Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Social Media and High Schoolers: Will They Ever Learn?

This first-hand account of the secret digital lives of high school students comes from newest Cyber Civics team member Peter Kelley, who is also a former high school English teacher and current high school coach.

There’s an urgent and growing need to equip middle school students with the skills to become ethical, knowledgeable and empowered digital citizens.  Every competent mind is able to comprehend this….especially high school students!

Having been a high school teacher and coach for the past five years, I’ve (over)heard firsthand how damaging the effects of “digital incidents” can be on students.  My curiosity, along with my first introduction to Cyber Civics™—the innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program—urged me to investigate further. So I questioned 30 of my students about whether they felt courses in digital literacy and citizenship in middle school would have been helpful in preparing them for their “digital life” in a high school setting.  A
resounding 30 for 30 said YES!  When asked if a digital literacy program in middle school would prevent future “digital incidents” in high school….30 out of 30 said an absolute YES!  Not too surprising if you think about it though.

Shelley Glaze, Educational Director at Journey School – a K-8 school in Aliso Viejo, California says, “Immediately following the inception of Cyber Civics at our school, there were fewer problems from social media and cyber-bullying, and now they are virtually non-existent. The lessons speak to the 21st century learner. Since the lessons are constantly evolving, they remain current and relevant.”

I asked a recent graduate from Journey School, who went through all three years of Cyber Civics, how he felt about the program and if he felt empowered moving into a high school setting with the proper skills and knowledge of digital literacy.  His response was, “What I appreciated most about the classes is that lessons are not just applicable to the digital world, but to real life everyday situations as well.  Yes, I do feel empowered and ready for high school.”

Another graduate of the Cyber Civics program said, “A lot of high school kids—girls especially—post underwear and bikini shots. That’s not going to look very good for them later in life. They just don’t think about it.  I think the regular high school kid isn’t ready for the backlash of social media because they didn’t talk about it like I did in middle school.”

Social media runs rampant throughout most every high school.

It can be used for good, of course—my high school gained national media attention last year when it protested school administration for taking away a prize of $10,000 for the music department and an on-campus appearance from musical artist Macklemore. A petition to reverse the decision on was posted at 8 p.m. on a Monday and had garnered 6,067 signatures by Tuesday morning.  Word spread of the petition mostly through social media and by Tuesday afternoon the school reversed its decision. 

But the bad and ugly side of social media in high school comes out in the forms of sexting, cyber-bullying and addiction.

A large takeaway from speaking with my students is they felt those with less face-to-face interaction and less self-awareness were more prone to behave poorly on social media sites. Cyber Civics solves this problem by emphasizing critical thinking, ethical discussion and decision making about digital media issues...through in-person role-play, hands-on projects, and problem solving tasks.  

So, will high school students ever learn how to behave appropriately while using social media?  Not if they look to some celebrities or other “active” social media users who are considered role models (Think Trump, Kardashians, or most recently Dani Mathers).  But if the foundation to educate them begins at age 12 (when their brain is able to truly and ethically reason), and builds year to year on that foundational knowledge….there is hope.  It’s not going to be a one stop or one lesson fix to a gigantic problem.  One movie, or one presentation is not going to engrain the importance of becoming empowered digital citizens into middle and high school kids.  The mindset will not be changed overnight.  Kids need to think critically about how social media use can be powerful, not destructive.  A place to connect, not disconnect.  And a place to learn and become an empowered digital citizen, not a reckless one.  

From a high school educator’s perspective, it’s very promising there’s a perfect program that fits the needs to equip students with these vital “real life” and “digital life” skills.

