Fifth Grade and their Digital Footprint

teaching digital citizenship in elementary

This week was our first week back to school, and holy cow am I tired! Getting back into my routine as a library aide has been fabulous, though, and I got to start my school year on a great note: teaching digital citizenship lessons to fifth graders.

I started teaching digital citizenship lessons in the library last spring, but we only have K-2 classes come in for class time, so we missed a huge chunk of our population. However, the district mandated that we reach fourth and fifth graders this year (because they’re getting Chromebooks in their classrooms), which I think is a fabulous idea.

My librarian and I actually decided that I’d teach lessons to every classroom this year, going above and beyond our requirement. It’s too important to skip!

We’ll trickle down, so I started pushing in to fifth grade classrooms for a series of three half-hour lessons on different issues in digital citizenship. This week, we tackled our digital footprint.

We started the lesson by developing working definitions of the phrases “digital citizenship” and “digital footprint.” Our counselor does lessons that deal with citizenship, so the kids easily got that idea. Digital footprint was way more abstract for the students, though, so we got down to business by Googling.

Luckily, I have a squeaky clean digital footprint, so we googled “kate mcpherson denton texas” and the kids marveled at all the information they could learn about me. Just from the first two pages of Google, they learned my alma mater, my mom’s name, my sister’s Twitter handle, my birthday, my church, my parents’ anniversary, my blog, a conference I went to in high school, and where I get my hair cut. Crazy! I think they definitely understood how important it is to be very cautious about what they share online.

The students were pretty universally interested in how this could affect their future, so we talked about all the sports recruits who’ve been dropped based on their digital footprint – and we discussed how we can build a positive profile by building sites like this one (concrete life lessons!) and tweeting things that show our character and integrity.

I also tweeted a picture of a sign I’d made out and saw how far it spread. The kids were amazed by the number of strangers who’d seen it – we calculated that between retweets and follower counts, well over 1,000 people had the potential to have seen the picture.

I LOVE teaching this lesson because I feel so strongly about it. We really had no instruction about digital footprints when I was growing up since the Internet really grew up alongside me. The kids’ minds were blown when I told them that we only had the Intranet and no cell phones when I was in elementary school. (This is a fact that makes me feel much older than I really am.) It is a miracle that my digital footprint contains none of the mistakes I’ve made in my life (well…less of a miracle and more thanks to my incredibly boring life and positive choices), and I really want my students to have every advantage and NOT be stymied because of something stupid they said or did online when they were 11.

Best student insight of the unit: “Whoa. A scholarship is worth, like, thousands of dollars. That’s a lot to waste.”

Best student question of the unit: “Ms. McPherson, can I follow you on Twitter?” Kids these days…



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