At Ridgefield Academy and Landmark Preschool, devices are utilized to enrich the learning experience beginning in preschool. Since technology is an integral part of learning, safe and positive online behavior is included in the technology class curriculum and is an ongoing conversation in the classroom.
RA/LP ensures students stay safe online by complying with the Child Internet Protection Act, categorically filtering the Internet, and enabling safe search on all devices. According to the Director of Technology Kosta Myzithras, faculty and staff receive cybersecurity training to keep students safe.
Beginning in kindergarten, devices are provided 1:1, and Landmark Preschool students have access to iPads and computers in the library. For these young learners, devices are used for specific purposes. Technology teacher Alex Curry opens any sites preschool students will need to access before they come into class. Apps on all school devices are controlled by the school, and students cannot navigate into unsafe areas on their own.
Students begin online research in second grade. This winter, the Ridgefield Public Library visited to help students learn how to best conduct research as they studied endangered species. In conjunction with beginning to research online, the Google Program Be Internet Awesome is used to educate Grade 2 students on four important topics: what you share on the internet and with whom, how the internet/people online are not always reliable or real, personal privacy and security, and how to be an upstander rather than a bystander.
“We focus on kindness and how we can be a positive force online, the same way you can in everyday life,” Curry said.
As students become more Internet savvy in Grade 3, the program Welcome to the Web teaches safe and efficient use of the internet, culminating in a challenge where a student has to use everything they have learned to stop a “hacker” from releasing a computer virus. The concept of the digital footprint is introduced at this age; Curry facilitates discussions about how everything shared online is permanent.
In Grades 4, 5, and 6, concepts introduced in Lower School are built upon in the Digital Citizenship unit. The unit is taught in January because students often receive new devices over winter break. Common Sense Media serves as a resource for classroom conversations and for parents to continue the conversations at home.
One of the most important focuses of the unit, according technology teacher Kate Abromovitch, is establishing a positive media balance. Amidst school, extracurriculars, and social media, Abromovitch emphasizes finding a balance between time spent on and offline, and she also encourages reflecting on one’s screen time.
Some of the topics discussed in the Middle and Upper School years include:
How much information am I giving out online, even just with my username?
Media literacy: is all information online real, and how will I know if it is not?
What is a digital citizen, and how can I be a good digital citizen online?
Am I being inclusive? Students begin using devices at different ages, and it is important to include others whether or not they have a phone
When chatting online, would you be ok with what you are saying online in person?
What are some guidelines you follow with your devices/screen time?
Most recently, Abromovitch has incorporated discussions about virtual reality into the unit. The popularity of this new technology is ever-increasing, and it is easy to change one's appearance in the VR world.
In Grades 7 and 8, students are more likely to have their own devices and may be active on social media. Discussions throughout the year focus on digital footprint—the trail of data a user leaves behind online.
When Upper School students learn more advanced skills in technology class, Abromovitch connects back to the discussions from previous years. For example, learning Photoshop demonstrates how media online can be skewed or falsified. Similarly, topics discussed in advisory connect to the foundation of digital citizenship built in middle school. When discussing being an upstander with her own advisory, Abromovitch asked her students, “How does this translate to the digital side?”