Peter joins the Cyber Civics team with experience in both Education as well as Marketing.  He received a degree in Communication from the University of Portland with an emphasis in Media and Society.  Peter has always had a passion for teaching and working with kids. In 2011 he made the switch from the business sector and has been an Educator at Aliso Niguel High School for the past 5 years. He’s also the Head Coach of both the Boys and Girls Tennis Programs. He resides in San Clemente, CA with his wife and young daughter and sees Cyber Civics as “the perfect fit” for his passions and skill sets. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We Must Make Time for Lessons in Cyberbullying Prevention

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to threaten, harass, embarrass and/or target another person, and can be an unfortunate byproduct of digital life. Although it’s usually easy to spot — a text or social media post appears threatening or cruel, for example — it can also be less obvious and thus go undetected (except by the target, of course). Additionally, at the other end of the spectrum, many are quick to label everyday teasing or “digital drama” as cyberbullying, sometimes unfairly. It’s a multi-layered and complex topic.

So when I teach students about "cyberbullying" in our first year of the digital literacy program—Cyber Civicsit takes six weeks. Unfortunately, many schools see this as a span of time they simply cannot afford to spend on this topic.

I argue they can’t afford NOT to.

A study out today from the American Academy of Pediatrics underscores why this is so important.  This study finds that being bullied, or spending an excessive amount of time on the Internet, could increase teen suicide risk. It also finds,

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents 15 to 19 years of age.
  • Being a victim of school bullying or cyberbullying is associated with substantial distress, resulting in lower school performance and school attachment.
  • Youth seem to be at much greater risk from media exposure than adults and may imitate suicidal behavior they see.
  • Pathological Internet use correlates with suicidal ideation.

Teaching cyberbullying in a "one-and-done" manner, which is what many schools do due to time constraints, is a disservice to everyone. It takes time for a young mind to put all the parts that comprise online interactions, their subtleties and their impact, in a way that makes sense to them. That’s why we break it into six lessons (after they have a foundational understanding their “online reputation"):

Lesson 1: Introduction
Students engage in a fun project that helps them understand how online communication differs from face-to-face conversation. They also learn how the distinct attributes of online "talk" might enable inappropriate or bullying behavior.

Lesson 2: What is Cyberbullying?
Playing out sample scenarios helps students think through the differences and similarities between cyberbullying and in-person bullying and, most importantly, encourages them to empathize with the “targets” of both.

Lessons 3 & 4: Teasing, Cyberbullying, & Digital Drama
It’s important to help students distinguish the difference between good-natured teasing, cyberbullying, and “digital drama.” This two-part lesson helps them identify the characteristics of each of these behaviors.

Lesson 5: Be Upstanding
This lesson empowers students with strategies to stand up to cyberbullying, or bullying of any kind. It also challenges them to craft a “Bullying Policy” for their class and/or school.

Lesson 6: 3 Step Solution
Students are given an opportunity to role-play and practice an effective three-step solution to bullying.

While not every child will be the target, or perpetrator, of a cyberbullying incident, most will witness online harassment at some point in their lives and not know what to do about it. According to, "95% of teens who have witnessed bullying on social media report that others, like them, have ignored the behavior.”

It is critical that we provide all students with the necessary tools to address cruelty, online and off.

If you would like to see the entire Cyber Civics curriculum, including our lessons on cyberbullying, contact us at

Diana Graber is founder of and, two organizations dedicated to helping adults and kids learn digital literacy skills. A long-time media producer with an M.A. in “Media Psychology & Social Change,” Graber is also a regular contributor on digital media topics to The Huffington Post and others. She was also Adjunct Professor of Media Psychology at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Demand for Lessons in Cyber Civics Goes Global

Students in Ghana, Africa, To Benefit From U.S.-Based Digital Citizenship and Literacy Program

Cyber Civics™, the innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program currently being taught at schools in 20 U.S. states, just added students in Ghana, Africa, to its growing list of young people who are learning how to become thoughtful, ethical, and competent digital citizens.

Awo Aidam Amenyah, Executive Director of the J Initiative (JI), an organization that seeks to improve the lives of youth through education in Africa, says she found Cyber Civics while searching for a program to "inform children and young people about what impact their online actions can have on themselves and others, both online and offline, in order for them to get the most out of technology." With the help of a donation from Millicom Foundation, JI was able to enroll for the Cyber Civics program that will benefit children and families throughout the African country of Ghana. 

