One of my favorite ways of empowering my 3rd graders to become responsible and safe online, is to immerse them in a digital community. It takes a lot of modeling and discussions at the beginning of the year, but with the daily use of blogging throughout the year, students gain the skills of understanding just how powerful sharing their voices online can be.
At the beginning of the school year, we have discussions on the rights and responsibilities of technology users. We create anchor charts that are posted in the room all year long. From there, we discuss what a digital community is and how we can share information and learn from others.
I then immerse my students into blogging with Kidblog.org (there are many other options of class blogs too!). Our very first blog post is always about how each student will practice good digital citizenship skills on the blog. They take the pledge of only writing positive and kind words that will be helpful to others. After our initial blog posts, I allow students to comment on other classmates posts. We discuss what meaningful comments are: state what you liked about the post (be specific so that it is known that actually read it); make a connection with the post; ask a question or ask for clarification.
Our classroom blog is controlled by me (the teacher). Once I feel that my students have a good grasp on sharing and learning from others, I open up our blog to the public online community. We begin following other classroom blogs via Kidblog.org and allow other classrooms into our own blog. Students now can get more feedback from other elementary students around the country and can also learn from the other students by visiting their blogs too. Students write about their favorite books, share their opinions about topics, and ultimately become better writers because they know their voices and words will be read by anyone.
I also share our blog with all of my students' parents and allow them to comment and post in our blog too. This facilitates a great home and school connection. Parents feel connected into our classroom as well as students gaining a wider audience.
Through blogging in a controlled classroom setting, I know that my young learners will become responsible technology users who know that social media is NOT a place for complaining, but a place to share new ideas and to learn from others.