I don't know about you, but my students see me enter passwords (it looks like little black dots to them) and have to enter passwords themselves on a daily basis. From entering the password to put in the lunch count and attendance, to modeling how to take a STAR assessment or log-in to their Google Drive accounts, passwords are a daily part of our routines. However, my students have their passwords assigned to them by the school district and are unable to change them. While this keeps things simple and easy to manage in the classroom environment, it does not teach my students good password habits or the important role they play in keeping them safe.
Don't get me wrong pre-assigned passwords are definitely a must for early learners who are still learning to read and write! But, you'd be surprised how frequently students are prompted to create passwords for popular games they enjoy on the web like Animal Jam and Club Penguin. Many of my second graders are playing games like Minecraft on game consoles at home which are typically linked to an Internet connection. While the concept of creating a solid password may not be a prominent issue facing us in schools with our pre-assigned password master lists, it is something that our students are exposed to much earlier than we think!
As early childhood educators, we can take advantage of those small moments during the day when we (or our students) are entering in passwords to raise awareness of good security principles or at least encourage critical thinking skills in relation to online interactions. For example...
- When entering a password in front of the class you could ask them to count how many characters are in it. You could also ask an open-ended question about whether they think a shorter or longer password would be better and why.
- You could post an old keyboard by your door and have students entering the classroom (from bathroom breaks or office errands) practice typing a password you've left on an index card. (This is also great for their typing skills! Wahoo for the two-in-one learning opportunity!)
- Students could practice their spelling words by writing them backwards, in alternating uppercase or lowercase letters, or another similar pattern to mimic some of the strategies that can be used when creating a strong password.
- If you are feeling brave enough and feel you have a password that no one could guess, you could allow your students to try and guess your password. This could lead to a intriguing discussion about how "bad people" who want to steal your information might go about figuring out your password. Beware: Your students might surprise you with how much they know about you and what you might use for a password. You might be making some of your own password changes after this!
- If you have more time, you could use this Password Code Activity I created to discuss creating strong passwords and involve students in a fun activity exploring a strategy to do so!
- You might pretend to set up a new account with a site that has a password strength meter as part of it's account creation process. Let students offer up potential passwords to show them how weak or strong their password is rated. Keep a list on the board of the passwords that showed up as strong and then make a list together of what they have in common! Some stand-alone password meters are: The Password Meter and Microsoft Safety & Security Center.
If you give any of these activities a try, feel free to comment with how it went! Were your students more or less password savvy then you expected?
Don't forget to check back next Monday for a new teachable moment! :)