Technology is ubiquitous in our world, so it just makes sense that we need to teach our kids about tech and how to use it appropriately. Given how tech-savvy most kids are these days, as a teacher you might think that your students know more than you do about the latest gadgets. But learning about technology is more than just knowing how to beat a game or root a phone or torrent a film. E-safety should play a big part in your teaching curriculum.
Children are exposed to a lot of stimuli via technology. In many cases, this is a good thing. Researching topics, educating themselves, getting entertainment from across the world, technology can be a valuable learning tool.
However, cyberbullying, sexting, predator grooming, are all genuine threats. It's vital that kids not only know how to use technology but also know how to use it appropriately. Protecting our kids online is our responsibility and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.
If you're going to be teaching e-safety in your classroom, then there are tons of resources available to help you, the UK Safer Internet Centre has some great lesson plans, for example. A little research should be all you need to build up an interesting and useful series of classes. But there are also some lesser-known tips that might be of aid.
When using tech in the classroom, it can seem more straightforward to use only particular “child safe” websites and to block others, to use parental controls on tech that restrict a child's use or to hover over kids as they use the internet. However, the critical thing that you need to remember is that as a teacher it's your job to educate.
If you only allow kids to use tech in a heavily monitored way, a way that doesn't permit mistakes, then you're not modelling real-world behaviour. In turn, this means that you're not educating kids to make the right decisions, in fact, you're not letting them make any decisions at all.
That's not to say that children should just have free reign. But a decent lesson plan should teach kids how to make the right e-safety decisions rather than only restricting their usage so that they aren't putting safety strategies to the test!
As a teacher, you probably spend at most a few hours a day with a child, after which you (maybe gratefully!) send them home. Because of this, it's essential that e-safety isn't only taught to children, but also to their parents. Many parents are still entirely unaware of e-safety strategies.
Consider sending home parental packs that overview what you're teaching in the classroom. Copies of posters such as this one (which covers safe mobile phone and social media use) can be included. This will allow parents to continue educating their children at home and give kids consistency in what they're being taught in the classroom.
E-safety is about so much more than just choosing good passwords and avoiding inappropriate websites and viruses. The concept of digital citizenship should form a key part of your curriculum.
Digital citizenship is basically citizenship in the online world. How to treat people, how to protect yourself, what's appropriate and what's not, things that children are taught about real life that can easily be applied to their cyber lives.
As part of this, consider teaching a module on leaving a positive digital footprint. The internet never forgets (but children often do), and users build an online reputation based on the pictures they choose to post, the products they buy, the chats they have and the websites they visit. Children need to realise that they have a choice when it comes to what kind of reputation they will have online.
What do you do when you find out a child is being cyberbullied? What do you do if you suspect a child is involved in something they shouldn't be online? What should you do if you see inappropriate pictures on a child's mobile? What should you do if a child reports seeing something inappropriate online?
You should know what to do in these cases before anything happens. Review your school's online safety protocol with your head teacher or Principal. When a problem occurs you should be in a position to act immediately.
There are procedures for reporting possible criminal offences, depending on the type of offence committed. Your school should have a resource folder that includes contact information for all the relevant reporting agencies (and if it doesn't, make one!).
Finally, as most teachers know, sometimes the most memorable lessons are the ones that allow kids to experience something for themselves. There have been many instances of teachers planning projects that will enable children to see just how quickly information (even false info) spreads online- posting a picture on Facebook and seeing how often it gets shared is the conventional way of doing this.
But you can also teach real-world examples through role play or hypothetical examples. Or try giving your kids a quick written test that asks them questions like the name of their first pet, their email addresses, their birthday, favourite colour, their mother's maiden name. Once they've answered the questions, and you've collected the sheets then ask them what they think the chances are that you can now crack their online passwords (hint: there's around a 90% chance that you can).
Exercises like these are essential to drive home the kinds of lessons that you're teaching. And on a related note, remember that you yourself are a real-world example. This means that you need to make sure that you're abiding by the rules you're setting up. Your social media accounts should be private (and not accessible to your students). The pictures and photos you choose to use for handouts and projectors should have proper attribution.
Teaching e-safety to kids definitely proves for some interesting classes! But more than that, it's teaching something worthwhile, and something that every child will certainly make use of.