(TNS) -- For students in middle school, turning 13 is a significant moment for their internet experience — it's the age many kids can start signing up for Gmail, or get accounts on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.
For the Digital Literacy class at Ledyard Middle School in Gales Ferry, Conn., students learn that also means something else: the exponential growth of their personal data and social media posts, preserved online forever.
That is one of several elements of students' relationship with digital technology that Ledyard Middle School's new seventh-grade Digital Literacy class addresses.
Taught by engineer-turned-educator James Moffett, the semester-long course explores everything from being a good citizen on the internet, to building critical-thinking tools for students to analyze their media consumption.
Moffett comes from the Journalism and Media Academy in Hartford, where he taught courses on technology and the media.
He built a curriculum for the class at Ledyard Middle School that teaches students how to use the internet academically, and how to apply the technology in other classes.
"I wanted to focus in this age group on internet safety and internet privacy," Moffett said.
He added that while the students are using the technology, they may not be using it effectively or appropriately because they haven't been instructed about how to do it properly.
When talking about a student's digital footprint, Moffett said, some don't realize social media is scrutinized long after it's posted, and that they could potentially lose out on job opportunities and college offers.
"A lot of them cut back on things that they posted, knowing that, down the road, it could be questionable (and) called out on it," he said.
For students like Blake McLeod, that's something he keeps in the back of his mind now as he surfs videos online or plays MineCraft.
"I never knew you left digital footprints anywhere," McLeod said. "If I go on a website, it's going to stay there forever, or if I send an email, it's always going to be there ... (you can't) do anything stupid."
While these issues can be intimidating, for the most part students learn skills to become better communicators.
The course is broken up into two sections: at first, they explore creative rights and learn how to use collaborative technology like Google Slides and Docs, which students like Trinidy Acevedo have applied to other classes, using her experience with Google Drawing to make a diagram on Peruvian hairless dogs.
The second half is where Moffett lets the students work on a number of creative projects — making things like polls, songs and advertisements, or participating in the nationwide "Hour of Code" by solving puzzles that resemble computer programs.
"I like the creation part (and) giving them a voice; even though they're only 12 and 13, they have something to say ... it's like the closest they have to a superpower," Moffett said.
In the past few weeks, Moffett has been working with students in his Colonel Block class to produce an introductory video for rising seventh-grade students: recording interviews with teachers and students about the middle school experience, spliced between footage they gather of common scenes across the school.
They used creative camera angles, like mounting the camera on a tripod above the students in the hall as they poured out of classes.
The video production element has motivated students like Acevedo, an avid YouTube fan, to think about how videos are edited.
She aspires to have her own YouTube channel and make her own videos, and she said that the experience of producing videos has taught her a lot.
"When you're a YouTuber, you have to edit a lot and that's going to be extremely hard," she said. "I feel like some of the stuff he's teaching us will definitely help with editing because that stuff takes forever."
©2015 The Day (New London, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.