My ‘kind’ of internet: what second graders can teach us all about empathy while online

“This is a global problem, and it’s important for our kids to understand that they are global citizens.”
Students from Mrs. Marchionda second grade class work together on their latest assignment

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and Zaječar, Serbia (December 8, 2021) – It’s no secret that using the internet comes with great responsibility. What we do, say, or how we treat each other online should reflect how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives. Unfortunately, people sometimes seem more likely to type out what’s in their head before pausing to think how it might affect someone. This can be particularly troubling when it comes to children.

Gina Marchionda-Schneider, a second-grade teacher at Lakeshore Elementary School in Wisconsin, says she was taken aback by the problems a recent lesson in online empathy uncovered for her young students.

That’s why she says opportunities to help her students understand how to safely navigate the internet are critical.  It’s one reason Mrs. Marchionda joined Empatico several years—and began a journey that connected her and her classroom to their counterparts on the other side of the world.

One of the posters created by Mrs. Marchionda’s second grade
students as part of their My “kind” of internet lesson
A different kind of internet

Empatico is a free tool for K-8 educators that connects classrooms around the world. The organization seeks to empower “teachers and students to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity, kindness, and empathy.”

More than 44,000 educators are registered at Empatico with over 60,000 students taking part from 165 countries worldwide. Among them, Serbian teacher Marina St-Mirčić.

“Empatico matched me with Marina several years ago,” explained Mrs. Marchionda. “There is a free online place for teachers to learn. Empatico has great classes that walk you through how to teach empathy by connecting with other classrooms. Marina and I were not just partners through it all. We learned together. Now, I’m not afraid to make a mistake and neither is she. We both have trust in each other which is powerful and wonderful.”

Ms. St-Mirčić teaches second graders in Zaječar, Serbia. The two classes meet through audio-visual channels when possible and usually conduct lessons in English. However, Mrs. Marchionda says even if the students create projects in their own languages the children can often understand each other through drawings and class exercises.

A perfect example is their recent experience through a partnership between Empatico and Connected Nation, a nonprofit working to expanding broadband access, adoption, and use and its related technologies.

A lesson in kindness

Connected Nation’s work is focused on digital inclusion and helping vulnerable populations. That includes ensuring that children—along with parents and teachers— have the tools, skills and understanding to navigate the internet safely and as good digital citizens.

It’s why Connected Nation worked with Empatico to create content for teachers to use in classroom to advance internet safety as they use the internet to engage students in profound ways.

To celebrate Computer Science Week (Dec. 6-11), Connected Nation partnered with Ms. St-Mirčić and Ms. Marchionda-Schneider to participate in coding exercises and Connected Nation’s “My ‘kind’ of internet” lesson. Teachers were encouraged to choose among the following:

1.     My “Kind” of Internet

2.     Your choice of one (or more) of the following coding activities: 

a.     Move It, Move It

b.     Happy Maps

c.     Spread Compassion!

Mrs. Marchionda says that even through Ms. St-Mirčić’ s class created their posters in Serbian that the children in her class understood the images.

“The lesson from Connected Nation was just incredible. It hit a cord with the students,” said Mrs. Marchionda “Boy, did they need to talk.”

The lesson is a facilitated discussion about being an “upstander” and creating a kinder and more welcoming online community. Students engage in conversations about digital citizenship and positive ways to interact online. They also learn that being an “upstander” is someone who speaks and intervenes when someone is being bullied or treated unkindly.

“The students were blown away by digital footprint and working on their identity as a digital citizen,” said Mrs. Marchionda. “Not only that but the vocabulary really matched the terms we introduce to second graders. The lesson opened them up to talk about bullying over the internet and in person as well. We even talked about our district’s internet policy. Some of the kids’ questions led to the safety features they have at school.”

She adds that the lesson raised red flags about what her student may be talking to or doing online.

“When I was teaching the lesson, I had to take a step back,” she said. “When kids aren’t in the classroom, they’re going on messenger. Some things aren’t meant to be shared and it was important for them to know that. I had to touch base with individuals and make sure they’re safe.”

Overall, Mrs. Marchionda says the lesson was well received by her students. They liked the discussion and even artwork which includes images that represent a diverse group of kids. As part of the “My ‘kind’ of internet” lesson the students in Wisconsin and Serbia created public service posters that they then shared with each other.

Mrs. Marchionda says that even through Ms. St-Mirčić’ s class created their posters in Serbian that the children in her class could understand. They could tell what was bad because of how the images were drawn and the explanation points.

“If nothing else, those drawings make it clear that this isn’t just a Wisconsin problem, this is a global problem and it’s important for our kids to understand that they are global citizens,” said Mrs. Marchionda. “It gives them that feeling that they can talk to someone else, even in a different part of the world, and know that they are going through the same thing.”

“Having the students participate in our coding/internet safety exercise was a great way to celebrate Computer Science Week.” Said [CN rep] “it allows us to bridge the gap between promoting the power of coding/computer science coupled with the importance of being a good digital citizen.”

Connected Nation, via its Connect K-12 program, is also focused on ensuring that classrooms across the country have adequate connectivity so that teachers can take advantage of opportunities to participate in activities such as the ones facilitated by Empatico.

More details

Head to empatico.org or connectednation.hatfield.marketing to learn more about these nonprofits. You can also learn more about Empatico’s other projects including the Great Empatico Expedition by listening to this podcast.

Anyone who would like to take part in “My ‘kind’ of internet” is welcome to do. Just head to this link.

In addition, Computer Science Education Week is taking place all week long (Dec. 6-11). You can find additional lessons and events for students at csedweek.org.

A gallery of the students and their work

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