March 15, 2013 2:11 pm
Updated: March 28, 2013 9:21 am

Alberta school teaches children to use social media in positive ways

School budget jumps 6.7 per cent to deal with increased enrolment, more capital projects.

Emily Mertz, Global News

EDMONTON – These days, online literacy is part of classroom learning. However, for one Alberta school division, navigating social media isn’t enough. It’s making sure students are using the medium for good.

In Parkland School Division, teachers and children are encouraged to learn about social media.

“As adults, we really need to understand this world, and help the kids navigate it as opposed to just saying, ‘hey just do whatever, we’re too old to do this,’” explains Division Principal George Couros.

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“At this age, it’s really important that we teach them how to connect, but we always do it in a safe and secure way and that’s why it’s always through the teacher.”

Elementary school students are guided, from a young age, how to responsibly use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Skype.

“You have to be prepared,” says Kelli Holden, a Grade 4 Teacher at Millgrove School in Spruce Grove. “You can’t just say, ‘have a blog and go at it.’ There have to be strategies in place, there have to be precautions taken, and the kids have to know what’s going on.”

Mrs. Holden’s class has a teacher-moderated blog and a class Twitter account.

“We started our class blog last year, and worked with it lots last year,” she explains. “My goal was to have it be interactive.”

Now, each student has a personal blog, which is created by the child, but still moderated by the teacher.

“The students, when they blog, the teacher moderates it and then it will go out, and when they get comments coming in, the teacher also moderates those things as well,” explains Couros.

Children are taught the ins and outs of navigating the different social mediums, and learn how to control their digital footprint.

“We always have that human filter with our students, but we’re also kind of guiding them, saying, ‘when you do these things, look at how it’s going to impact you later,’” says Couros.

Holden says, because of this awareness, these younger students will be much more thoughtful about their online participation than their older peers.

“I have teenaged children of my own, and I look at what their friends post on Facebook, and I just think ‘yikes.’ These kids won’t do that.”

“They know it’s out there, and they know they’re being responsible, and they know they’re putting out an image of themselves on the internet that anyone can see.”

A negative online footprint can be harmful, but Parkland School Division is helping students understand how powerful a positive online footprint can be.

“We’re seeing, for example, many kids in our school division, through their teachers, doing some really powerful things to make their community and their world better,” shares Couros.

“We saw a student using Facebook to actually compliment other kids, and what the student had said, was that this was the exact opposite of cyber bullying.”

“One teacher at another school has a video where every kid says something really powerful about another kid and the kid gets to watch the video at the end of the week, and it shared with the world, lifting up their spirits,” he adds.

“We like to call that digital leadership; the notion of being able to use that technology to make a difference in lives of others.”

Holden’s Grade 4 class has been inspired by several ideas they heard about online, including a “12 Days of Kindness” campaign and a “Honk if you Love Somebody” event, both of which they discovered on Twitter.

“When these kids see how you can leverage that tool into being something way more than what it was thought to be, the sky’s the limit,” says Holden.

Students aren’t the only ones appreciating the benefits of social media.

“We’re seeing is amazing things in the classroom,” says Couros, “and now teachers are tweeting it, blogging about it, and we’re all learning from each other within the division, but we’re also open to anybody else in the world learning about it as well.”

“We’ve always had really amazing teaching, and really amazing learning that happens within our schools, and so one of my jobs is to kind of help connect those teachers from different schools,” he adds, “and the best way to do that is through social media.”

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