With National Cybersecurity Awareness Month in full swing, now is a great time to drop cybersecurity lessons into students’ coursework. That may look a bit different depending on what grade you’re teaching, so we sat down and talked to several of our content specialists about what activities make for appropriate grade-level cybersecurity. We also asked what makes cybersecurity connections really stick with students, and they all said basically the same thing: keeping it relevant. Whether it’s connecting a concept to a student’s own experience, current online habits, or future career options, cybersecurity can spark learning by connecting new ideas to familiar things.
Cyber Connections: Cybersecurity
We sat down and talked to our content specialists about what activities make for grade-level appropriate cybersecurity
Cybersecurity Connections in Elementary
Elementary-aged students are often already engaged in technology daily and some even have their own devices. This means that they may already be leaving their little digital footprints on the internet and not even be aware of it. In the phenomenon-based Science+ Robobees: Organisms & Technology module, students make a cybersecurity connection to digital footprints as they learn the difference between identifiable and non-identifiable information.
Elementary content specialist Brittany Pike explains, “in the digital footprint activity, students are asked to write five facts about themselves and submit them anonymously. Then, their classmates will try to guess who the facts are referring to.” The takeaway from the exercise is that people can link pieces of information to someone using what they already know, and that it’s important not to share your personal information on the Internet. “With this approach, elementary teachers are able to empower students to safely navigate their devices while being aware of their online behavior without frightening them.”
In a fun cyber twist in this module, students also investigate ways biomimicry among animals can be used to improve technology and explore what a career as a vulnerability assessment analyst looks like.
Brittany adds, “The great thing about phenomenon-based science in today’s digital age is that it easily connects to so many technology and cyber concepts. The trick is to capitalize on students’ curiosity to engage them in the cyber connections to the devices often in their own hands!”
Cybersecurity Connections in Middle School
Middle school can be an exciting time to introduce new cybersecurity concepts to students. CYBER.ORG content specialist Charlene Cooper suggests that one of most effective ways to teach cybersecurity in middle school is by incorporating it into projects that are relevant and a reflection of real-world scenarios.
One example of this within CYBER.ORG curricula is in the STEM EDA Electricity module. “In this module students are faced with a cyberattack to the country’s entire electrical grid. Students are tasked with using the engineering design process and their knowledge of electricity to build working flashlights until the power is restored,” says Charlene. “This module sparks conversation about possible critical issues for cybersecurity and the critical need for people who can keep data safe from hackers.”
The increase in virtual learning during the COVID-19 era provides an excellent foundation for teachers to emphasize online safety and awareness of cyberattacks. In the STEM EDA Electricity module, students come to realize that cyberattacks happen daily and that important infrastructure systems could be particularly vulnerable.
“Middle school students are also starting to think about possible future career options,” Charlene adds. “They are starting to understand the importance of cybersecurity professionals, and some may even decide to start pursuing this path.”
Cybersecurity Connections in High School
As students progress into high school, more advanced technical cybersecurity concepts like secure communications, privacy, threats and vulnerabilities, and cyber hygiene become important parts of their cyber education. CYBER.ORG’s Cybersecurity course touches on all of these concepts.
The course includes hands-on labs where students put their knowledge and skills to the test. Cybersecurity content specialist Joe MacAdam describes one lab where students see how malicious actors can gain access to someone’s computer. “In the Trojans and RAT lesson, students create their own backdoor payload to gain control over someone's else’s mouse, keyboard, webcam, etc. They learn how to locate backdoor sessions on a system and remove it, and in doing so, discover how difficult this task can be.”
Other lessons in Cybersecurity cover concepts like password hacking and explore case studies that show how deleted data can be recovered. Most importantly, the lessons also teach the proper protocols for addressing these cybersecurity concerns.
Joe adds that career exploration is a great way to interest high school students in cybersecurity beyond the classroom. "Visualizing themselves in these professional roles energizes them to keep learning. It shows them that passing an exam like Security+ can lead to a career that has an abundance of vacancies and pays very well."