One of the things that Melissa and I try to do is stress good digital citizenship. We use a combination of resources from Google and Common Sense Media. Sometimes we just want to make a point and use a metaphor in order to do so. Today was one of those days.
During Discovery class, we gave each group of three kids a small tube of toothpaste. "Squirt some out onto your tables. Go ahead, we'll clean it up later," I said. When all of the groups had finished squirting toothpaste onto the tables, I said, "Okay, now put it back in the tube." Confused looks crossed many kids' faces while others immediately began attempting to pick up the toothpaste on their fingers and push it back into the tube. No group met with success. "What's the point?" I asked. Several students correctly told me that there was no way to get the toothpaste back into the tube.
I asked them to relate this exercise with their online behavior. "How does this demonstration apply to your life online?" I asked. "Once it's out there, you can't get it back," one kiddo declared. "Exactly!" I told him. We took the next twenty minutes to share stories of cyberbullying, putting too much information online and bad habits in the digital world. We talked about why digital citizenship is the same as citizenship in person; we should behave the same online as we do in person. The kids recognized that "online" no longer means that they can be shielded from the consequences of their actions.
Kids these days live part of their lives online. When schools recognize this point and take steps to guide and teach students how to behave in that realm, we do them a much better service than blocking every social networking site available to them. We must give them the tools and guidance and then trust them to make the right decisions. This teaching is what we do for their academic lives and it is what we should do for the digital aspect of their lives too.