Students in 20 U.S. states already participate in this three year, in-school program comprised of weekly lessons in Digital Citizenship, Information Literacy, and Media Literacy for Positive Participation. Founded at a public charter Waldorf school (Journey School) in Aliso Viejo, CA, in 2010, Cyber Civics was designed to meet the urgent and growing need to equip students with digital life skills. The program includes lessons on how to use the Internet safely and responsibly, how to search effectively, avoid plagiarism, understand copyright, critically evaluate media messages, plus lessons on the productive and positive use of media tools. 

Available to all schools and organizations at, the Cyber Civics program has spread quickly, due in part to recent legislation calling for lessons in media literacy and digital citizenship. 

"The need for these kind of lessons has gone global," says Cyber Civic's Founder Diana Graber, "there are no international borders online." Liz Repking who represents Cyber Civics in the Central and Eastern regions of the U.S. concurs, "All kids need to learn safe and appropriate digital behavior, and how to develop the critical and ethical thinking skills that are applicable to all areas of their lives."

At a recent forum on "Internet Rights for Women and Children in Ghana," Amenyah said that her country "does not have a clear provisions focusing on the protection of children online, no legislation that criminalizes online grooming or cyberbullying." There is also no legislation criminalizing access or visualization of child pornography, which are among the critical challenges confronting children who use the Internet.

Amenyah is counting on lessons in Cyber Civics to help her and her team meet these global challenges.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Cyber Civics Lesson on Sexting

By Liz Repking

Students today use technology as easily as previous generations used a pencil. But technology is much more powerful than a pen or pencil, and it amplifies opportunities for both help and harm. Kids know how to use phones and computers—often more adeptly than adults. The issue for many educators is teaching them to use these tools wisely. Many schools address that challenge by implementing “digital citizenship” into their curriculum.

How can schools do this? What are the costs, both financial and time, to implementing such curriculum? What are the benefits of building this into the students’ educational experience? These are all very difficult questions to address in an already overcrowded educational landscape.

I recently had the opportunity to observe one class session of Diana Graber’s Cyber Civics curriculum, a cutting edge digital citizenship curriculum. At The Journey School in Aliso Viejo, CA, I sat in on the 8th grade class that Diana led on the topic of sexting. This is a critical topic for students at this age for two reasons:

  • First, this is a social-emotional issue for teens. Apart from technology, they are trying to navigate relationships with their peers, and they become hyper-aware of the opposite sex and attracting their attention. A teen’s relational world can be a place where alliances shift quickly, crushes hit hard, emotions run high, and drama is normal, even without technology to amplify everything.
  • Second, from a technology perspective, teens need to understand the implications of using technology to communicate with friends or people they date. They need to understand that any image or words shared digitally are permanent. You can’t delete what someone else has already received.

In my work with students and parents about cyber safety, I’ve heard hundreds of stories about the unexpected and long-ranging impact that sharing images (especially sexual ones) has on people’s lives, especially when they’re shared far beyond the intended audience (and they almost always are shared much more than a student expects).

Students need to understand the nature of their romantic relationships. The reality is that these relationships end, and the trust and intention that exists at one moment can quickly be violated. These are challenging issues for us as a society, but they are especially difficult for young teenagers who are attempting to navigate the intersection of relationships with a world of technology.

In other words, the crush or relationship may not last forever, but any words or images you share will.

Cyber Civics builds on a foundation that challenges students to think at a broader level about ethical behavior. This foundation was critical for Diana to lead the discussion on the topic of sexting.

The success of the session is in the sequential delivery of the content. First, sexting was clearly defined. It was apparent that most students had an incomplete definition of sexting. Second, sexting was discussed and analyzed through the use of a recent current event of sexting in a high school. This allowed Diana to challenge the students to make the connection from the definition to the consequences of the action, both personally and legally. There appeared to be a disconnect for the students on this point. Most students did not realize that the consequences could range from school disciplinary action to legal charges resulting in a criminal record.

