Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we have started the beginning of our school year. Laptops and iPads have been rolled out in 1:1 programs, shared tech resources have been updated and are ready to go. The first thing on everyone’s minds is cyber safety. Do the Year 2s remember not to type in their whole name on the Internet? Are our 12 year olds using social media sites a year early?
What I have found with cyber safety in schools is that it means very different things to different schools, depending on their cohort. While one school may focus solely on children’s digital footprints, another may focus on online predators. Below is the checklist that I always go through before hosting any cyber safety events or when evaluating cyber safety unit plans. This doesn’t mean that I don’t focus on one more than the others some years – your content should always match the school’s and children’s needs. It does mean that I am making sure that I am covering all aspects of cyber safety from the outset, to ensure that we have slightly more balanced view of cyber safety as we teach it.
This one should be obvious, but some schools (and teachers) can skirt around the issue as the topic can make them uncomfortable, especially with younger children. It is vital that all children know that people are not always who they say they are on the Internet, and that it is better to err on the side of caution. For older children you may give case studies that have been in the news, but for younger children this certainly is not necessary. What they do need to understand is that people can pretend to be someone they are not online, and this is why we do not share any information about ourselves online. I have found in all primary school classes it is useful to have a poster that is very visible to the students about what they can and cannot post online (with images for the younger children). This is particularly useful if the teacher references to it when modelling online behaviour (such as creating a nickname in Kahoot).
I searched for one of my very first usernames recently. While not everything was available, it was amazing what was still online from twenty years ago. What is also surprising is how many websites now archive what other websites and apps are publishing (Instagram comes to mind). It can be challenging to have children understand that the impact of their actions at 10 or 12 years old can still effect them when they are 3o, especially when they struggle to see the ramifications of their actions at lunch, so sometimes a reframing is necessary. If they use usernames that are not related to their name and ensure that they remain as difficult to trace as possible (using few identifying features) then when their names are searched for, very little will come up. If they use the same username for the email as they do for the Steam account, though, that’s when problems can arise.
Intellectual property can seem like a behemoth to tackle at times. Why can’t they take the images that are sitting in a Google search as their own? No one owns them! Sound familiar? Just as with a digital footprint, I find reframing the concept helpful. How would they feel if someone photocopied their drawing and said it was theirs? If they write a story, is it okay for me to publish it wherever I like? In the early years this simply looks like students knowing that images and information were put on the Internet by people and that it is not simply magic.
The main idea I want my students to learn is that cyber bullying does not always look like a group of people sending continuous bad messages to people, although that is one aspect. I want to ensure that I also cover other aspects of cyber bullying in my planner, such as how to leave a good comment or good feedback, that can be constructive without being damaging (a vital skill that is too often not taught).
A problem that I have spoken to many parents about is managing screen time at home. Many schools send devices home as a part of a 1:1 program and leave the parents to deal with managing screen time at home. This is something I also like to address in class. Quite often my students want to complete every task on their computer when they first receive it, no matter whether it is the best tool for the job. Identifying the best time to use computers and the best time to use another strategy is vital, as is balancing screen time both in and outside of the classroom.
This is something that seems to have fallen by the wayside quite a lot with laptops and tablets, yet reports of children’s neck and shoulder pain is increasing rapidly due to their computer use. Reminding children of correct posture when at a digital device, and ensuring they are taking regular breaks to move and stretch are a vital part of cyber safety for childern (and adults!).