationally board certified in Library Media for teaching grades preschool through 12th grade. She currently resides in a suburb of Seattle and enjoys time spent with her kids, grandkids and dogs. Write to: bbudinich@whiteriver.wednet.edu