Digital Citizenship Website

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Last year I wrote several blog posts about digital citizenship (here, here and here). Since then I have become increasingly concerned about our (and I mean that globally, not just in my district) students’ abilities to be safe and effective participants in our digital world.

This concern led me to spend many hours of my time scanning the internet, looking for lesson plans, ideas and a scope and sequence. The great news is that I found loads of information and resources. The bad information? I found loads of information and resources – some good, some great and some not. There’s a lot out there to wade through!

This resulted in more work, of course! Using ISTE as well as the British Columbia curriculum as my guide, I created this scope and sequence for our schools, Kindergarten to Grade 7.

I then took the resources I found and plugged them into the correct places in the scope and sequence and used Google Sites to build a website to house it all. Whew!

The website, the West Vancouver School District’s Digital Citizenship Hub is now ready to be used by educators and administrators alike, with the following understandings:

  1. I did not create the vast majority of the resources! They are collated from around the internet, with special thanks to Common Sense Media, Google’s Be Internet Awesome and Media Smarts.
  2. This website is meant to be a living entity, that will be added to as more resources become available or as people share more resources with me. Have a great lesson plan? Email me at!
  3. I have created custom, West Vancouver School District, digital badges for the units in Grade 4 to 7. My intention was to create self-scoring Google Forms quizzes that would automatically email a digital badge to any student who scored high enough on the quiz. Unfortunately, try as I might, I could not get the code to work! So, for any of you who work in West Vancouver, just send me a quick email if you want access to the digital badges.

I really hope that in creating this website I have made it easier for teachers to help their students become confident, caring, critical and ethical participants in the digital world.


Grammarly and Wall-E: A Cautionary Tale


Photo cred: Arthur Caranta

My students and I were recently getting ready for the FSAs – standardized literacy and numeracy tests given to all Grade 4 and 7 students in British Columbia. We were discussing what they were allowed to do to help themselves and one student asked, “Can I use Grammarly?” This was followed by a short discussion during which I found out that many of my students had installed the free Grammarly Chrome extension. My answer, of course, was no, because that’s what the FSA rules would say. But as the kids started working on the tests, I started thinking. Would my answer to Grammarly always be no? Would there ever be a time where my answer would be yes?

For those who don’t know, Grammarly has several iterations, but the one my students have been using is a free Google Chrome extension that, when applied to a piece of writing or an email or a tweet or post, will check your spelling and grammar and help you fix them. Sounds great, right? I mean, who hasn’t accidentally sent an email with an error or tweeted something without spell-checking first? Grammarly will make sure that doesn’t happen. Awesome sauce!! (Disclaimer: Grammarly for Chrome is NOT part of the G Suite of educational tools and is not recommended by our district. My students installed it on personal accounts without checking with me.)

Almost. Here’s where Wall-E enters our cautionary tale. Wall-E is an animated science fiction story created by Pixar. In Wall-E’s world, humans live in spaceships, where they have become hugely obese due to a reliance on automation. Machines do everything for the humans and as a result, humans have grown lazy and indulgent. Have a look:

So, here’s my concern. If I let Grammarly do all the “heavy lifting” for my students, will they end up like the humans in Wall-E? Incapable of editing their own work and understanding their grammar errors? What happens when we go old-school with pencil and paper? Shouldn’t they know how to write a proper sentence on their own? Know how to check subject and verb agreement? Will they learn that using Grammarly? Or will they take the easy way out and let Grammarly do the work for them? I mean, come on….we are talking 12 year-olds here!

Now, I don’t see myself as a Grammarly Grinch. There are several members of my extended family who have learning challenges and I am sure they would benefit from Grammarly. And yes, there are students currently in my classroom with learning challenges who might benefit from a tool like Grammarly. For those students, we have Read & Write for Google Chrome. With its newest addition of the Check It tool, Read & Write does most of what Grammarly does and it has still other tools that help students with different learning challenges.

So, to answer my question from the top, I’m going to take my lesson from Wall-E. My answer to Grammarly will always be “no”. We’ll dig in and learn some grammar this year. And for those students who need some extra support, we’ll use Read & Write. And we’ll all exercise our learning muscles, to make sure they stay strong.

Awesome Digital Resources!

