As a part of teaching digital citizenship to my 6th graders, I spend a considerable amount of time telling them about scams, frauds, and malware. I do this because I think they are a a substantial risk down the road if they are not informed and skeptical. And I do it because we inevitably have a great discussion, filled with anecdotes by the kids of people they know who have been taken in (or not) by these same scams.
This year, I had an extra bit of time with one class, so I tried an experiment that has been brewing in my head for over a year. I had the kids all write their own scam! It worked so well in the first class that I could only repeat it in the second. The students could make their scam as ridiculous or as real as they wanted, and use whatever tools they wanted. They only had ten minutes to work (which I expanded to fifteen, when the students demanded it).
What they produced far exceeded my expectations! Their responses ran the gamut from the most outrageous examples of poor writing and layout to emails that just might work in the real world. Many used pictures, links, interesting layouts, and alternate software tools to make their work convincing. Both classes were absorbed in their work to an extent I have seldom seen in 6th grade, and when we shared the works as a class they were entirely focused on the projector.
When I first envisioned the project, I had some fears about it. What would it sound like to parents (not to mention the administration) to hear their kids were writing scam email in class? I did take the step of making the kids swear a solemn oath before hand (I, STATE YOUR NAME, solemnly swear to use my powers only for good, and not for evil.), but would that be enough. I think I needn’t have worried. The gains from this experiment far outweigh the possible friction. I think I have inoculated these kids, as far as is possible at this stage, against online frauds and scams. I hope to be able to give them a booster shot in 7th and 8th grades, but even if not, I feel confident these kids are prepared for the future in this regard, at least. I will definitely try this again!