When it comes to using the Internet in elementary and intermediate education, critics and proponents agree: it’s a powerful tool that has the potential to inform, teach, and facilitate communication in ways barely imaginable before the 1990s. Because it’s so vast, however, trying to master the online world as a teaching tool may be daunting. But you can teach effectively with online tools once you develop some smart safety and privacy policies and teach your students how to think critically about the sites and apps they use.
School-Wide Internet Policies
Before you introduce the web as a resource in your classroom, check with your principal or employer about school-wide Internet and app rules. Does your school use a filtering system for web searches? Are certain sites permanently blocked within the school? Incorporate those policies into your own classroom rules for web use. If your school does not have a school- or district-wide Internet policy, it may be in everyone’s best interest to create one.
Rules for Underage Students
Students will undoubtedly have already encountered the digital world by the time they enter your classroom, but they may not have considered the consequences of their online actions. Here are several common-sense rules for users under the age of 13, the maximum age that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act considers an individual a “child”:
Do not share any personal information online. Children should never share their full name, address, email address, phone numbers, and or passwords for online accounts and email addresses. Just as important: they shouldn’t share anywhere online – including social media—any information about their plans. Remind your class that they should also keep private the name of the school and full names of their friends and family.
Be cautious in online conversation. Forums and discussion boards allow users to interact (often anonymously), which can be an excellent environment for sharing ideas. But students should not engage in one-on-one conversations with anyone they meet in a forum. Any discussion boards that kids are using should be carefully monitored to ensure they are for a kids-only audience.
Do not believe everything you read. Remind your students of an essential safety tip: people can easily hide their real identities on online. It pays to remember that anyone can post fabrications online, too. Students should only trust reliable sources for getting news and doing research. With your students, make a list of critical questions that can help determine whether or not a website is a reliable source.
Cyberbullying is real bullying. Cyberbullying has become an alarming issue with kids. Explain to students that cyberbullying is 100 percent unacceptable in your classroom and outside of it. They should be aware that their words have just as much power online as they do in person. Enforce the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Students may access only access teacher-approved websites. If kids are going online to do activities or complete research, provide them a framework by visiting the sites ahead of time. Give your students a list of safe websites that are compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Ask an adult if you are unsure about a website. Don’t scare your students about the consequences of accidently ending up on an unapproved website. Stress that if they find themselves on a website by mistake, they should let you know about it. Students should be able to go to their teacher or parents if something online is making them uncomfortable, rather than being afraid they will get in trouble.
Stay away from off-limits sites. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites are not open to kids under 13, so they should definitely not be used in the classroom. Many schools recommend blocking them to older teens as well. Make this a non-negotiable rule and post a list of off-limits sites near the computers as a reminder. Keeping students off social media sites during school hours will help keep them focused on the tasks at hand and remove opportunities for cyberbullying in the classroom.
Watch out for digital plagiarism. The availability of digital texts, images, and graphics makes it all too easy for youngsters to cut and paste assets into their projects without considering copyright and proper citation. Just as you teach students appropriate use and citation of printed reference materials, do the same with respect to online resources. Students should be aware that stealing from the web is stealing other people’s work. Use examples. Plagiarism can sometimes be a gray area for students. Post examples of correct citations in your classroom.
Stick to kid-friendly search engines. Search engines are indispensable tools for web-based research. Most, however, are too indiscriminate to be useful to young users. For example, searching for "White House" on Google returns almost three billion results, most of which will be irrelevant or inappropriate for students.
To prevent frustration and inefficiency, use search engines specifically for kids, such as these:
- KidRex.org: Safe Search for Kids, by Kids
- Kidoos Safe Internet Search for Kids
- Internet Public Library 2: For Kids
These sites allow students to search for information contained on the site:
- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- Fact Monster: Online Almanac, Dictionary, Encyclopedia, and Homework Help
Your Classroom, Your Rules
Always remember that you are in control when your students are browsing the web in your classroom. You have a responsibility to keep them safe online, but they have a responsibility to respect you and the rules that you present to them. Internet use should be a privilege in the classroom, and if students cannot follow your rules, you have the power to limit or remove their Internet privileges.
Resources for Teachers on the Web
For teachers, the Internet can be an excellent resource for moving your career forward and advancing your teaching skills. There are many websites and blogs about teaching that include opportunities to network with other teachers, to exchange ideas, and to learn about the latest research findings in the field. Here are just a few from Scholastic:
- Common Sense for Common Core focuses on implementing the Common Core state standards and offers free tips for the classroom with lesson plans, videos, book lists, and free resources.
- For advice and innovative ideas from real teachers, explore Scholastic’s Top Teaching blog posts.
- Use Scholastic’s Book Wizard tool to find books by reading level, topic, or genre, as well as find lists of books that are similar to your students’ favorite reads.
- Bring your favorite books to life in the classroom with lesson plans, discussion guides, and student activities from Scholastic’s Teaching with Books.