Elementary students learn basics of cyber security

They may not have their own cell phones yet, but Hatchett Elementary School Cyber Play Club members can tell you about the importance of protecting your online identity by changing passwords often and securing devices against cyber-attacks.

“This is a club where you get educated on how to protect your operating systems from being attacked or corrupted,” said fifth grader Gabriella Lopez. “You learn what to do in those situations.”

Twelve Hatchett students participated in an afterschool club for fourth and fifth graders that taught them the basics of cybersecurity in a kid-friendly format. The program was piloted this past spring semester at Cole, Hatchett, Hoffmann, Howsman, and Scarborough elementary schools. Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, all elementary schools will have the opportunity to participate.

students playing cybersecurity board game at table

The UTSA Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS), MITRE, the CyberTexas Foundation, and Northside ISD collaborated on the program which uses a Cyber Threat Defender Game.

“Cybersecurity is becoming more and more important in our daily lives as we continue to spend more time online,” said Matthew Garrett, Northside Academic Technology Coordinator. “With San Antonio being one of the nation's centers for cybersecurity, it only made sense to partner with the community to offer a club in this quickly growing field. The Cyber Play club helps students see what they can do to help protect themselves and learn about the amazing job opportunities that are available to them.”

Though the topic is challenging for an elementary age group, it’s presented in a game format that participants describe as similar to Pokémon cards. The game requires strategy and the ability to understand cybersecurity terminology as the cards reveal assets which competitors earn points for, attacks that deduct points, or defenses that block attacks. The first person to reach 30 points is the winner. 

Students started by learning vocabulary for the first few sessions and then progressed to playing an online version of the game, before finally playing each other. The goal for next year is to host tournaments where students from different schools can play the game.

“I want to learn how to protect computers so I don’t get attacked when I use my personal devices,” said fourth grader Reagan Burleson. “The most common types of attacks are on computers and not in real life.”

Cyber Play is just one example of the enriching activities offered for elementary students after school. Activities like Solar Cars, Young Astronauts, and STEAM teams allow students to explore areas of interest, build skills, and have fun while learning in a more informal setting. Offerings vary, but contact the elementary schools to see what clubs are sponsored at a particular campus.