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Getting the whole class talking about the Internet

For children, the Internet is something that has always been there. Few children, however, learn how the Internet really works. Who is the boss? And how do you protect your personal data (or why this is relevant)? For children, who also develop their (online) identity, it is important to be aware of the functioning of the Internet. To address this challenge, we are cooperating with Bits of Freedom and Network Democracy. Together we work on Cryptokids. In this project we create and offer appropriate educational materials to raise awareness about the Internet. We do so to make pupils and teachers more conscious Internet users. Cryptokids will soon offer free material to provide lessons in group 7/8 of the primary school, and the first years of secondary school.

So far, we have gone a long way in the development of the material. In co-creation sessions at the Hyperion Lyceum in Amsterdam, we have tested the first version of the course material. We wanted to learn which methods worked well, what angle was found relevant to the topic and what the technical knowledge was of these two classes. Feedback from teachers, pupils and project team members have shown that we need to develop the following modules in terms of materials to align with perception and preference of the target group:

  • How do you keep a secret? About privacy and why you should make choices about what information you share with whom.
  • What you share with whom? About old-fashioned methods of encryption, keys, codes and encrypted texts.
  • Who can read along on the Internet? About the technology behind your Wi-Fi network, submarine cables and server rooms.
  • What do you allow others to keep? About large companies, advertising and cookies.
  • Who is the boss of the internet? About data, algorithms, and the patterns of data are becoming increasingly important on the internet.
  • How do you hack a secret? On how encryption works today, and what you can do to protect your information.

Each module is made up of three parts. The first part focuses on “the trigger”: This is done through a question relating to the topic of the module. The second part focuses on “the experience”: This is done through a game and/or doing assignments. The final section focuses on “the understanding”: This is done by revisiting the central question "who is the boss of the Internet?" Each module offers a new perspective to shed a different light on this question.

The test sessions have helped us to align the real teaching material with the perceptions and needs of the students. We learned that students are not keen on metaphors and simplifications ('the Internet is like a forest ...') which we ourselves just assumed would make explanation a lot easier. Instead, students just wanted to know what's really going on and how the technology works exactly. In this conversation jargon need not be avoided. Soon we found ourselves talking about routers, cell towers, encryption, cookies, data and algorithms. Also, we have learned that our name (at least for secondary schools) should change, because Cryptokids was definitely perceived as childish by the older children. The active components, like building escape rooms with old encryption methods, were much appreciated. Furthermore, introducing competitive elements also proved to work well, be is around solving an encryption puzzle or around recreating the path of a WhatsApp message.

We will continue with the project and aim to share the teaching materials on the project website as soon as possible. We also started further testing at an elementary school. After that, we aim to bring the material to the attention of teachers through different channels. We will continue to support pupils and teachers in becoming more conscious and aware users of the internet. From that increased awareness we may also look more critically at how the internet is actually used by school itself. What should teachers and students actually think of Google for education at school? And why do some teachers share grades through WhatsApp while others do not? That discussion often seems reserved for members of the school board. Instead, it should be a conversation taking place with the whole class.

Crypto Kids is made possible by SIDN fund, Internet4all, and Fonds21.

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