Internet safety, for kids' sake: CyberSmart! teaches right from wrong

September 19, 2002

Lynn Welch, The Capital Times

Viruses, worms and predators.

They're all things children encounter online more often than anyone would hope. And while kids are often more tech savvy than their parents, they may not know to avoid the dangers lurking right inside their computers.

As the nation pushes for more individual responsibility for computer security, a local group of computer security professionals and government officials hopes to bridge the technical divide. They also want to help kids be safe online by involving them in a poster contest and promoting a new free CyberSmart curriculum to teachers, students and parents. The Kids Improving Security (KIS) program invites children grades K-12 to participate in a poster contest illustrating how to stay safe online. Winners of the contest will win a trip to Washington, D.C. More information on the program is available at

The grass-roots effort to engage schools in the contest is being driven by local chapters of InfraGard, a public/private group that aims to increase computer security and the country's information technology infrastructure.

"It's all about being smart and knowing what's right and wrong," said Tom Schleppenbach, a senior security adviser at Inacom Information Systems in Madison and member of the Western Wisconsin InfraGard chapter.

In addition InfraGard is spreading the word about a new curriculum that teaches kids grades K-8 the strategies of online safety, The CyberSmart School Program.

Thousands of schools across the country have used 20-minute CyberSmart lessons, according to Jim Teicher, founder of the not-for-profit organization and co-director of the program. The non-sequential curriculum, published jointly last winter with Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, focuses on:

* Safety: how to enjoy the Internet safely.

* Manners: social, ethical or legal responsibilities Internet users are obligated to follow.

* Advertising: how to recognize advertising or other commercial messages and protect privacy.

* Research: strategies to effectively mine online resources.

* Technology: learning about the past, present and future of the Internet.

"There's one thing that's indisputable: Computers are primarily used for research in schools. Ask any librarian, there's no doubt that the Internet now is a critical research tool, period," Teicher said. "Yet, how can a school really leverage that when information on the Internet is mixed with advertising that kids can't understand? You can't really distinguish between an ad and information. That's where we come in."

It's important, Teicher said, as the federal government pushes its plan to improve computer security, to raise a generation of children that keep themselves and others safe online.

"The other issue is presumably all schools that have a number of computers and have spent a lot of taxpayer money on IT. They need to efficiently use those resources," Teicher said. "We're actually saving them time by making students' use and teachers' use of computers more efficient."

The student to computer ratio in Madison's schools has reached 1-to-4 or 1-to-5, according to Mark Evans, school district director of technical services. But it's tough to include more in an already full school day.

"I believe it's very important to teach children not only safety but how to interpret information whether on TV, in the newspaper, stuff you hear from somebody on the playground or whether they find it on the Internet," Evans said. "It's part of the educational experience.

Although Evans is not aware of any teacher in the district using the CyberSmart lessons, the district has for a couple of years included a similar program in some middle school social studies classes.

Internet Detectives,, helps students acquire skills in accessing and evaluating information on the Internet. Students evaluate Web sites on a topic and write summaries of the sites for publication on the World Wide Web. The program has built a student-generated library of Internet resources that benefits all.

The district has also put into place an Internet filtering system, as is required for schools receiving federal funds by the Children's Internet Protection Act which went into effect last spring.

Regardless of how it's taught, Scheppenbach believes it's critical that our children be instructed in proper Internet safety.

"More than just computer security, it's an awareness that these things are out there, these things happen," he said. "Especially after 9-11, you want (kids) to be aware, you want them to be alert. If you see something unusual or something that's not right, at least tell somebody."

GRAPHIC: Appleton students submitted posters last winter in the first Kids Improving Security poster contest. The contest, running again this year Sept. 15 to Nov. 30, urges students grades K-12 nationwide to illustrate how to stay safe online.

Copyright 2002 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Capital Times (Madison, WI)