Be Internet Awesome!

For more information on teaching digital citizenship, check out Responsible Digital CitizenshipCelebrating Digital Citizenship Week, or Common Sense EducationCommon Sense Education.

In an effort make the internet world that they helped create a little better, Google has created the Be Internet Awesome program to guide students through internet safety. The ISTE-aligned curriculum is made up five parts with multiple activities and related games. I recently had the opportunity to head to the Google offices here in New York City to learn about that program as well as get other resources for online safety as well. It was encouraging that so many educators from around the country are committed to teaching digital citizenship. I was also encouraged to hear that they have a more positive outlook for their students’ experiences online than I often hear.

The curriculum includes example lessons and worksheets. After going through the activities in each section students are encouraged to play the related section of the Interland game. It includes different mini-games which teach about internet safety with fun characters called Internauts. The text is all read aloud which improves accessibility. It also follows COPPA, CIPA, and FERPA guidelines.interland-1.jpg

The Curriculum

SMART (Share With Care)

IMG_6844.jpgYou’re encouraged to protect your online information, protect the privacy of others, prevent oversharing, question profile information, and examine how others may judge your online info.

INTERLAND: Mindful Mountain – In this strategy game, students try to blast the appropriate information only to the friends while avoiding ‘oversharing Internaut’.

DISCUSSION: Have you ever shared a picture or a post related to another person that you later realized you shouldn’t have? Are there zones (parties, school, etc.) where social media sharing should be off-limits? I’m usually fairly careful about what I share, but I once accidentally posted a picture from a training that had a person’s email in the background. As soon as I realized I took it down.

ALERT (Don’t Fall for Fake)

The Alert zone warns you about phishing scams, fake users, and other fake information online and how to determine what is reliable. That seems particularly timely.

INTERLAND: Reality River – This is a 10 question multiple choice adventure game where you are tasked with avoiding the phisher on the river (get it?). The questions are fairly straightforward and broad but are geared mostly towards upper elementary and middle school students.

DISCUSSION: Have you ever reposted something fantastic without checking if it were true? Have you ever fallen for a fake site or phishing email? Have you ever challenged a friend who posted something seemingly unbelievable? I can say that I have challenged friends on multiple posts for authenticity, but I tried very much to do it kindly recognizing how much they may feel deeply about what the post says, but now I’m also sure they want to only post the truth. Alternately I have at least once a month come across some fantastic post that I automatically assumed was too farfetched to be true and later turned out to be real.

STRONG (Secure Your Secrets)

Google-be-internet-awesome.pngThe Strong unit is about keeping information secure. That means creating secure passwords and reviewing privacy and security settings. I know some adults who would like to review their social media privacy settings. Check out the post on school cybersecurity for more info.

INTERLAND: Tower of Treasure – This is a racing game (think Subway Surfer) where students are trying to create a secure password using letter, number, symbol combinations.

DISCUSSION: What kind of passwords do you use? Is it the same for every site? Do you have levels of passwords (generic, social media, financial, etc.)? Have you ever experienced being hacked? Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? What are you doing to prevent it in the future? Did you know you can go to and even remove past searches in case you’re tired of being followed by the one pair of shoes you looked at once?

KIND (It’s Cool to Be Kind)

In this area, students are encouraged to become a positive digital citizen. It’s far too rare that we talk to students about just being good human beings. This unit reviews how to set a  good example, and how to respond to anything mean that is said. It also encourages us to examine our writing/posts to see if they can be misconstrued as negative. Tone can be as important as the content. It also encourages teachers (and parents) to model kindness, because that’s always the most influential example you could provide

and the Brave area encourages students to have conversations that will help them and their peers maintain appropriate online behavior.

INTERLAND: Kind Kingdom – This is my favorite one of the games. It’s a Mario Brothers style side-scroller game where you are delivering positive messages to your peers. You have to avoid and counteract the efforts of the Interland cyberbullies and get to the castle by spreading good vibes.

DISCUSSION: Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever watched someone being bullied? Did you intervene? Have you ever been the bully? Was the bullying online or in person? Do you think that makes a difference?

BRAVE (When In Doubt Talk It Out)

IMG_4712.jpgThis area doesn’t include the game because it’s all about personal action. One of the bravest things a person who has been victimized can do is to share their experience and discuss it with others. It’s also the best way for them to find solutions and learn the proper course of action. We should, above all, encourage students to talk with a trusted adult (teacher, parent, etc.) when they encounter something online that makes them uncomfortable or doesn’t seem reliable. Once while I was having a conversation with some high school students with cognitive disabilities about their social media posts. One was certain that they were talking with the actual Katy Perry and Elmo (which is possible, but they weren’t). In fact, one girl had thought a celebrity sent her a meeting request in Central Park. It led to a very necessary conversation about online reality and strangers. It would seem it’s never too early (once they are online) or too late to talk.

