New Resource Helps Schools Promote Safe and Responsible Web Use

May 22, 2002

By Corey Murray, Assistant Editor, eSchool News

Three organizations have teamed up to provide teachers with free professional development tools and integrated lesson plans geared toward making students in grades K-8 wiser to the ways of the web.

The National Cyber Security Alliance announced May 16 that it would offer a new resource called Tech Talk to schools at no cost as part of its Stay Safe Online program. Tech Talk was developed by the CyberSmart School Program in partnership with Macmillan McGraw-Hill to provide teachers and parents with a foundation for teaching kids safe, responsible, and effective use of the internet in schools and at home.

The announcement came not long after a congressionally mandated report stressed the need for educating children about how to deal with harmful material they are likely to encounter online.

According to Jim Teicher, executive director of the CyberSmart School Program, Tech Talk serves as a precursor to the program's curriculum and is intended as a time-efficient tutorial for teachers who are unsure how to integrate cyber-security lessons into existing standards.

"Teachers don't have a lot of time," Teicher explained.

Tech Talk consists of six different slide show presentations ranging in length from two to eight minutes. Each presentation is designed to take the instructor step by step through the various objectives of the CyberSmart curriculum.

Upon completing a broad introduction to CyberSmart, educators use the final five presentations to explore the goals behind the curriculum itself. SMART—otherwise known as safety, manners, advertising, research, and technology—is based on a set of skills that Teicher says students must acquire to become confident, efficient, and effective citizens of the online community.

According to Teicher, lessons about safety focus on how children can enjoy the internet securely without falling victim to pedophiles, scam artists, pornographers, and other online dangers. Manners-oriented activities deal with the different social, legal, and ethical responsibilities associated with being an internet user, and advertising focuses on how to identify commercial messages and protect online privacy. Research-bases lessons outlay strategies to mine online resources effectively. And technology, he said, covers the past, present, and future of the internet.

Before CyberSmart, "teachers had been scrambling on their own to teach these skills," said Teicher.

The curriculum itself is broken down by grade level and designed under the notion that internet literacy is best taught progressively, beginning with students in kindergarten.

"For students to responsibly and effectively use the internet, we need to give them a skill set that goes beyond the traditional notion of safety," he said. "It needs to be started at an early age."

Teicher added that every lesson in the curriculum is designed to mesh with the International Society for Technology in Education's National Education Technology Standards (NETS) so that educators do not have to worry about including extra lessons into already busy teaching schedules.

Lessons are tailored to the age and maturity of students at various grade levels. While young learners in grades K-2 are exploring how to identify web addresses and evade internet scams, students in grades 6-8 can use another lesson to conduct the mock trial of a computer hacker and consider the legal consequences of improper online behavior.

Renee McGah, instructional coordinator at Briargrove Elementary School in Houston, said students and teachers there have gained a lot from the CyberSmart program.

"We know that with CyberSmart, [students] are going to be safe and use [the internet] in a wise manner," she said.

Each lesson plan in the curriculum is made up of a combination of online exercises, hands-on activities, and paper-based worksheets, which can be downloaded at no charge from CyberSmart's web site.

According to Teicher, the program is meant to be viewed only partly as an online course. "We use the internet only as a frame of reference," he said.

Teachers, said McGah, find the curriculum's accessibility and ease of use inviting.

"Anything that is user-friendly is useful," said McGah. "The more teacher-friendly it is, the better chance you have of getting [teachers] to use it."

According to Teicher, a key component of the program is teaching the development of proper research skills.

"Research is a skill that needs to be taught to be done efficiently," he said.

If students know how to find what they are looking for, they will use their time at the computer more effectively and not be as likely to encounter inappropriate material by mistake.

McGah agreed and added that Briargrove students used what they had learned during the research units to produce in-depth reports about significant figures in American history.

Another goal of the program, said Teicher, is to make certain that each learner develops the faculties necessary to act responsibly when confronted with inappropriate language and visual materials online.

"Even in the most filtered environment, a lot of the information and content available may be inappropriate," he said.

CyberSmart's commitment to teaching responsible internet use matches the sentiments voiced by the National Research Council in its "Youth, Pornography, and the Internet" report. The document says filters alone can't protect children from harmful content on the internet and calls for communities to blend an appropriate mix of educational, technical, and legal strategies to keep kids safe online.

"Wherever we are on the internet, children need to have mindfulness," said Teicher. "They have to have the skills to make decisions responsibly."


School Technology Buyer's Guide
Company Search on "McGraw-Hill" Stay Safe Online Program
CyberSmart Curriculum
Briargrove Elementary School
"Youth, Pornography, and the Internet" report