We (rightfully) spend significant time and energy teaching kids to be aware of their digital footprints. Stories abound about momentary lapses of judgment leading to loss of employment or scholarships. Students tend to embrace these lessons because they care about reputation. Obviously, we must continue these important lessons; however, we must realize that digital citizenship encompasses other online behavior, too.

I’m talking about teaching kids about copyright.

It can be hard to get moral compasses to twitch when discussing the intricacies of copyright law, public domain, fair use, and Creative Commons. Those concepts seem abstract and removed from the concerns of adolescents. It can be even harder to break them of the habit of doing a Google image search and grabbing the first relevant and powerful image they see.

But remember that John F. Kennedy famously talked about the importance of doing the “hard stuff” in his “moon speech” at Rice Stadium in 1962. He spoke of the importance of getting to the moon, but I think that we can take the spirit of his words and apply them to teaching this particular tough corner of digital citizenship. I’m here to argue that we should choose to teach copyright not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because the goal of understanding copyright will serve to measure the best of student energies, skills, and citizenship.

Because the Common Core calls for us to teach students how to “use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing,” educators can teach kids about copyright as they teach the Common Core writing standards. Teachers simply need to teach some key concepts, share some tools, and model digital citizenship in terms of copyright explicitly in the classroom.

Frankly, it isn’t as hard as getting to the moon. With the right resources, our students will be out-of-this-world digital citizens in no time at all.

Teach Concepts

Students need to understand the following concepts: copyright, public domain, fair use, and Creative Commons. Fortunately, teachers can access numerous resources and lessons to help give kids the foundation to make wise choices online.

  • Common Sense Education has lessons and wonderful animated videos on copyright and fair use.
  • Creative Commons provides fantastic resources in the form of videos about how copyright and Creative Commons licenses work together.
  • Teaching Copyright from the Electronic Frontier Foundation offers information on public domain.

Linger and explore those websites for more goodies to share with your students. Stress the fact that all creations are copyrighted, so that students look for Creative Commons licenses instead of the visible absence of a ©.

(Next page: Sharing tools for copyright; modeling; and a helpful video)


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