The next step in Diana’s session was to allow students a forum where they could examine this issue from an ethical perspective. This was the portion of the class that truly engaged the students and where the quality learning occurred. They discussed the fairness of sending and receiving sexts by thinking through various scenarios of how they could be involved in such situations. They incorporated many of the tenants of Cyber Civics that are the common threads of the entire program: judgment, stereotyping of people, leadership in their communities, especially their online community, and making ethical decisions.

The final step of the session was to lead the students in developing some possible solutions and responses if they find themselves receiving sext messages. The students continually came back to the idea of going to a trusted adult as a first line of defense.  Additionally, they suggested the actions of blocking the sender, taking screen shots of the evidence and establishing agreements with friends to not engage in the activity to begin with.

Near the end of the session, one student posed the question "What do I do if someone asks me for nudes?" Great, simple question! Clearly Cyber Civics does an excellent job of moving through topics in an effective, pragmatic way. However, one of the greatest outcomes of implementing the curriculum is that it provides students a safe environment to ask these types of questions as they try to navigate the intersection of ethical, appropriate behavior with access to powerful technology. Cyber Civics provides a venue to tie the characteristics and actions of good citizenship to the digital landscape.

Find these lessons on Sexting in Cyber Civics: Year 3. 
Ask us for a sample lesson.

Liz Repking is  the  mother of 3 children, ranging in age from elementary school to high school. Entering the workforce over 20 years ago, she has spent the majority of her career working as a technology consultant, developing and delivering a variety of training courses for clients.

Five years ago, Liz became acutely aware of the dangers the Internet posed to children like her own. It was apparent that while many parents recognize these dangers, they are uncomfortable and even intimidated by the depth and breadth of the technology our children use. This awareness and recognition led Liz to create Cyber Safety Consulting with the goal to educate parents, children and school educators on both the dangers of the Internet as well as tangible solutions for these issues. 

As the Founder of Cyber Safety Consulting, Liz’s technology and training experience is perfectly paired with her passion for the online safety of our children.  She believes that every parent has the ability and knowledge to understand the technology and social networking sites that our children are frequenting.  Her mission is to help parents and children create an ongoing conversation around appropriate and safe  online behavior.  Parents need to increase their comfort and confidence in order to keep their children safe by being involved in their online life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Learning How to Make (and Remember) GREAT Passwords

While there are lots of ways to protect your personal information online, your first line of defense is a a GREAT password. Unfortunately, many of us have outsourced the work of making a great password to Apple, who just prompts us with an impossible to remember string of symbols and letters. Then we further outsource the job of remembering these passwords to third parties, like LastPass …the password-storage company that got famously hacked last year. Yep, you read that right. Somehow hackers were able to get at the email addresses and encrypted master passwords, as well as the reminder words and phrases that users stored with LastPass to help users remember their master passwords.

Unfortunate events like these remind us how important it is for digital citizens to know how to make (and remember) their own GREAT passwords.

I teach students how to do this in Year 2 of Cyber Civics, at the end of a unit on "Privacy and Personal Information." They learn that a GREAT password should:

               Be at least 8 characters long.
               Include upper and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers.
               Never include personal information.
               Never include the name of family members, friends, or pets.
               Never include sequences (such as abcde or 12345).
               Never include a dictionary word (unless letters are changed to a number or symbol).
               Be changed regularly (every six months).

But how do you remember the actual password?

This is where many of us struggle because, holy cow, who can remember even a master password? So students are taught to use "mnemonic," or memory device for this task. It works best if it's something they like. For example, one girl chose her favorite artist, Taylor Swift, as her mnemonic. With Swift in mind, she came up with this password:

This password uses the first letter of each word of Swift's hit song, "Shake It Off" (employing both upper and lowercase letters), includes an exclamation point (because it's a great song), and ends with the album title (1989). So by thinking of Swift, this student came up with a GREAT password that successfully incorporates all seven rules, plus it should be easy for her to remember. Additionally, she will be encouraged to change it in six months when she has a new favorite artist, and well before any hacker can figure out what her GREAT password is.

