AI and the 5th C: Citizenship

Explore ways to teach K–12 students about citizenship in the age of artificial intelligence.

Grades K-12 15 min Resource by:
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In 2002, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning was established by an influential coalition of entities, including the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of Education, and an array of prominent business leaders. Together, they developed the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which included a list of critical learning and innovation skills known as the 4 Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Since its release, this set of skills has been central to the work of many school systems across the world.

In 2014, Michael Fullan and Geoff Scott released a white paper, Education PLUS, which expanded upon the 4 Cs framework, adding in Citizenship and Character. This new model is called the Six Cs of Deep Learning.

While much has been written about the 6 Cs in terms of both tech-rich and traditional education, the introduction of artificial intelligence is significantly changing the game and impacting how teachers can, and perhaps should, approach the teaching of these deep learning skills. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into ways that citizenship skills can be developed in a world infused with AI.

Defining Citizenship

In their aforementioned white paper, Fullan and Scott define citizenship as: “Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.”

Several key words stand out in this definition. The first is “global.” While some people think of citizenship in terms of a state or nation, Fullan and Scott point out that we are also part of a larger, global community. With advances in transportation, communication, supply chains, virus transmission, and more, our world has become more interconnected than ever before. Our actions impact others globally, and that interconnected relationship becomes an important component of citizenship at all levels.

Another key phrase in this definition is “diverse values.” Not all people share the same values and priorities, yet we must still live peacefully together. While this can be challenging, it gets increasingly complicated when national and international dynamics are brought into the mix. For people of various nations to live and function well together, differing values and perspectives must be understood and taken into account.

The third key phrase addresses intent. For members of a community to get along and work effectively together, there must be a genuine desire to solve problems as they arise. People must have a “genuine interest” in working collaboratively. This can only happen when members of the group have a desire to understand each other and the potentially distinct sets of values involved.

The fourth element in this definition that deserves attention is a reference to problem-solving, which is closely linked to critical thinking, one of the original 4 Cs. Not only does citizenship impact problem-solving, but as Fullan and Scott’s definition notes, it involves “complex” problem-solving. In a world with differing values and viewpoints, solving problems will often be a complicated and multipronged undertaking.

Finally, solving these problems is essential to the “sustainability” of the human race and the world in which we live. Essentially, Fullan and Scott make the argument that citizenship is an existential skill. To survive as a well-functioning global society, people must be good global citizens.

A Three-Step Approach

The task of developing strong citizenship skills has become more challenging with the introduction of generative AI chatbots. While there are many ways to approach the teaching of citizenship in an AI-infused world, you might consider using this three-step approach. If you do, it’s helpful to think of these steps as tiers: Begin with self (learn about AI and citizenship), extend to others (apply it in the classroom), and then project globally (go beyond the school walls).

It can be helpful to begin with a strong base of knowledge and understanding. This applies to both citizenship and AI. There are a number of ways that you can build this foundation for yourself and for your students. Here is one approach.


  1. Brainstorm and make a list of the various types of citizenship. Be sure that students consider categories such as digital citizenship, civic citizenship, national citizenship, and classroom citizenship.
  2. Research, define, and detail each type of citizenship. What does it mean to be a citizen in each type of community?
  3. Create a Venn diagram as a class to explore how the various types of citizenship are similar and different. Discuss what you notice and encourage students to ask questions that probe at a deeper understanding of citizenship and the nuances associated with each type.
  4. As a final activity, generate an overarching definition of citizenship. Ask students to explore what all of the various types of citizenship have in common.

Artificial Intelligence

  1. Facilitate the use of a KWL Chart to target and process new learning about AI. This can be done as a whole class, in small groups, or individually. Regardless of how you choose to structure the activity, students should begin by brainstorming and compiling what they already know about AI in the K (Know) column. Consider some type of sharing activity before moving on to the W (Want to know) portion of the chart.
  2. Have students write down what they want to learn in the W column of their chart. It can be helpful to formulate this as a list of questions.
  3. Have students conduct research to answer the questions that they listed in the W column. They should record what they learn in the L (Learned) column of their chart. As an alternative to traditional research, you might have students actually use generative AI instead. If you or your students have access and permission to use a program like ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing, or Google Gemini, students can use this hands-on approach to experiment and discover answers to their AI questions. For questions that they are unable to answer through direct experience, students can still conduct research.
  4. Facilitate some sort of summarizing activity where students identify and share their learning.

