The Sixth Graders

Sixth graders, are just 10 years from the workforce, I wonder if we’ll be ready.

I’m now in Dallas, about to speak to 250 marketers (then do workshops) who all work for a company that’s about to ramp up their social marketing activities and put community first. Brands foster communities is a trend we’re seeing, just as Oracle boldly launched it’s Oracle Mix Ideas which allows anyone to submit comments right on the corporate website.

On the flight over here from SF, I sat next to a young lady (mid 20s) who is a teacher to sixth graders (12 year olds) in San Antonio. As I almost always do, I shifted the conversation over to the internet and she shared with me how this next generation of digital natives is coming at us fast and strong

The Sixth Graders:

  • All of her sixth graders were literate, although not all of them had computers at home, so she couldn’t issue mandatory web assignments.
  • Many of them used the internet for research, she allowed them to cite wikipedia as a supplement–but they had to cite other websites.
  • Many students turned in their ‘papers’ as digital blog posts on
  • The art of writing in cursive is deteriorating, many of the students could not read her cursive writing, soon it may go the way of shorthand.
  • The sixth graders would often groan and roll their eyes when asked to do a writing assignment –yet when she listed off the internet as one of the methods they could produce the project, they quickly got excited –and lightbulbs went off.
  • Plagiarism is still an issue, but she and her colleagues have sophisticated ways of checking papers by copying and pasting them in Google, or using proprietary software.
  • I asked her if she sees an increase in web technologies as they get older, and she says “yes, soon the parents won’t restrict and monitor their usage, as they go to high school and college”.
  • I asked her if this helped them to be more or less social, she replied: “Both. They still are shy in class presentations as kids are from any generation, but they express more of their personal being online”
  • During tests, if the students didn’t know the answer to the questions, they would write “IDK”.
  • Now this certainly wasn’t a scientific study, but I’m sure you can find stories like this from sixth graders all around the United States, and perhaps around the world. Give them a six years, and it’ll be interesting to see how their online behavior impacts their college admissions: “10 percent of admissions officers from prestigious schools said they had peeked at sites like Facebook and MySpace to evaluate college-bound seniors. Of those using the profiles, 38 percent said it had a “negative impact” on the applicant, according to Kaplan Inc”.

    If you have experience with the modern day sixth grader, I’d love to hear your observations in the comments below, if you don’t have any stories to tell, forward this to someone who can.

    Warning, if you ask me any questions, and I’m unable to respond with a good answer, I may just respond, “IDK”

    25 Replies to “The Sixth Graders”

    1. Are you aware of classroom 2.0 and Steve Hargadon? Or Michael Wesch on Youtube? It is a great way to connect with the web 2.0 community with interests in education.

      I have been amazed at what is available via internet and web2.0 for kids and education. We are starting our 3rd year of world travel and I feel like my daughter is getting the best global education ever thanks to the online opportunities.

      We collaborate with school kids from around the world through many sources. My daughter even takes her piano lessons with a teacher on a different continent through skype! She has been interviewed by kids on another continent via skype. Not 6th graders, these were all 6 year old kids, including mine!!

      I am proud that we are taking many disadvantaged school kids from NYC with us virtually through the award winning non profit Reach The World that connects travels and schools. These kids might never travel or know about technology without this help. I can’t wait to meet them.

      Our global citizens of the 21st century are in a whole new paradigm and learning will never be the same! Thanks so much for positng on this topic!!

    2. Soultraveler, thanks for sharing this. How does she take her piano lessons via skype? How can the teacher see her finger placement? I was corrected over and over for my unorthodox style of finger placement –but it worked.

    3. We use Skype webcam for the finger placement issue. Here is a bit of our system we put on youtube:

      If you look at our Youtube videos you can see one way that we connect with homeschoolers and schools..even young ones:

      I will add Reach The World link here too in case others have interest in supporting these kids ( if so tell them Soultravelers3 sent you):

      There are some fantastic innovative educators on twitter. I have sent some a link to this post!

      Here are a few good videos on this topic:

    4. Yesterday, I was teaching a seventh grade religious school class. One of my students was playing with his ipod at an inopportune time. I took it away for a little while. At the end of class, I gave it back to him and actually used the song that was on the screen as a conversation starter. Interesting, the student’s next teacher took away his cell phone. He got that back later.

