Making Common Sense Media Common Practice in Our Classrooms

by Dave Childers on August 12, 2014

Written by CUE Member Dave Childers @davechilders

Slide2“We can’t cover their eyes, but we can teach them to see.” Common Sense Media

That is only one sentence among the many that constitute the “10 Beliefs” of Common Sense Media, but it is the sentence that resonates most loudly for me – As a parent. As a professor. As a principal. As a trainer.

It was several years ago that I stumbled upon the Common Sense Media website, and it was as if I were the choir and it was the preacher. For years I had been a frequent presenter and advocate for increased integration of technology into our classrooms, and for years I had heard the familiar resistance – and seen the knee-jerk reactions, regulations, and responses at these gatherings.

The early attempts at teaching so-called “Cyber Safety” were merely the latest educational attempt at teaching through fear. Before technology was the evil culprit that schools had to make students fear it was tobacco, alcohol, automobiles or those of the opposite sex. One failed fear campaign after another, with plenty of data to prove the failures.

And history was repeating itself. Urban legends abounded – including those of child abduction – and sensationalized media coverage of the emerging technologies started us down a path where tablets were poised to be the next Catcher in the Rye.

Common Sense Media, though, chose a different path. Founded in 2003, the organization took research from Howard Gardner’s GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and created a suite of educational resources that continues to grow to meet the ever changing needs of our schools and communities.

With major foundation funding from the likes of MacArthur Hewlett, and Sherwood foundations, these resources have been made available – for free – to educators. All that is required is a simple registration, and educators have instant access to the most robust Digital Citizenship curriculum on the market.

The great thing about Common Sense Media – and what inspired me to become a certified trainer in 2012 – isn’t even how thorough the resources are. I am an advocate for Common Sense Media because it takes a positive and proactive approach to teaching students about the many different aspects of being a good digital citizen. Or, as another portion of that same belief mentioned earlier says, “teaching our kids to be savvy, respectful and responsible media interpreters, creators, and communicators.”

The teaching takes place within the 65 different lessons that make up the scope and sequence of the curriculum. Lessons cover from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and even includes 15 additional archived lessons for multiple grade levels. Lessons cover eight specific topics: Internet Safety, Privacy & Security, Relationships & Communication, Cyberbullying, Digital Footprint & Reputation, Self-image & Identity, Information Literacy, and Creative Credit & Copyright.

Some lessons cover multiple topics, and lessons are completely modular – they can be taught in any sequence and are not dependent upon each other. These lessons are aligned to different standards (Common Core, American Association of School Librarians and ISTE) and include detailed instructions. The lessons all have vast amounts of supplemental materials, and many of those materials are also available in Spanish. Plus, the former Video Production teacher in me loves that the lessons have content videos and – in some cases – videos of the actual lessons being taught in actual classrooms. That’s right – educators can watch many of the lessons being taught in real classrooms before attempting the lessons in their own.

For those schools that use iPads, the entire curriculum can be downloaded in iBooks format for free. Now the curriculum is not just a series of lessons, but a living and breathing ebook to facilitate student learning. Speaking of mobile apps, Graphite is a place where educators can go and retrieve reviews of the best educational apps, games, and websites available for their classroom.

Another fantastic tool is Digital Passport, which gamifies the Digital Citizenship curriculum for grades 3-5 and allows students to earn specific badges that culminate with the student being awarded that Digital Passport. Besides making the learning more exciting and engaging, it also provides a wonderful and easy way for E-Rate schools to address responsible use policies and training for students.

Even with all of the resources that I have been able to mention directly, I’ve only begun to describe all of the wonderful, free tools that are at your disposal through Common Sense Media. Funding and support/resources are mentioned frequently as barriers to teaching Digital Citizenship in our classrooms – barriers that Common Sense Media can help you overcome.

Regardless of whether Common Sense Media makes its way into your classrooms, schools, and districts – one thing is certain. Digital Citizenship is going to be taught. My hope is that we take the lead role in this teaching, rather than allowing it to be done peer to peer.

Let’s all work together to teach them to see.

Editor’s Note: CUE provides workshops on Common Sense Media’s Digital Citizenship programs and is the exclusive provider of face-to-face Common Sense Media Training. Learn more about the training CUE provides at www.cue.org/commonsensemedia


SONY DSCDave Childers is the Principal at McSwain School in Merced, California; adjunct faculty in the School of Education and Development at Fresno State, and the President/CEO of Level 33 Consulting. He is also a Certified Trainer for Common Sense Media and has trained staff and students from California all the way to North Carolina in the program. He can be found on Twitter @davechilders and @level33org or online at www.level33.org.

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