To save time, you could choose to provide a list of resources for students to review, rather than having them research and find their own. This can still give them voice and choice while cutting out the potentially time-consuming research step. If you choose this option, you may want to consider some of these student-friendly and high-quality resources about AI. They are also helpful learning resources for teachers who are looking to know more about artificial intelligence:

  • videos and lessons about AI, with one lesson specifically addressing the societal impact of generative AI
  • aiEDU: a site fully dedicated to AI in education that offers free lessons and resources
  • AI4ALL: open learning materials and curriculum for high school students, with learning targets and content aligned to ELA, NGSS, ISTE, and CSTA standards
  • CTRL-F: resources about media literacy targeted toward middle school students, with material that, while not specifically about AI, can be applied to AI media literacy

Knowledge and understanding are great places to start, but that’s generally not enough. Students need to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy to experience deeper, higher-order thinking. We can facilitate this by having students create a set of AI citizenship guidelines for their classroom. By having students create, they will also be applying, analyzing, and evaluating throughout the construction process.

This type of activity comes with several benefits. First, it provides an authentic application for the new learning. Second, that new learning becomes more relevant and meaningful because it applies to the students’ personal classroom context. Third, it is an authentic and actionable way to generate expectations for your classroom. It includes student input and is done in a way that deeply engages them in the process. There is a high probability that this approach will increase both awareness and compliance with the expectations since the students were engaged in creating them.

There are many ways that you can facilitate the development of AI citizenship guidelines for your classroom. Whichever approach you take in designing this experience, it’s important that all students not only have a voice in the process but are required to contribute ideas. One efficient way to do this is to have every student contribute to a T-Chart or Y-Chart. A T-Chart has two columns, with one to describe what something looks like and the other to note what it sounds like. A separate, related T-Chart is used to describe what it does not look or sound like. A Y-Chart is similar, but it adds what something feels like or does not feel like. Once completed, these charts can be hung in the classroom as anchor charts. Students will be reminded of the guidelines that they helped develop.

Once students have applied the concepts of AI and citizenship locally, it’s important to extend it more globally. There are several considerations to think about as you design these experiences.

  1. First, consider how you can connect AI citizenship to the content standards that you are teaching in your classroom. If you are teaching social studies, the connections to citizenship will probably seem obvious and plentiful, as citizenship is likely a central theme in the curriculum. If you are an ELA teacher, perhaps you can connect it to the theme in a piece of literature or integrate it with a lesson on small-group communication skills. Whatever your content area, you can make the learning more relevant and also save time through a curricular connection.
  2. Second, determine a community beyond your classroom. Perhaps you target your school, maybe it’s your local community, or you could go even bigger and choose your state or nation. Depending upon the age of your students and your objectives, you might even look globally. Naming a specific community and context will give your activities and conversations about both AI and citizenship added relevance.
  3. Third, determine how you are going to have your students apply the concepts of AI and citizenship to your chosen context. The options are many, but here are a few to help get you started with brainstorming ideas.
    • Critique AI. Ask a generative AI chatbot a question relevant to the audience or context that you’ve chosen. Then, examine the response, critiquing it for bias, accuracy, truthfulness, and completeness. How would people in your target audience respond to the answer? Would they all respond the same? Students may need to do some additional research to vet the AI responses.
    • Make students be the teachers. Have students develop learning materials about AI that could be shared with their intended audience. If the audience is local, like another grade in the school or parents and guardians in the community, the materials could actually be shared. With an authentic audience, students will likely be motivated by more than a grade on the assignment, and it gives the outcome of their work true purpose. A variation of this could be to create an awareness campaign for the school, including the design and creation of informative signs to hang around the building.
    • Compare and contrast. For this activity, seek out AI guidelines from a source beyond your classroom. This could be from another classroom or school, a university, an organization like ISTE, or even national guidance generated by a country. Students can then compare and contrast these external versions to the ones that they created in your classroom. This can lead to meaningful conversations about the reasons for differences and similarities. It can lead to conversations about unique needs and identities of the population targeted by the guidelines. It may even lead to revisions in the classroom version.
    • Have AI help. Use your favorite AI chatbot to help you come up with additional learning activities that can work in your classroom. Generative AI can be a great thought partner. Of course, as any good AI digital citizen would do, be sure to thoughtfully review the AI-generated suggestions before implementing them.

These ideas are not all-encompassing, nor are they intended to be. They are meant to offer suggestions for how you might begin engaging your students with a newer and very important aspect of citizenship, as AI will almost certainly continue to impact society, and we will all need to learn how to be good citizens in a reshaped world. Having students wrestle with this in our classrooms can give them a strong foundation for when they face these same issues outside of school.

AVID Connections

This resource connects with the following components of the AVID College and Career Readiness Framework:

  • Instruction
  • Rigorous Academic Preparedness
  • Opportunity Knowledge
  • Student Agency
  • Break Down Barriers

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