Did you know that if you teach in a public school in British Columbia, you and your students most likely have access to a wide range of online digital resources? Resources that are written at appropriate levels, are safe to use and can be accessed from both home and school. Intrigued? I thought so….

World Book Webinar

These resources are available through ERAC, a group that basically sources and evaluates resources for BC teachers and students. Much of ERAC’s work is evaluating print resources like novels and picture books – some of you might have even been evaluators at some point!

Another side to ERAC is the BC Digital Classroom, a collection of online resources designed to support learning and the new curriculum. The majority of BC school districts have purchased these resources, as have many independent schools. And I bet you didn’t even know about them!

When you and your students are at school, using the district wifi, you can get right into the resources without user names or logins. Most districts have links to the resources on a district webpage.

When you and your students are at home, you need user-names and passwords to access the resources. The best people to get these from are your Teacher-Librarians.

Okay…I hear you saying, “Enough already, tell us about the resources!” Onward!

The first set of resources are the World Book offerings. Yep…online encyclopedias! But, unlike Wikipedia, these ones are written with kids in mind. The first offering, World Book Early World of Learning, is meant for the littles (K to 2). It’s not really an encyclopedia – more of a safe place for kids to explore with stories, games, videos and articles of high interest. One of the best things about this site is that it “talks” to the kids, by reading all of the text out loud!

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The next three sites, World Book Kids, Student and Advanced, are geared to students from Grade 3 to 9. Kids has more of a Grade 3 to 5 feel, Student is more upper intermediate and Advanced is more high-school-ish. All three have lots of great information and features like read-aloud, research help and copyable citations for bibliographies.

World Book Science Power has some fantastic new curriculum aligned resources for both Grade 3 to 6 teachers and students, including some bare bones but still helpful complete Science units. World Book Timelines provides a number of pre-created timelines of interest (for instance, there is one on the Prime Ministers of Canada) but the best thing about this site is that kids can create their own timelines.

World Book Discover (English) and Decouverte (French) are good general offerings for Grade 3 to 9. There’s even a Spanish version for those who are teaching Spanish! And finally, World Book Dramatic Learning is full of great plays and reader’s theatres, searchable by age, number of characters and subject.

At the High School level, the three best offerings (in my opinion) are Gales’ Canada in Context, Science in Context and Global Issues in Context. All three highlight recent events but also allow students to research historical events or topics that interest them. Within a topic, resources can range from video to essays to newspaper and magazine articles. Students can create notes, have the text read to them and work on citations.

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One of the other sites included in the ERAC digital resources is My Blueprint, which some high school teachers are exploring as a high school version of Fresh Grade.

Although the above list is not exhaustive (there are lots of other digital resources from ERAC), those are my favourites. Enjoy!

A Coding Story

This week’s blog isn’t so much a tip as it is the story of what happened when someone passed a tip on to me. It’s also an argument for inclusion and a story of successes.

A few months ago, one of our elementary administrators, Cathie Ratz, forwarded an email to me about something called Hackergal. I’m automatically intrigued by anything with the word “hack” in it, so I opened the email. It was all about an organization called Hackergal, whose goal is “to empower young girls to explore the possibilities in code.” I dug deeper. I found out that all I had to do was register and my female students and I could start learning Python (a coding language) and participate in a Canada-wide hackathon! So cool! Never one to shy away from a challenge, I called one of the organizers, found out a bit more and signed up!

Rather than running our Hackergal’s group as a single class or in a single school, I put the challenge out to Grade 6 and 7 girls across the district. Who was interested in knowing more about coding? To my delight, I ended up with a group of 36 girls from 4 different schools – all willing to try something new! We were the only “district” participants in all of Canada!

One of the great things about Hackergal is that they have teamed with Codesters to provide every Hackergal participant with a Codesters account where they can learn another programming language; in this case, Python.

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The girls and I got together one morning in late April, to meet each other, set up our Codesters accounts and start learning. It was apparent quite quickly that some of us knew a bit more than others but the energy in the room was great and we all helped each other over the little bumps we encountered as we began to explore a new platform and a new language.


The next time we met was on May 2nd – Hackathon day across Canada! It was pretty exciting knowing that we were joining thousands of other girls and women across the country!

