Integrating Technology into the Curriculum An Action Plan for Smart Internet Use


Jim Teicher

Schools already teach children personal safety, fire safety, and bicycle safety. Now it's time to teach our children Internet safety—and responsibility.

Schools are major stakeholders in the effort to make Internet use safe and rewarding for children and families. Rising to a White House challenge to wire every classroom by the year 2000, educators will play a lead role in familiarizing nearly 100 million K–12 children with the online world.

Empowering children to use the Internet safely and responsibly is essential to ensure that school technology plans work. Students can also be taught to make a positive impact as they use the Internet to communicate with others worldwide. The CyberSmart! School Program offers a framework within which teachers can discuss the Internet with students and raise their appreciation of how to make the electronic world safe, valuable, and enjoyable.

There are many challenges to face. In its December 1997 survey of parents, FamilyPC Magazine found that "access to pornography and inappropriate communication with strangers" topped parents' list of concerns (1997). The Global Strategy Group, a public-opinion research company, conducted a national telephone survey with 400 teachers and 1,600 other adults in January 1998 (Mendels, 1998). Of the teachers who indicated that they use the Internet in the classroom, 60 percent said they were "fairly concerned" or "very concerned" about student use. For example, schools must be aware that Internet sites collect personal information from students. In a June 1998 study, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that 89 percent of 212 children's sites surveyed collected personal information directly from children, yet fewer than 10 percent of these sites offered some sort of parental control over such information collection.

No Technology Is Fail-Safe

The expected near total saturation of schools by the Internet by the year 2000 means that children are going online faster in classrooms than families are at home. This situation places responsibility on schools to ensure that children bring home a set of Internet-appropriate behaviors.

Children lead other family members into computer use. A 1998 survey conducted by the nonprofit industry association CommerceNet and Nielsen Media Research revealed that half of all U.S. Internet users over 16 said they have children at home. According to Jerome Samson, director of technology and business strategy at Nielsen, "Very often a child is the main reason why they [families] are adopting new technology" (Wired News Report, 1998).

Educators want children's online experience to be safe and rewarding. Many schools have chosen to install commercially available filtering software to block content judged to be inappropriate and to protect the school from potential liability. Yet, blocking offensive content may also severely restrict the availability of desirable communications and information. Time magazine correspondent Joshua Quittner (1998) described the downside of filtering:

Software filters don't work. . . . It's a little like trying to collect raindrops in your hat: you'll catch some, but you'll miss most of them. Worse, filters tend to block stuff that they shouldn't block: breast cancer sites, for instance. (P. 84)

Because no technology solution is fail-safe, it's essential to empower children to use the Internet safely, responsibly, and effectively—whether in the company of an adult or on their own.

The CyberSmart! program introduces the basics of savvy Internet usage. When carefully implemented, it lays the necessary foundation for community support and contributes to the ultimate success of a school's technology plan. The five components of the program are (S)afety, (M)anners, (A)dvertising and Privacy Protection, (R)esearch, and (T)echnology.


Safety is paramount when students go online. Children need to feel competent to safely manage their online experiences, to know how to deal with uncomfortable situations, and to know when to seek adult help. It's not enough to hold a 20-minute class discussion and then hand children a list of online safety tips. No competent adult would support a child's ability to stay safe in the real world by handing him or her a list of rules. Safety needs to be a topic of ongoing, thought-provoking discussion.

The key to online safety is recognizing that communications in the online world have a unique characteristic that can lead to irresponsible behavior: anonymity. When children cannot validate the physical location or identity of an individual on the other end of the message, difficulties can arise. Until there is a way to authenticate the identities of Internet users without compromising safety or privacy, communicating with complete integrity will remain problematic.

Much has been written about online safety, particularly about those unfortunate incidents in which children have been harmed by strangers they met in person after communicating online. These situations should not be taken to indicate that online chat rooms and e-mail are always dangerous. Such communications can be among the most enriching aspects of the Internet.

