Best Cybersecurity Lessons and Activities for K-12 Education

Cybersecurity lessons and activities
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Computer literacy and security are not merely elective topics for today’s students. Instead, these have become an essential part of elementary education, starting at the earliest levels— because even preschoolers have access to internet-enabled devices.

Launched in 2004 as a collaboration between the National Cyber Security Alliance and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity Awareness Month aims to promote not only awareness of cybersecurity hazards, but also the knowledge and tools users need to protect themselves, their devices, and their networks while accessing the vast information highway that makes modern life possible.

The following cybersecurity lessons, games, and activities cover a wide range of topics and grade levels, and can be implemented in general instruction classes as well as dedicated computer science courses. Nearly all are free, with some requiring a free educator registration.

Best Cybersecurity Lessons and Activities for K-12 Education

CodeHS Introduction to Cybersecurity (Vigenere)
A full year-long course for high school students, this introductory curriculum is ideal for beginning computer science students. Topics include digital citizenship and cyber hygiene, cryptography, software security, networking fundamentals, and basic system administration. Cybersecurity - Simple Encryption
This standards-aligned classroom or elearning lesson aims to teach students the basics of encryption - why it matters, how to encrypt, and how to break encryption. As with all lessons, included are a detailed teacher’s guide, activity, vocabulary, warmup, and wrap up. Rapid Research - Cybercrime
What are the most common cybercrimes and how can students (and teachers) identify and prevent such attacks? Learn the basics in this standards-aligned lesson from the curriculum team. 

Common Sense Education Internet Traffic Light
This Common Core-aligned first-grade lesson teaches basic internet safety with a fun Google Slides presentation/activity. Also included are instructions for an in-class Traffic Light game, as well as a video, handout poem popster, and take home resources. Free account required Cybersecurity Lesson for Grades 10-12
A comprehensive cybersecurity course covering threats, architecture and design, implementation, risk, regulation, and much more. Login via Canvas account or create a free educator account. Events
Explore’s upcoming virtual events, such as Intro to Cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Activities for Beginners, Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week, Regional Cyber Challenge, and more. It’s a great resource for professional development, as well as for your high school cybersecurity curriculum.

CyberPatriot Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative (ESCEI)
Complete a brief request form, download the digital ESCEI 2.0 kit, and you’re ready to plan your cybersecurity instruction. Included in the free digital kit are three interactive learning modules, supplementary slides, instructor’s guide, introductory letter describing ESCEI, certificate templates and more. An excellent start to your K-6 cybersecurity curriculum. 

Don't Feed the Phish
Help your students learn how to protect themselves from Internet scams with another fine lesson from Common Sense Education. Taking a playful approach to a serious topic, this complete standards-aligned lesson includes a warmup and wrap up, slides, quizzes, and more. 

Faux Paw the Techno Cat
Questionable puns and animated animal characters such as Faux Paw the Techno Cat are a great way to engage young learners in an important topic. Follow the adventures of this technology-loving polydactyl puss via PDF books and animated videos as she learns with difficulty how to navigate digital ethics, cyberbullying, safe downloading, and other tricky cyber topics.

Hacker 101
Ever hear of ethical hacking? The thriving ethical hacker community invites interested persons to grow their hacking skills for good. A wealth of hacking how-to resources is free for users, from novice to advanced levels.

Hacker Highschool
A comprehensive self-guided curriculum for teens aged 12-20, Hacker Highschool consists of 14 free lessons in 10 languages, covering everything from what it means to be a hacker to digital forensics to web security and privacy. Teachers’ guide books are available for purchase, but not required for the lessons. 

International Computer Science Institute: Teaching Security
Built on the AP Computer Science Principles, and standards-aligned, these three lessons cover threat modeling, authentication, and social engineering attacks. Ideal for high school students. No account required. 

K-12 Cybersecurity Guide
What skills are needed to enter the burgeoning cybersecurity field? Which cybersecurity jobs offer the greatest career opportunities? What steps can students take to maximize their cybersecurity knowledge? These questions and many others are answered by cybersecurity experts in this guide for interested K-12 students. 

Nova Labs Cybersecurity Lab
Designed to teach students how to detect and thwart cyber attacks, PBS’s Cybersecurity Lab posits a newly launched company website with insufficient built-in security. What strategies will you, the CTO, employ to protect your startup? Play as a guest or create an account to save your progress. Cybersecurity Lab Guide for educators included. Be sure to check out the Nova Labs Cybersecurity Videos too!

Risk Check for New Tech
A highly practical lesson from Common Sense Education, Risk Check for New Tech asks kids to think hard about the tradeoffs that come with the latest tech innovations. Privacy is especially vulnerable in today’s smartphone- and app-driven tech culture. How much privacy should one give up for the benefits of the latest tech gadget? 

Science Buddies Cybersecurity Projects
One of the best sites around for complete, free cybersecurity lessons. Each lesson includes background information, materials needed, step-by-step instructions, and guidance on customization. Ranging from intermediate to advanced, these eight lessons examine hacking the air gap (i.e., computers not connected to the internet -- yes these can be hacked!), the actual security of security questions, sql injection attacks, the true status of “deleted” files (hint: these are not really deleted), and other fascinating cybersecurity issues. Free account required. 

SonicWall Phishing IQ test
This simply 7-question quiz tests students’ ability to spot phishing attempts. Have the entire class take the quiz, tally the results, then examine each example closely to distinguish the salient features of a genuine vs. “phishy” email. No account required.

Cybersecurity Rubric for Education
The Cybersecurity Rubric (CR) for Education is a free and easy-to-use assessment tool designed to help schools self-assess their cybersecurity environment and plan for continuous improvement. Informed by NIST and other relevant cybersecurity and privacy frameworks, the rubric provides a comprehensive set of education-focused standards to help schools assess and improve their cybersecurity practices. 

Best Cybersecurity Games for K-12

ABCYa: Cyber Five
This animated video introduces five basic internet safety rules, as explained earnestly by Hippo and Hedgehog. After watching the video, kids can try the multiple-choice practice quiz or test. Perfect for younger students. No account required.

Dozens of  cyber games, ideal for advanced students, pose a stimulating challenge. Free basic account allows 12 games. 

Education Arcade Cyber Security Games
Five arcade-style cybersecurity games offer an adventurous look at digital security issues such as password breach, phishing, sensitive data, ransomware, and email attacks. Fun for middle to high school students. 

Internet Safety Hangman
The traditional Hangman game, updated for the internet, provides an easy exercise for kids to test their knowledge of basic internet terms. Best for younger students. No account required. 

From Google, architects of much of the internet as we know it today, comes this stylish animated game featuring sophisticated graphics and music. Users are invited to navigate the perils of Kind Kingdom, Reality River, Mindful Mountain, and Tower of Treasure, learning important internet safety principles along the way. No account required.

picoGym Practice Challenges
Carnegie Mellon University, host of the annual picoCTF (“capture the flag”) cyber competition, offers dozens of free cybersecurity games that will challenge and engage middle and high school students. Free account required. 

Science Buddies Cybersecurity: Denial-of-Service Attack
What happens to a website during a denial of service attack? How can computers be conscripted into such attacks without the owner’s consent? Most of all, how can these attacks be prevented? Explore critical cybersecurity concepts in this NGSS-aligned paper-and-pencil game for middle school students. 

ThinkU Know: Band Runner
A simple, engaging, music-themed game designed to help 8-10 year olds learn how to stay safe online.  

Diana Restifo

Diana has been Tech & Learning's web editor and contributor since 2010, dedicated to ferreting out the best free tech tools for teachers.