Check out the full curriculum, get the pledge, and learn more about online safety.


Parenting in the Digital Age

Stephen Balkam, Founder & CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, spoke on online safety through policy, practices, and parenting. It is clear that a lot of less tech-savvy parents are struggling to keep up on their own devices let alone with how to teach appropriate use to their own children. As new technology arrives, what are the implications? Are the Alexa and Google Home systems a convenience or an invasion? If we expect our children to say please and thank you when speaking to adults, should Siri require it too? Now Facebook Messenger is available to kids. What are the implications of that? How can we get children (and adults) who are still learning how to interact in the physical world to learn about the damage their online presence can have on their reputation or self-esteem. What about identity theft, oversharing, or screen time? Is screen time even the right word? Should we say screen use? Are 3 hours spent researching a topic for school okay if 3 hours on Call of Duty isn’t? Is all digital time equal?


There are key moments in a child’s digital development that should necessitate a conversation. As I discussed in my post on cell phone bans, avoiding conversations and device use altogether isn’t the best option.

  • First Device – my kids and I had a contract that started off fairly strict and has become more lenient as they’ve shown themselves more responsible. They ask when they want to use a device or download any new apps. They have to always share their passwords an allow me to view their accounts. There are time limits (duration and time of day) and room limits (no devices in the bedroom). It also requires that they finish any other work (school, cleaning, etc.) before they even request to play, search, or watch.
  • Turning 13 – Neither of my boys is 13 yet, but it is an important age because it is when most social media sites allow children to sign up. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. A lot of underage users have bypassed these protocols.
  • Driver License – Many modern devices have a Do Not Disturb mode that engages while you are driving, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still have a conversation about the safety issues and legal ramifications of using phones while driving. Several US states have full or partial bans on their use.

25074417286_c46bbe5d23_b.jpgIn addition to the above concerns, you may want to consider other ground rules or even use parent control software. You may turn to a graduated return of a device if it is used inappropriately. That can mean kids get one additional hour added to use time if they demonstrate an appropriate use and an understanding after their device is taken. Understand that having a phone for an alarm clock means you will always wake and fall asleep with your device next to you, so alarm clocks may be a worthwhile investment. You should also respect your children’s boundaries. For example, you shouldn’t be texting your kids while they’re in school if you expect them to focus. You should follow your children, but don’t stalk them online. Perhaps you should also consider a digital Spring cleaning. Check out FOSI’s 7 steps to good digital parenting and 7 tips for online safety. I also recommend checking out the resources at Connect Safely.

Teacher Approach

ngjFMd2s.jpgEileen Lennon, an amazing New York City teacher and one of the organizers of the #NYCSchoolsTechChat, also presented on ways to instruct students in digital citizenship. She reminded us that it is an overwhelming topic to tackle that parents, the news media, politicians, activists, and everyone else is still trying to figure out. That doesn’t remove the responsibility though. In a lot of ways, it’s important to know that students are well aware of the issues that being a digital native brings forth. In fact, they are often more aware than we are. Eileen usually starts with basic safety but she guides in all sorts of media literacy using sites like the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus to demonstrate the net’s untrustworthiness and humor.

While I’ve addressed many of these digital citizenship resources in other posts, there are a few new additions and I think they’re important enough to talk about again. In addition to Google’s curriculum, you can use the following resources.

  • Common Sense – An incredibly thorough (and my favorite) digital citizenship curriculum that will be discussed in greater depth below.
  • Common Craft – These fun explanatory videos cover a wide range of digital topics.
  • BrainPOP – There are a lot of great videos, games, and resources on everything from online safety and digital etiquette to viruses and plagiarism. It isn’t a complete curriculum though as they too recommend Common Sense Media Resources even linking videos to different CSM topics.
  • Ever-Fi Ignition – They have a game-based digital literacy and responsibility curriculum geared towards 6th – 9th grade.
  • – Embedded in their computer science curriculum there are digital citizenship lessons and videos.
  • Citizenship in the Digital Age – This is the NYCDOE’s scope and sequence for digital citizenship instruction for grade 1-12. It includes lessons and printable that was created in conjunction with Common Sense Media There is also the NYCDOE’s Respect for All program.

“What if, instead of avoiding social media in school altogether or focusing solely on the negative aspects, we teach students how to leverage it to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves…”

Susan M. Bearden



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