For those who don’t know, at the beginning of a hackathon, you are given a problem to solve. You solve the problem by combining the design cycle and coding. The problem we were given was to use the Codesters platform to create an interactive story about an endangered species. I put the girls in groups of 3 and I purposefully organized the groups so that they were multi-school. The first 20 to 30 minutes was spent choosing an animal, getting to know each other and beginning to think about design. Then it was off to the races!


Throughout the day the groups encountered many challenges. Some were of the coding variety, some were design challenges and some (the trickiest ones) were collaborative/social challenges. Codesters and Hackergal had staff online to help us with coding challenges but the other challenges were up to us to overcome.

The day wrapped up with judging and awards. There was no first place winner – three teams were given “Honourable Mention” stickers based on their Coding, Design or Game Play prowess. In addition, each girl chose a sticker for herself based on what she felt her strength was – Coding, Leadership, Creativity or Teamwork. And for taking part in the hackathon, all of the girls now have a year long subscription to Codesters!

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For me, the day and experience held many successes. Even though some of the teams struggled to complete their project on time, everyone progressed and developed their hard skills (coding in Python) as well as their soft skills (negotiation, teamwork). We got to participate in a Canada-wide all-girls STEM event…and we had lots of fun doing it! The girls got to meet other girls with similar interests and make connections. And they got to see that girls who like coding can be quiet girls, athletic girls, bookish girls, funny girls, girls who like fashion, girls who like animals – there is no stereotypical coder!


One of the biggest successes of the day involved a girl who loves coding but struggles in social situations. She has a full-time aide. Her teacher, her principal, her aide and I all agreed that it would be a great thing if she could participate but we all worried that the challenges of the day might be too much for her. We prepared for the fact that she might need to go home at recess or maybe lunch – we agreed that she would stay as long as things were working for her in her group. We were hopeful but nervous.

The challenges started right away! She had to meet two new girls. They had to agree on an animal – her favourite animal is not endangered – would she accept a different animal? She did and the group moved on. Several times during the day she had small meltdowns but the prospect of getting to code helped her calm down and return to the group. At the end of the day, her group did not get one of the honourable mentions but she was singled out as being a great coder. She left with a smile on her face and the confidence that she could do a hackathon. Just like all the other girls! Now, that’s success!

Hackergal runs events twice a year – I am already starting to plan for the next event. Thanks for the tech “tip”, Cathie!

Digital Citizenship – Be Internet Awesome!


During the course of the year, I often come across new sites and apps. Some are awesome (my favourite this year is Quizlet) and some are so-so but I try to take the time to check them all out and at least “kick the tires” to see what they do. A few months ago I stumbled across this digital citizenship and safety offering from Google. (I have previously written about internet safety, here and here).

The site is called Be Internet Awesome. Google has created a straight-forward curriculum guide for teachers, based on their 5 fundamental tenets of digital citizenship and safety:

  • Share with Care (Be Internet Smart)
  • Don’t Fall for Fake (Be Internet Alert)
  • Secure Your Secrets (Be Internet Strong)
  • It’s Cool to Be Kind (Be Internet Kind)
  • When in Doubt, Talk It Out (Be Internet Brave)

The curriculum is aimed at students in Grade 3 to 5, which is a great age to really delve into these topics. Many children at this age are beginning to interact with one another on the internet, either through social media or online gaming. Helping them learn good digital citizenship skills at this age will pay off as they get older.

The curriculum is organized into the 5 sections above and includes easy to organize discussion activities, games and vocabulary. This is all well and good (and certainly helpful for many teachers who struggle with knowing what to say to kids when it comes to these topics) but for kids, the best part is that the culmination of 4 of the units is a chance to put what they’ve learned to practice by playing “Interland”, Google’s online digital citizenship game, designed to compliment the curriculum. In Interland, you become a colourful Internaut who battles hackers, oversharers, phishers and cyberbullies by using the skills you’ve learned.

Players work their way through Tower of Treasure (where they learn about keeping things secure), Kind Kingdom (where they battle cyberbullies and build up other characters with kindness), Reality River (where they learn to spot fake), and Mindful Mountain (where they learn to “share with care”). The graphic interface is bright and geometric and the characters are generically cute or scary. Kids do not need to create an account and it works well on both laptops and iPads.

