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Overview of the Unit Plan

Updated: May 6


Teachers will need to use their professional judgment to adapt these lessons in ways that align with their context and with their students’ diverse needs. Each lesson includes a range of activities, including assessments, that provide students with multiple means for engagement, representation, action and expression ( Adjustments to pacing, to content, to assessment criteria, and to the amount of time allocated to each lesson will necessarily vary according to many conditions. Although we think students will enjoy reading Seeking Draven in its entirety, each lesson is built around, and provides access to, selected poems from the book.

Background Information for Teachers about the Internet, the Web and Digital Systems

A basic understanding of the technical systems that create and sustain the Internet and the Web can empower teachers to develop a critical orientation to processes and activities that, too often, are black-boxed (Bearman & Ajjawi, 2023; Nichols & Leblanc, 2020). In this introductory overview, we provide a brief explanation of how the Internet and World Wide Web came to be. Then, we provide an evidence-informed overview of what teachers can expect their students to know about the Internet and World Wide Web.

When we understand the foundational principles of design that frame every click, every scroll, and every interaction that our students experience online, we can help them understand why these systems function the way they do. This helps us prepare students to anticipate and recognize the range of problems that are likely to arise within these systems, and to solve them by using a much deeper range of social and technical insights. 

Teachers sometimes believe that their students are more knowledgeable about digital technologies and systems than they actually are. Although some students certainly have advanced understandings of how computer networks store, organize, and share information (and more), most students in grades 4-8 have a limited understanding of how the Internet works or how to make sense of the texts they find when they are searching the web or using social media platforms (Danovitch, 2019; Pangrazio, 2019; Yan, 2006). We also understand that conversations about the digital dimensions of students’ lives can feel quite fraught for teachers. There has, historically, been a lack of clarity around what is a “school issue” and what is a “home issue” when it comes to children and teens’ use of mobile phones, and specifically their use of social media platforms. The Grades 1-8 Language and Literacy Curriculum released in Ontario in 2023, for the first time, includes Digital Media Literacy expectations, which means that children will benefit from much broader, intentionally designed activities that can support their emergent digital literacies skills, practices and awarenesses. Teachers should expect variability, though, in terms of what children experience at home. Parents are learning to navigate the complexities of digital media in their families and although some children may have strict oversight at home, others may not; some children may benefit from rules and intentional discussions about what are better uses of their digital divides and what to do if they experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable online. Others may be navigating new media alone (e.g., Balmford et al., 2021; MediaSmarts, 2023; Sadlowski & Eklund, 2021).   


These resources to accompany Seeking Draven have been designed to support instruction of foundational digital literacy knowledges, skills and practices. We hope teachers will use the text alongside these lessons to prepare learners to seize web-based opportunities, and to know how to recognize and minimize risks to their safety and mental health (Ingram, 2023; Livingstone et al., 2021). Each lesson includes a brief overview of current research that we hope will serve teachers as they prepare to teach lessons on networks, social media, and the risks and opportunities of digital life for their nine-to-twelve year-old students.


A very brief history of how the Internet and the World Wide Web came to be

This overview is provided to ensure that teachers have a basic understanding of our current Internet and World Wide Web as systems that evolved over many decades.

In 1945, an American scientist named Vannevar Bush, who had been leading the World War II Office of Scientific Research and Development, published a paper in The Atlantic entitled “As we may think” that described the possibility of a “memex” machine that a person would use to “store all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility” (para 53). The idea of the modern personal computer was born. 

In that same article he also imagined that it would be possible for memex machines to be connected (the Internet!) and that it would be possible to find and select items from storage using what he called “associations”. He even anticipated the design of connected “trails” (hyperlinks) that would enable people to link their investigations across multiple information sources. He also wrote, “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.” He also imagined Wikipedia and open access libraries. 

Bush’s article is generally considered the first published instance of the ideas that would eventually inspire people to develop modern computers, the Internet and the Internet protocols that enable information to be packaged, selected, directed and shared. Although we often think of the Internet as a 21st century innovation, the ideas that informed its design and development were already circulating in the mid-20th century.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the US Department of Defense in collaboration with several Universities, including some in France and in the UK, worked to develop the hardware and the programs that control how information is translated into binary code, packaged, sent and directed to the right place. Between 1989-1990, Tim Berners-Lee, who was working at a research lab called CERN in Switzerland, developed the foundations of what we now know as the world wide web. He developed the first web server (a computer that stores and sends web files), the formatting language for the web called HTML (hypertext markup language), the unique address associated with every web page (the URL) and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that allows for the retrieval of linked resources from across the web (World Wide Web Foundation, 2023).

The Mozilla Developer Network provides a very clear description of Internet basics. This 5-minute video by Aaron Titus and Karissa Phelps could help teachers who would like a quick, illustrated lesson on how the Internet works.

What do students understand about the Internet? 

It is important to help students understand that the Internet is the physical infrastructure on which the world wide web functions. It is “the backbone of the Web” (Mozilla, 2023, para.1). 

Websites, search engines, and social media platforms are web-based. The web uses the Internet, but it is not the Internet….even though it might seem like the two are synonymous, and are often referred to interchangeably. 

We use the Internet and the Web regularly for many purposes in our lives, including at school. By the time they reach grade 4-6, students have likely used computers and cell phones for various purposes at home and at school, but they may not understand, just yet, what the Internet is, what the Web is, and how these systems work. Danovitch (2019) writes that “Although children as young as toddlers may seem adept at using internet-based devices, their understanding of these devices may take many years to develop.” (p. 87). 

For example, the foundational skills required to find and critically evaluate information using web browsers, continues to develop through adolescence (Breakstone et al., 2021; Forzani, 2018; Ingram, 2023; Kiili et al. 2018; Macedo-Rouet et al., 2019). Younger children may think the Internet is for particular purposes (e.g., checking email) or finding information, but they may not understand the way that it functions as a network (Dodge et al., 2011; Yan, 2006). When it comes to social media platforms and algorithms, recent data from the Canadian Internet Use Survey suggests that younger Canadians aged 15-24 are more likely than older Canadians to be “advanced Internet users” but there are exceptions (Wavrock et al., 2021). Young adults living in rural communities are less likely than their urban peers to have advanced digital skills, a finding that may be attributable, in part, to the historic lack of access to broadband services in those communities (Hambly & Rajabiun, 2021). Moreover, the importance of the Internet to the social dimensions of young people’s lives today means that exclusion from online participation can have significant and negative mental health effects (Hampton & Shin, 2023). It is therefore important for educators and parents to ensure that children benefit from online opportunities while helping them to develop digital and media literacies skills that minimize risks (Lesson 5 in this unit of study focuses specifically on this topic).    

As with most things that children and teens learn to do in their lives, their understanding of the Internet and the Web “develops in conjunction with other cognitive skills: cognitive development influences children's use and understanding of devices, and children's experience using devices may influence their cognitive development” (Danovitch, 2019, p. 87). Although we are a long way from having a complete picture of how Internet use and cognitive development interact for children and teens, it is important for teachers to offer developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to learn about the Internet, and how the web works. It is, afterall, the most important and pervasive context for literacies and learning of their generation (Leu et al., 2018). 


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