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Preparing High Schoolers For A Career In Cybersecurity

Posted by on January 23, 2019

No one who even glances at the news can deny the importance of cybersecurity experts. I know first-hand the dearth of qualified people available to fill these critical positions. If you’re a high school teacher trying to prepare students for a career in this field, Sam Bocetta, a retired cybersecurity analyst currently reporting on trends in cryptography and cybercrime, has some suggestions:

computer securityCreating cybersecurity programs for K-12 students is something schools and educations around the world are preparing for due to the rapidly increasing number of career paths in the field.

However, lots of them feel it’s hard to make such a complicated subject understandable at the K-12 level. Luckily there are technology & resources that are helping educations with the task of teaching cybersecurity to K-12 students…meaning that educators don’t have to just rely on the old school techniques like books & whiteboard drawings to teach the complicated subject of cybersecurity. This is not to say that the old methods that instructors may be already using aren’t effective.

Rather, when teaching such a complicated subject such as cybersecurity, it only helps students for them to be learning in an interactive digital environment. And it’s true that every student learns differently, so educators have the additional task of making sure each student learns to his or her strengths.

Next, we will outline some tips that will help educators prepare K-12 students for a career in cybersecurity:

Can’t Teach It If You Don’t Know It

Our first tip for preparing K-12 students for cybersecurity sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s something most don’t give a second thought to. An educator is going to have a very tough time teaching cybersecurity to K-12 students if they themselves don’t know the subject well.

So the first step any educator or educational institution can take to ensure their students learn cybersecurity the right way is to ensure any teacher who is providing instruction on the subject is trained in cybersecurity. The cybersecurity industry is changing all the time, so staying on top of all the new methods and tools can be a huge task.

However, there are boot camps and other training courses that educators or institutions can retain to ensure all teaching staff have the required industry knowledge to not only teach the subject but to teach it well.

Start When They Are Young

When talking about teaching cybersecurity to K-12 students, you have to put extra emphasis on the grades starting close to the “K.” Meaning that it’s going to be harder to teach high-level subjects to students who haven’t been in school long.

However, there are some ways to still teach younger students cybersecurity without causing undue strain on them by trying to put the student’s miles above where they are. A simple way to start teaching this complicated subject to younger students is to start educating them on low-end cybersecurity topics.

These topics could be training them on easier security topics such as locking their computer, not sharing their passwords, and general safe computing standards that will assist them later in life when they are going to be taught more advanced aspects of cybersecurity.

Develop The Student’s Related Skills

A great way to introduce students to cybersecurity is by giving them a great underlying technical foundation. These soft skills can be teaching them things like coding, which will only help them in the future in both their cybersecurity training, & basically any other topic they are learning.

The topic of coding often covers things like conditional logic, which will better prepare K-12 students throughout all aspects of their life. Another great skill to instill is focus, or the ability to work with the same problem for a long period of time, as well as data encryption, or the process of encoding a message only so that authorized individuals or parties will be able to access it.

In the cybersecurity world, people often spend large amounts of time on finding holes and issues with a single system.

The student’s ability to stick with a problem even after trying a solution and failing multiple times will really help them gain an edge when they go to perform actual cybersecurity work after school in the real world.

Education Through Gamification

By turning K-12 student’s cybersecurity into a game, the likelihood they will both like the subject and retain the knowledge improves dramatically. Its likely that most students in this range play games every day, so by gamifying the subject you are introducing education into a framework they are already familiar with.

You can gamify the process by doing things like providing points, badges, & levels to the student’s coursework. This will closely mirror their education after K-12 if they choose actually to pursue a cybersecurity career. Most cyber training & education after school works on the badge or certification system. So if students are already familiar with this model, they will have a much easier time transitioning into the paid cyber industry.

Teach Them Continuous Improvement

If you are reading this and are already out of school, you probably recognize the fact that there wasn’t much emphasis given to the fact that you need to continue learning after school has ended. This can be one of the biggest benefits educators can give K-12 students when teaching cybersecurity.

The cyber industry changes on an almost weekly basis. That means if your students expect to get everything they need from school, they will come a to a stark realization when or if they ever decide to delve into the cybersecurity industry after school has ended.

Teach Them To Be Hackers

Yes, you read that right.  Often times when you hear the word hacker you may think of hacking computers. However, a hacking mindset only vaguely relates to computers. The truth is you can hack any process, system, or tool that you have access to.

This can include things like how a competition is scored, to the order in which someone may look something up like alphabetically. Now, most people don’t use a phone book anymore.

However, when phone books were popular, it was a common tactic for service providers to create a business name with “AAA,” “AA,” or “A+” at the beginning. This is basically a way you can hack a telephone book. Due to the alphabetical nature of phone books, people most often start looking in the “A” section first.

That means that these service providers with a variation of the “A” naming schema would show up literally at the front of the list. Basically, they hacked the phonebooks system for outlining the businesses inside of it. And by teaching students the logic surrounding how to hack systems, educators are improving their cybersecurity skills through experience.

–Sam Bocetta is a former defense contractor for the U.S. Navy and current freelance journalist. He specializes in writing about technological trends, current events, defense contracting, cyber warfare, cryptography, and cyber defense.

More on security

Coding and US Security

Hour of Code 101

Tech Tip for Teachers: Cover your Webcam


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today and TeachHUB, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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