Teaching kids good digital citizenship skills is an “it takes a village” kind of thing. In its teacher resource package Google includes an information letter you can send home to parents and there is also a safety pledge that kids can sign with their families. In addition, you can print off posters, badges and certificates.

I have to say, I think Google has hit a home run with this one and if I were teaching Grade 3 to 5 students, this would definitely be a part of my year plan!






Digital Citizenship – Part Two


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So, last week I wrote about Internet Safety. This week, let’s tackle intellectual property, copyright, plagiarism and…..bibliographies! Did you know that every new idea, drawing, song, photo, invention or turn of phrase is someone’s intellectual property and as such, can be copyrighted and should not be used by others, without express permission by the author/creator. Simple, right? As if! There are people with law degrees who study nothing but IP based law and they still can’t agree on all of this. And to muddy the water more, Canadian copyright law changed a few years ago and now contains guidelines for “fair dealing” of copyrighted material in educational settings. And I haven’t even mentioned Creative Commons yet! Is your mind spinning?

So, as a busy teacher who has no time to study law (as fascinating as that might be), how do I teach my students how to navigate plagiarism, copyright and intellectual property in a digital age when almost every thing ever said, sung, painted, invented or thought of can be found by googling!?

Like everything else, start small! Primary students generally have a very strong sense of right and wrong as well as ownership. They are happy to do show and tell sharing, but as for “actual” sharing? Not so much! It comes as no surprise that toddlers very quickly learn the word “me”, “my” and “mine”! You can capitalize on this! Let them know that stories, pictures, drawings and the things they find on the internet and in books belong to the people who create them and we can borrow them, as long as we remember to say that’s what we’ve done. I’ve seen many primary teachers do this by saying things like “Our Starry Nights – Paintings Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh” or “If You Give A Mouse Stories Inspired by Laura Numeroff”. And if your little learners are using digital tools to showcase their learning, then at the end of the iMovie or BookCreator project have them do something as simple as add the following disclaimer: “Project by So and So, Images and Facts from the Internet.”

In the intermediate grades, students’ understanding of ownership becomes more nuanced and their use of digital tool becomes more sophisticated. I tend to break these grades down into Grades 4 / 5 and Grades 6 / 7.

For Grades 4 and 5, you can use terms like “citing sources” and “bibliography” – although unless you actually explain why we do these things they will be meaningless. With these students, we’re not trying to create a perfect MLA formatted bibliography. We’re trying to teach them the skills that will lead to that and why it is important to cite your sources. So, to me, a great bibliography would be a list somewhere on the project that shows what websites were used (show them how to find the url), what images they used (again, the url) and a list of books with the name of the book as well as the author(s) and Illustrator(s). It’s relatively simple, but it is a step we should be insisting on. It’s important.

In Grade 6 and 7, I like to introduce a proper MLA bibliography. And since I teach in a digital environment, I show them how to do so using the free version of NoodleTools. (There are other online bibliography sites out there, like EastBib and BibMe – I’ve just gotten used to NoodleTools!). The first time I have them use NoodleTools, it’s for practice. After that, they know that any project they are doing will require a proper bibliography. And to their future high school teachers….you’re welcome! Here is the assignment I use with my students when I introduce NoodleTools – just remember to cite me as the source!

For all intermediate grades, you need to teach students to avoid the dreaded “copy and paste”, for obvious reasons. Most teachers tell students to “use your own words”, which sounds great but in reality, unless you have taught them how to do that, it can be very hard for them. A better way to handle this is to go old-school! Do the research online but record the facts with paper and pencil. Use templates like venn diagrams, t-charts and mind maps to help them write down what they find in an organized way and teach them to just write “the facts ma’am, just the facts” – not whole sentences or paragraphs! Then they can go back to their device and write their own, new work with notes from the paper.

Still have some “copy-pasters”? Show the class how easily you can “catch” them. Copy and paste a line from an “anonymous” project (usually a previous student’s work, names removed) into the Google search bar and show them that if they have “copy-pasted” the result will come up, word for word, usually in the first or second search result. I am always amazed that kids think I can’t figure this out! Oh yeah, don’t forget to have a conversation about the whys here…why we don’t copy-paste, why it’s wrong, why people get in trouble for it.