What is the authoritative source for online safety? The most frequently quoted and widely distributed document in this regard is "Child Safety on the Information Highway" (1994), jointly produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Project OPEN, an activity of the Internet Alliance trade association. Rules for online safety focus on three basic concepts: never revealing personal information to strangers, establishing ground rules for Internet access (where, when, and which Internet resources can be accessed), and maintaining open communication between children and parents concerning a child's online experiences—both the enriching aspects and the uncomfortable ones.

Teachers can ask students to brainstorm approaches to deal with challenging online experiences. Discuss when it's important to seek the advice of a parent or teacher. Try some "What would you do if?" questions. For example, "What would you do if you wanted to meet an online friend in person?" or ". . . if an offensive e-mail is sent to you by a stranger?" or ". . . if someone insults you in a chat room?"


The Internet is a powerful information-sharing tool that even an elementary school student can use to reach thousands of people. There is no more potent example of how a child's opinion can truly count. With this awesome communication opportunity, however, comes an equally awesome responsibility.

Children must learn that ethical behavior in the electronic world is as important as ethical behavior in the physical world. Internet manners are essentially the same as face-to-face manners. But with the autonomy of cyberspace, it is undeniably more challenging for children to build trusting relationships and, in turn, behave responsibly with no one looking, so to speak.

Another major distinguishing factor between the Internet and the real world is the sheer communication capability. A good online deed may spread positive benefits to millions of individuals. Conversely, an unethical deed can harm millions. A computer virus or a public message of hate, for instance, can have negative implications globally.

Respect for the online property of others and the ethical use of online information are also important aspects of Internet manners. Much online information is copyrighted, and it is against the law to copy it—as much so as stealing something from a store. Yet students may be tempted to copy research materials from online sources and paste the information directly into school reports.

Computer manners also extend to respecting the computer space of others. It's never permissible to use someone else's password, snoop around inside someone else's computer, or try to gain unauthorized access to an online computer network. Many of these activities are also against the law.

The Computer Learning Foundation Web site ( suggests a number of classroom activities to spark discussions relating to online manners and ethics. Suggestions include debating First Amendment topics such as censorship and privacy; researching and discussing news stories related to technology ethics and legal problems; and holding a panel discussion about responsible computing and inviting parents and community leaders to participate.

Other questions for discussion can focus on how anonymity might have an impact on one's ability to communicate responsibly and how Internet behavior, both good and bad, can affect people differently than behavior in the physical world.

Advertising and Privacy Protection

The rapid emergence of the Global Information Infrastructure brings with it an entirely new electronic media environment and creates a realm where distinctions among information, advertising, entertainment, and promotion are blurred.

Advertising pays for much of what children see online. Search engines popular with teachers and children, including Yahooligans, Ask Jeeves for Kids, and Infoseek, derive revenue from advertising. Other sites that offer valuable content for schoolchildren may also contain advertising. Even when a school has installed filtering software, advertising is virtually never screened out of sites.

Children need to learn how to recognize advertising. This is a reasonably straightforward task when an advertisement is graphically distinguished from other content. Nearly all the well-known sites that children might access from school do a good job maintaining the separation. For example, the entertainment site always places its ads in a box in the top right corner of the screen.

Still, it is not always possible for children to sort out commercial messages from online content, an ability that requires a degree of proficiency and dexterity that should be taught. Since 1996, the Center for Media Education has been investigating online advertising targeted at children to ensure that effective consumer safeguards are in place to protect young people online. Of special interest is the Center's investigation of online advertising techniques used by tobacco and alcohol companies to attract children to their sites, collect personal information, and build brand loyalty.

Safeguarding private information is another crucial and teachable skill. Children need to learn how to decide when to give out information, such as supplying companies a home address or registering to participate in online clubs and games.

Teachers should consider raising the following topics and questions with students to spark discussions about advertising in general and online ads in particular:

Ask children to view commercial Web sites and seek out the advertising. Check out the popular search engines. What are the characteristics of an online ad? Are all ads positioned in a rectangular box in the same location on the screen? Are they sometimes difficult to recognize? This can be the case when an entire corporate site is, in essence, an advertisement. For example, check out or What questions should you ask before you consider buying an advertised product? For example, does it really work the way it is represented? What other products might also do a similar job? Do you really need it? What steps can we take to safeguard our personal information when we go online?