      It’s time for all students to have access to iphones so that they don’t have to carry around too many tools.

    5. My son is a 6th grader, and most of what your seatmate indicated about her class is true of him.

      I will say that most of the 6th graders I know have sporadic access to mobile devices, but don’t have their own. In other words, they may borrow Mom or Dad’s cell when they’re out.

      As a parent, I have to weigh the risks and benefits of my son’s online media consumption, just as I do with all his media consumption, and most parents I know are similarly concerned. I want him to be web literate–but since he already spends so much sedentary time with video games and other media, it’s hard to justify letting him spend much time on the web.

    6. Thanks for this post! We also refer to kids as the “digital natives” in our work because they have grown up in the world of technology, and as the parents as the “digital immigrants” since they are relatively new to many of the technologies children are utilizing.

      It’s wonderful to see these 6th graders using technology in such a variety of ways. But it’s also important that parents and educators have a working knowledge of the technology out there that their “digital natives” are so familiar with.

      Research shows a growing need for family literacy programs that help parents bridge a widening gap between their understanding and their children™s understanding of technology. This gap is an issue to parents in all walks of life, who are navigating the difficulties of managing their children™s use of new media without the knowledge of and familiarity with these technologies.

      We need to help help these parents become more like their digital native children!

      Meg Ivey
      National Center for Family Literacy

    7. My 12 year old son has Smart Board (interactive whiteboard technology) in every class of his public school. He says the kids get a kick out of the polling feature. At home, he loves Wikipedia and Google Earth. However, his grandparents gave him an old encyclopedia set and he’s often browsing through it in his leisure time. No cell phone, ipod or gaming systems yet (not because we wouldn’t give it to him, he hasn’t asked).

    8. I spend a lot of my time in the Philippines, where I’ve lived for 22 years now. I’ve come to know a number of kids from extremely poor families who routinely beg me for fifty cents, which buys them two hours on the internet at neighborhood internet cafes. All of them are active on Yahoo Messenger, and especially on Friendster. While games consume a lot of their time, much of it is spent in more creative endeavor. Even my next door neighbor’s 8-year-old has a Friendster account.

      The Philippines is amazingly plugged in. Ninety percent of all internet users regularly read blogs. The social facility Friendster, which is very similar to Facebook, acknowledges that Filipinos are its most loyal followers. And, of course, the Philippines is the world capital for cellphone texting.

      And recently in Mexico, where I spend the rest of my time, I met a boy just turned 12 who already has created a big following on the internet for his South-Park-like animations. He also maintains a remarkably active website for his fans.

      No telling just what these kids from poor Third World neighborhoods will do as they grow older.

    9. Very cool !

      It may not be scientific … but it’s both interesting and informative.

      How many parents do you think are helping their young kids understand that all their ‘social networking’ activity could one day be used against them when applying to get into college?! I bet not many … in fact i didn’t even think of that until i read your post 10 mins ago 🙂 … luckily i don’t have kids yet.

    10. I have a 5th grader of my own, and I know texting is on the rise among her peers. But when I asked her if she knew what IDK meant, she said “I don’t know, what?” Aside from being *that* close to our own vaudeville routine, I think the difference is a variance by internet usage. My daughter is far more likely to email than to text, so the acronyms just aren’t as familiar.

      I don’t see this as a major epidemic, though. Slang has existed for a very long time, and there are always concerns about various slang terms finding usage in educational or formal settings. I think educators should use this as an opportunity to discuss with kids how the speech and words they use should be appropriate for their audience and environment.

    11. IDK (hah) if my 12 yr old cousins are on the ‘net however my 14 year old cousin is on Facebook. We are able to keep in touch although he lives 3000 miles away.

      I get a big kick out of seeing his updates and although he does reveal a lot of himself online, he has made his photos private to me… so his interior life as a teen is still hidden from adults.

      Geez, I though I was the cool cousin, but I guess not!

    12. Good in-flight survey Jeremy. Today I will just share my 8-year-old’s reaction to a rotary phone: “Oh, I know Mommy, they had those back in the old days, like in the 18 hundreds or something.”
      I too may adopt the IDK, on my next budget.

