Their mission was clear: A cyber crook has stolen the key to good digital citizenship and locked it away in these boxes. Work together with your group to unlock each puzzle and you will be rewarded.
The fifth-graders weren’t entirely sure what that meant, but they were about to find out.
Trantwood Elementary School counselor Lisa Lee had been looking for a lesson that would emphasize the monthly themes of kindness and anti-bullying.
“We really wanted to talk about respectful social media presence and digital citizenship,” she said before visiting Macy Henry’s fifth-grade class to issue the cyber crook challenge.
A lesson on digital citizenship, explained Lee, “fits in perfect with our kindness challenge because the type of behavior you have online is also representative of who you are and how you treat people.”
How you treat people face-to-face is equally important, which is why Lee asked students to remind her of how to best work in groups before she turned them loose on the breakout box challenge.
“Don’t be a hog or a log,” responded one student before clarifying, “A hog is someone who takes over. A log just sits there and is not helping.”
Another student said, “If we have conflict you try to work it out, and if you can’t, then you can mix the ideas together.”
“Compromise,” affirmed Lee. “Very good; putting the ideas together.”
Other students added: Be kind to each other. Be fair and share with others. Take turns.
True to their own words, the fifth-graders worked together respectfully to solve tasks and open a series of locks standing between them and their prize in the toolbox.
Each group started by watching a video on an iPad about online activities. The answer to this question unlocked the first lock: How many minutes per week does the typical person spend online?
Students twisted the four number spools on the lock to 3206 and removed the lock. They also remarked that 3,206 minutes is a lot of time.
The answer for the next lock, a directional lock, was found by unscrambling words related to a digital citizenship poster they reviewed. Students rearranged select letters from the words safe, protect, balance, private, information to spell “respect” and helped to crack the code for the second lock.
For the final lock, students watched a video about cyberbullying and answered a true/false quiz. Each group that answered the quiz correctly received its last clue with help from Lee and the black light flashlight she carried. The light Lee shined on the quiz paper highlighted four letters – S, O, P, T – that had to be rearranged to spell a word related to the day’s lesson.
Students reviewed the letters to identify the winning word.
“It’s ‘STOP,’” said three girls who twisted the letters on the lock and spelled it out loud together. S-T-O-P.
They would have to try again.
“What about POTS?” suggested one group member.
Not the winner.
“Oh! It’s POST!” said a student looking at the digital citizenship poster they received with their mission challenge.
They spun the letters to P-O-S-T, removed the final lock and opened toolbox to find…another locked box and a bag of puzzle pieces.
Lee promised each group that the puzzle was truly the last step.
Group members huddled around their puzzle pieces, working quickly to reveal the final and most important message.
“It spells ‘THINK,’” one group exclaimed to Lee.
“What does THINK stand for?” Lee asked.
“Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” one student read from the completed puzzle.
With those magic words, Lee used a key hanging around her neck to unlock the box, which contained bookmarks with the T.H.I.N.K. acronym.
Students used their brains to think through clues of the breakout box activity, and now Lee wanted them to T.H.I.N.K. about their activities online.
“The bookmark reminds you to think before you speak and before you post,” reflected one student in the closing discussion.
“That’s right,” said Lee. “Sometimes we post out of anger or out of sadness or when our emotions are high, and later on we wish we could take it back.”
“But even if you delete something it doesn’t always go away,” Lee cautioned. “You have what’s called a digital footprint. You leave it behind. Just like we leave a footprint in the sand, so be careful what you post.”
Nicole Topolski got the message.
“What I learned about being a digital citizen,” she said, “is that you have to be kind, show respect, fairness and think before you post things and think before you write comments. Being a cyberbully is really not necessary and it’s mean.”
Her group member Joey Savino added, “Treat others the way you want to be treated – the golden rule.”
“Yes, being respectful online is important,” stressed Lee, “and remember, what you do at home, can that impact you at school?”
“Yes!” responded the fifth-graders.
Lee shared a story of unnamed former students who mocked a classmate in a video they made at home.
“They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, and they sent it to someone. They didn’t think that girl would ever see it.”
The girl did see it, as did others.
“The next day she came to school and guess what,” said Lee. “She was pretty upset. Do you think she was able to learn that day?”
“No,” the class responded quietly.
When Lee asked the fifth-grader to guess what happened, they knew the answer.
“Yes, they got in trouble,” Lee affirmed, “even though it happened at home. They were being unkind and it affected a student, and she wasn’t able to learn. So be careful what you do at home because it affects not only how people feel but it can affect your futures.”
And if the students themselves are subject to cyberbullying or see it happening, should they respond?
“No, get an adult,” responded the class.
The digital citizenship lessons learned by Trantwood fifth-graders are also the focus of the school division’s awareness campaign Be Social. Be Smart. Be Safe. The goal is to reinforce the important role everyone has in using technology and social media wisely and the value in maintaining a positive digital footprint.
One of Henry’s fifth-graders invoked advice from his father to sum up Lee’s T.H.I.N.K. lesson for the class.
“It reminds me of what my dad says a lot,” said the student. “Every time before you do something mean to each other, he says to think before you do it.”
To learn more about the division’s Be Social. Be Smart. Be Safe. awareness campaign, visit www.vbschools.com/BeSocial.