I recently conducted this lesson again, and students came up with these 3 GREAT passwords. The rest of the class had to try to guess who each student's “mnemonic” (or famous person) was and, believe it or not, they were incredibly adept at this activity. Can you guess what famous person inspired these three passwords? (Find answers at bottom).

Today the only password manager we keep can safely rely on lies between our ears, in an unhackable vault that's free to use. Lets teach students how to put it to work.

Password Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Friday, October 30, 2015

Media Literacy is C.R.A.P.


That’s what students see on the board at the start of their 8th grade Cyber Civics “Media Literacy” lessons. It gets their attention. Believe me.

I learned this handy acronym in the book, NetSmart: How to Thrive Online (2012) by Stanford University Professor, Howard Rheingold.  At the beginning of “Chapter 2: Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide if its True,” Rheingold quotes Hemingway,

Every man should have built-in automatic 
crap detector operating inside him.
-Ernest Hemingway, 1965

This is the essence (if you can actually consider CRAP an essence) of "media literacy." Like its sister terms—digital literacy, digital citizenship, information literacy--“media literacy” isn’t well understood. You’ll find a detailed definition and description of this 21st century skill on the NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Education) website. On CyberWise, our Media Literacy Hub provides a load of “media literacy” resources and information, as well as our short definition,

Media Literacy is knowing how to critically 
consume and produce media messages.

But boring terms and definitions aside, how can we make “media literacy” matter to kids? Tell them it’s C.R.A.P.!

Kids today are bombarded with media messages, via their smartphones, computers, tablets, television, and more. In this newly networked world, anyone, anywhere can produce and publish just about anything and thus be viewed as an instant expert. It’s hard to cut through the, well, crap. That’s where Rheingold’s handy acronym comes in. It helps, no actually it is ESSENTIAL, to give kids the tools to accurately assess online information. That’s why I teach them to give online information Rheingold’s four-part test:

Currency -
          -How recent is this information?
          -How recently has the website been updated?

          -What kind of information is included in the resource?
          -Does the creator provide references or sources for data? Or quotations?

          -Who is the creator or author? What are their credentials?
          -Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable? 
Purpose/Point of View -
          - Is this fact or opinion? Is it biased?
          - Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

-Howard Rheingold, "Net Smart: How To Thrive Online"

In Cyber Civics we treat this as a two-part lesson, applying C.R.A.P. Detection skills to a host of websites that students are asked to evaluate using the four points above. We revisit the C.R.A.P. test throughout the year, applying it to all the media messages we evaluate-- from gender and race stereotypes, to political campaigns (a wealth of crap there), to doctored photos, and much more.  

Last year I even overheard one student recommending to her mother to use the C.R.A.P. test to evaluate a questionable email she'd received from a banker in Nigeria.

So in honor of this week--National Media Literacy Week--let's all start talking about C.R.A.P. Because sometimes it takes a scatological reference to make media literacy matter. Thank you Rheingold!

In celebration of Media Literacy Week please download the lessons above and try them in your classroom (or share with a teacher!).

And don't forget to visit the CyberWise Media Literacy Hub to learn more!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Participating in the First-Ever Digital Citizenship Summit

Earlier this month the first-ever Digital Citizenship Summit took place in West Hartford, CT. It was an awesome gathering of digital citizenship educators (yes there is such a thing), supporters, and advocates. These are people who work tirelessly to make the Internet a kinder and safer place for our children. 

I was honored to participate as a presenter, sharing stories from the Cyber Civics classroom. Although it's not quite engaging without audio or a chance to participate in the actual activities, here is a copy of my presentation. 

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement about next year's conference!