    13. Jeremiah,

      Great post. As a mom of one of those as well as an educator, I can so relate. What the teacher illustrates is that students live and engage literate lives outside the school walls.

      Unfortunately for many, these outside literacies are not validated because they are not on the tests. What’s impressive about your seatmate is that she “gets it” and teachers like her who can build on their rich out-of-school behaviors have a better chance of being able to help them become productive, participatory and engaged learners.

    14. I’m waiting to see the effect on corporate communications. With email being abandoned by the younger generations, will communication be in the form of a corporate version of Facebook?

    15. Great topic, Jeremiah – nice change of pace. I’m a mom of a college freshman (18), high school freshman (14), and a 6th grader (11). For my 6th grader…there is no other way. He can already type 70 wpm with 0-2 mistakes, and has had his lessons in powerpoint since he started school. None of them spell well, their handwriting isn’t that great…and yet they’re all 10x smarter than I am.

      Amazing to me is the wide spectrum of literacy among their teachers. (I’m happy to see educators reading & posting here!) Back to school nights are interesting – with one teacher giving out her mobile number and saying: “best way to reach me is send me a text” to a few who were….”well, they want us to update that online grade thing, but I make them keep a written copy in their notebook anyway.” Very funny – the kids are respectful in dealing with adults, but in their view they are being patient with those of us who don’t “get it”.

      To the comments on Facebook made by recruiters…that reminds me of something our HR department in the corporate world might say. It will change, just takes time. The next generations value individuality above all else…and want to bring their whole selves to work or school. Employers or schools who would judge them on their Facebook profiles aren’t likely to be the places they’ll want to be anyway.

    16. OMG – I have been talking about this with my husband for over the past few years.Forget 6th graders my 7 year old son has been on the internet since the age of 3.

      I was trying to show him the animals at the san Francisco Zoo which we were going to the visit the next day. Whithin 5 minutes he was moving my hand off the mouse and grasped the enitire concept of how it and links on the screen worked.

      My son now a second grader is completely fluent with online technologies (Facebook, Youtube, Wiki) but is a emerging reader so I always insist he still reads books to help his literacy.

      To me the next chalenge for the next innovative online experince is helping visitor not literate (typically because of age or langauge barrier) find, use and explore anything online.

      I’m working on it online at wwhich is still very much under construction. Any tips for finding seed investment – forward to BTW my 58 year old mother still struggles to check her email without my help :

    17. I can’t say that I’m surprised by much of what she shared about her sixth graders. As a parent of a 1st grader who is already very familiar with computers and videos games, I can only imagine how different things will be in just a few more years. Teachers will definitely have their work cut out for them!

    18. This is a very interesting field and interesting to here those stories, specially from Soultraveller.

      What I find worth thinking about is how children don’t need to learn to remember everything, like before. They can just google it on their cell. What’s more important is to learn how to use all this information. As Einstein put it: Imagination is more important than knowledge.

    19. I have a sixth grader and we just bought a cursive typewriter on ebay….He uses it to write letters to his friends. He likes the old fashioned feeling of it. So do his friend.

      So who knows.

    20. If my 6th grader and his companions are any example, their access to content and technology – and each other, electronically – is opening up new opportunities both positive and negative. They’re still 6th graders and their judgement (or lack thereof) is an issue in this brave new world. My son has a cellphone and calls and texts on it, but not abusively. He has his own computer and filtered access to email and the web. Email, text and phone conversations seem to be age-appropriate “Hi” “Hi back” Wuddya doin?” Not unlike many staff meetings I attend.

    21. You might be interested in a report by my colleagues: “Writing, Technology and Teens” (available at:

      Here is a summary:

      Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them.

    22. A small minority of the 6th graders at my school have cell phones but they are fascinated by them. Cell phones disrupting classes is a problem. They forget to turn them off. Parents call!

      I have mine on in case of emergency (husband, oldest child) but now telemarketers call me.

      Other teachers tell me that the older children take them out and text during class. They do this in their lap or in their desk. A boy in one class texts a girl in another class and they both get excused to go to the bathroom…

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