Students must be proficient at mining Internet resources safely and effectively. The Internet has been likened to a library with all the books dropped on the floor. How should a student go about conducting research to find exactly the right information?

The answer is simple: Rely on trusted sources. The process, however, takes practice. Children and their teachers can learn to consult lists of sites that have been compiled by trusted groups such as the American Library Association. America Links Up, the nationwide Internet education program, is another trusted resource for links to a variety of organizations that have compiled lists of excellent sites for children. These lists provide a quality check far beyond the ability of filtering software.

Students should also learn to use well-known search engines, which provide a way for them to find content that meets the selection criteria they specify. Popular search engines such as Lycos, Infoseek, and Excite ask users to enter a keyword that describes the search topic. Children need to develop adeptness at using these search tools.

Several Web search engines are designed especially for children. Ask Jeeves for Kids is unique because children query its database with questions in plain English. If "Jeeves" has an answer, the child will be taken directly to the applicable site. Yahooligans offers another alternative. Also check out Disney's Internet Guide. An additional choice is the Lycos search engine, which can be run in a "safety net" mode, with filtering software.

Browsing is an alternative to searching. If a student doesn't know the exact search topic—for example, "The New York Stock Exchange"—she can browse by subject. "Finance" is a broad subject with a variety of topic areas that will lead to the specific Web site of the New York Stock Exchange.

Regardless of the search engine or a student's dexterity at browsing, remember that neither vouches for the quality of the information provided and that both may lead to inappropriate content or advertising. In fact, because the nature of the Internet is constant change, what might be considered appropriate one day on a site can change on the next. No search engine can guarantee the appropriateness of Web site content or the quality of the content or offer assurances that the children aren't viewing advertising or "factual" content promoted by, for example, a hate group. This speaks pointedly to the value of empowering students to use the Internet with discretion.

Teachers can engage students in a discussion about doing research online by first asking them about their experiences. The odds are that many students have found wonderful online resources. Still others may have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of information, much of it junk. Talk about the research process whereby one begins with a broad subject and narrows down the topic. Have students experiment with the process and continue the discussion. The objective is to empower students to locate the highest quality information and retain a sense of confidence.


What makes the Internet special is that even young children can use it without thinking about technology. Students should learn the basics about what the Internet is and how it works without being overwhelmed by technical aspects. Even the process of creating and updating a basic Web site or personal Web page can be undertaken with virtually no technical experience.

Internet basics that can be presented to familiarize students with the technology include four topics: (1) What is the Internet? (2) What is the World Wide Web? (3) How do we connect to the Internet? (4) What is the future of the Internet?

Numerous resources provide a simple introduction to the Internet. Teachers can review them and create technology-focused lessons that offer basic knowledge without going overboard with technical facts. The Internet can be introduced simply as being a connection among computers all over the world, with the Web being lots of interconnected sites, or destinations, with colorful pictures and sounds. What is the future of the Net? Let students brainstorm this one.

Educators can also focus on different ways children can help keep the Internet running smoothly or can help create the future of Internet technology. What's a child's role in identifying or stopping a computer virus, for example? Is technology foolproof, or can computer security be compromised? What would be a great way to use the Internet that perhaps no one has thought of?

The CyberSmart! School Program covers the five "SMART" aspects of savvy Internet use by students, and it extends beyond the school to students' families. Teachers can use this instructional framework as a guide to prepare a course of instruction that meets students' needs according to grade level and other community-specific considerations. The goal is to imbue a sense of excitement, awe, power, and responsibility as students are handed the keys to the new electronic kingdom of cyberspace.

In response to the tremendous positive feedback from educators to this article The Cybersmart Curriculum - 65 original standards-based lessons - was created. For lesson plans and activity sheets visit The section Online Resources provides background information supporting the lessons.

Jim Teicher is founder of the CyberSmart! School Program, a nonprofit organization. The address is 201 Lloyd Rd., Bernardsville, NJ 07924 (e-mail: ).