It’s Elementary: Responsible, Ethical, and Shrewd Digital Citizens

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Project tweet announcing this blog post.

The Digital Citizenship link will allow you to download a PowerPoint presentation intended to convince elementary school leadership and staff to adopt digital citizenship curriculum in order to teach appropriate, responsible, and creative digital citizenship. You may also view this PowerPoint on my Google drive without having to download it by clicking here.

The Why, When, and How of Digital Citizenship for Elementary Students

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
― Margaret Mead

Mike Ribble explains that digital citizenship refers to the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use. He further breaks down the norms into nine categories: etiquette, access, law, communication, literacy, commerce, safety, health & welfare, and rights & responsibility. As technology becomes increasingly prevalent, Ribble advocates that educators take a central role in teaching students how to be good digital citizens. Jason Ohler offers a complementary idea. He urges educators to contemplate digital citizenship in schools. “Of specific importance is how to manage learning in the digital domain so that we can help students become lifelong learners who develop perceptions, perspectives, and habits of mind that will allow them to navigate the Digital Age creatively and critically” (Ohler, 2010, p. 6). Ohler goes on to state that schools must help students understand how, when, and why to use technology if we want to raise students to act creatively, responsibly and wisely. I couldn’t agree more. In order to accomplish this, schools need to use proven curriculum to help them instruct and guide their students.

Schools in the United States that accept e-rate funds are required to adopt and use digital citizenship curriculum that addresses 21st century skills needed to interact online appropriately. If a school is not mandated to educate students with digital citizenship curriculum, it is morally imperative that they do so. Ribble poses a strong argument for schools that are on the fence regarding whether or not to offer digital citizenship instruction to their students.

Digital citizenship needs to become a priority in school curriculum and staff development programs. Students need a way to find true north. Technology misuse and abuse is a societal problem that has reached an all-time high. Today’s students are tomorrow’s adults, and habits learned as a child follow us into adulthood. If school district curriculum and staff development programs do not begin to address digital citizenship, the problem will only get worse (Ribble, 2005).

With an understanding of the concept of digital citizenship and the agreement that we must teach students these concepts, the next questions become when and how.

Elementary age students are now engaging in social media and digital communication. Edutopia blogger, Mary Beth Hertz, writes regularly on the topic of digital citizenship. Hertz’s blog proposed digital citizenship be addressed with Kindergartners under the umbrella of “stranger danger” and Internet safety. Brilliant. As long as the material is developmentally appropriate for the elementary school students, no age is too young to address digital citizenship.

Agreeing that digital citizenship is a critical piece of 21st century education and agreeing that elementary school is an appropriate age to begin instruction and discussion on the topic, the next step is to determine which materials to use with students. For the purposes of this presentation, my focus is on material that would be appropriate for upper elementary school students. Amy Erin Borovoy curated a collection of videos for Edutopia that she titled “The Five-Minute Film Festival: Teaching Digital Citizenship.” The collection begins with background information and discussion starters. The video collection continues on to include topics such as online safety and privacy, curation of a digital footprint, and digital citizenship project ideas. These videos could be downloaded and shared with students without having to count on reliable Internet connections. For grades 3 – 5, Common Sense Media put together a phenomenal resource called “Digital Passport”. This web-based curriculum includes videos, discussion topics, and interactive games. The topics addressed in their curriculum include appropriate digital communication, cyberbullying, effective Internet searching, and proper citation. Along with the online material, teachers can print or download a workbook to help reinforce the learning objectives and keep students organized. There are also downloadable posters and certificates to keep students motivated and engaged. Best of all, there is a detailed educator guide and video materials to help even the most digitally timid teacher.

My personal motto is Making Digital Literacy an Educational Reality. Digital literacy begins with being a responsible and thinking digital citizen. Today’s students are tomorrow’s adults. Let’s invest in a brighter, shrewder future.

Let’s go work on our digital passports! 



Works Cited:

Bailey, G. & Ribble, M. (2005, April). Developing ethical direction. Learning & Leading With Technology, 32(7), 36-38. Retrieved from

Borovoy, A. (2012, Sept. 14). Five-minute film festival: Teaching digital citizenship. Retrieved from

CommonSense Media. (n.d.). Digital passport. Retrieved from

E-Rate Central, (n.d.). Internet safety policies and cipa: an e-rate primer for schools and libraries. Retrieved from website:

Hertz, M. (2012, June 4). How to teach internet safety to younger elementary students. Retrieved from

Hertz, M. (2011, October 12). Teaching digital citizenship in the elementary classroom. Retrieved from

Media smarts: Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community, digital citizen. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Ribble, M. (2014). Digital citizenship: Using technology appropriately. Retrieved from



A Digital Drivers License or A Digital Passport: Curated Programs to Teach Digital Citizenship

The digital passport by Commonsense Media will be tested out this week by my class of 6th graders. Hopefully some of my peers at my school will join me in this test as well.

In order to teach students about digital citizenship and its importance, teachers need materials. In our Google discussion this week, there was complete consensus that two of the tools offered on the Internet would be very useful in this instruction when accompanied by thoughtful discussion and support by teachers: The Digital Passport and The Digital Driver’s License.

I still maintain that, to have an extremely effective program, highly effective materials need to be supported by leadership with a vision that includes meaningful integration of technology. Individual teachers can use these tools in order to have meaningful discussions with students about digital citizenship. If students only hear about digital citizenship issues here and there (inconsistently), it will not have the same staying power as if a whole school (or district) adopted this philosophy and learning.

In addition to looking at the Digital Drivers License and Digital Passport programs, I sought out other materials that would be helpful in teaching students all the components of being a responsible digital citizen. Edutopia is a consistent provider of very helpful information on topics like educational technology. It posted a brilliant article called the Five-Minute Film Festival. This post features a video playlist of twelve videos that cover a broad range of topics under the umbrella of digital citizenship. The intended audience for these videos include a mix of student and teacher viewers. For those wanting more information or to explore the topic further, Edutopia has curated additional resources.

Cable in the Classroom is another site that has put together a comprehensive list of videos and activities in order to teach about digital citizenship. These sources are intended for students in grades 4 – 8. The idea behind this site goes beyond becoming a responsible citizen. I like that this site offers videos and lessons that really make students think. For example, there is a lesson on viewing media and how advertisements affect people. CIC has completely laid out lesson plans which support both common core standards and ISTE standards. After my students complete their digital passports, I will lead them through Cable in the Classroom’s lessons to both give another level of depth to the subjects for my students and also to test out the materials from a teacher’s perspective.

In researching tools to support teaching digital citizenship, what I have found is there is a mass of materials. This is a very important topic worthy of having a multitude of tools. It is really helpful to have sites curate a core selection of materials to help up teachers of specific grade level ranges. As an individual teacher, I will test out the materials that seem most suitable to my students and their skill level. I will continue to advocate for school-wide adoption of digital citizenship programs in order to best serve our whole student body.


Works Cited

Borovoy, A. (2012, Sept. 14). Five-minute film festival: Teaching digital citizenship. Retrieved from

Common Sense Educators. (Producer). Common sense media: Digital passport [Web Video]. Retrieved from

Commonsense Media. (n.d.). Digital passport. Retrieved from

Digital drivers license. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Empower students to be inctrl in a digital age!. (n.d.). Retrieved from