With intermediate copy-paste offenders, my response is not “AUTOMATIC FAIL!!!” I want them to learn from their mistake so the first time they do it I generally give them a chance to re-do the work. The second time I often call in parents. A third offense usually gets a zero mark.

Finally, whether you choose to use the guidelines outlined in this post or go with something else, please do make sure that you are having these discussions with your students and teaching them about ownership and intellectual property. It’s an important part of their participation and citizenship in our digital world!

Digital Citizenship – Part One

TL Meeting Sept 2017 (2) copyWow! Digital citizenship is a huge topic…too much to fit in one tiny blog (hence the Part One). It incorporates all of the topics in the image above and more. As a teacher who is immersed in a digital (BYOD) environment, I feel it is partly my (and your) job to teach digital citizenship skills to my (our) students. (It’s partly their parents’ job, too, but that’s a topic for another day!) Oh yes, digital citizenship (digital literacy) is now part of the ADST Curriculum, too.

There are heaps of great resources on the web to help teachers with teaching digital citizenship. Common Sense Media has a great educator’s website called Common Sense Education that has a whole scope and sequence with lesson plans for teaching digital citizenship skills. The organization Media Smarts, has some great stuff on their Teacher Resources page, geared to educators here in Canada. Frankly, if you just stuck to the links above, you’d have more than enough material to teach digital citizenship!

And that, of course, is part of the problem for educators! There is so much out there, what do I teach? Where do I start? Is there a prescribed textbook? And (I love this one) “how can I teach digital literacy when I am digitally illiterate?” Seriously, a teacher asked me that once!!

So…..let’s start with a basic: SAFETY! When I am asked to talk to students about this, I break it down into primary and intermediate. I talk with the K to 3 students about being Internet STARs and I talk with the 4 to 7 students about getting their digital PASSPORT.

TL Meeting Sept 2017 (2)

So. Internet STAR. If you are an Internet STAR, you do the following things:

  • You know that anyone you and your parents have not met in person is a STRANGER. You know to stay away from strangers.
  • You know that if something happens that makes you uncomfortable or upset, you go and TELL a parent or trusted adult.
  • You know that it is important to ALWAYS be kind and polite when you are on the internet or in person.
  • And finally, you know that you need to RESPECT personal information like your password and address and birthday and you know not to share this information online.

Although this may sound simplistic, younger students generally deal well with clear boundaries and simple rules.

For the more savvy 4 to 7 crowd, talk to them about earning their Internet PASSPORT. (I am working on lesson plans to go with these acronyms – just haven’t quite gotten there yet!) Passport holders know:

  • That they should always PRETEND Grandma is sitting on their shoulder like the good angel, watching what they post and do online. (Okay, I swear….that’s not meant to sound creepy although as I read it, it kind of does….but you get the idea, right?)
  • ALWAYS be kind and polite – if you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online? Spread peace, not hate.
  • Not everyone is who they appear to be online. Anyone you and your parents do not know in person has the potential to be a STRANGER, and therefore someone to avoid.
  • Learn what a STRONG password looks like and then find a safe place to keep your passwords. Do not share them with friends.
  • PHOTOS last forever online. Even after you’ve deleted them. Even on Snapchat if someone else “screenshots” them. The silly selfie you shared with your friend could wind up all over Instagram the next day. Not a great way to get famous.
  • OFF is good! Don’t spend so much time on screen. Get outside, ride your bike, walk the seawall, shoot hoops, go for a hike, bounce on a trampoline, curl up with a good book, share a snack with a friend. There’s a great big world out there and it’s much better to experience it in person!
  • RESPECT personal information. Don’t share passwords, birthdays, addresses, emails, etc. Do share your thoughts on the latest STAR WARS movie (I have always loved R2D2 but must admit I have a major crush on BB-8) but don’t share personal information. If you’re not sure, ask a trusted adult.
  • And finally, if something that happened online or that you saw online makes you uncomfortable, TELL a parent or trusted adult. Get help!

Yes, the kids you teach now are Digital Natives, in that they don’t know a world without the internet. But they are not inherently good digital citizens – they need our help and guidance for that. Hopefully today’s post will help you help them (and maybe yourself, too!!)