Bullying has been an unfortunately hot topic in recent months, though not something new in our school communities. What is new are the creative ways educators, parents and students are choosing to address this issue. For the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum which I’ve posted on recently we’ve received two applications in the first round that took creative and innovative approaches to engaging students around this difficult issue. The first project gets its unlikely start in the art department of Beacon Heights Elementary School in Salt Lake City, UT.
Art specialist, Donna Pence works across all classes and grade levels in her K-6 school with a goal at the beginning of the year to have students show students responsible forms of behavior in and out of school. The project grew as general ed teachers integrated the topics of personal responsibility, sportsmanship, appreciating diversity and other similarly themed topics into their language arts curriculum. Younger students began with storyboarding and older students developed their persuasive writing skills all with the shared goal of producing a video “to teach and entertain” about responsible behavior. And the project took off from there! Students produced and staged skits, created rap music videos, puppet shows, claymation, Lego stop-motion video, and used various animation techniques. Working in collaborative groups students negotiated and problem-solved together working toward their share goal. The end result came with a number of creative videos that will be used in the following years to refresh this topic and introduce these ideas to new groups of students. All of the student work was then featured on a video night at the school’s annual fundraiser.
At the high school level, acknowledging responsible behavior, and moreover modeling it, can be even more challenging. In this project educator Colin Horak, Franklin Pierce High School, Tacoma, WA, seemed merely to have to step aside and let his 9th grade leadership team led by student Antonio “Tono” Sablan lead the way. Disturbed by the immature behavior being displayed by his freshman classmates at the beginning of the year leading to numerous fights and ill feelings among upperclassmen, Tono presented an idea to build tolerance among students and restore a positive image to the 9th grade class. He deemed it “Project Unite” with the goal “To unite all students. Regardless of their race, creed, sexuality, and/or other differences.” Tono developed a presentation which he shared with his leadership class. Immediately his fellow students jumped on-board, adopting a logo, creating signs, t-shirts and bracelets and shortly thereafter introduced Project Unite to the entire 9th grade class. The students maintained that the goal was to make their school a better place for all students.
Students then took photos of the diverse student body at Franklin Pierce compiling a moving PhotoStory that provided the backdrop for Antonio to deliver an eloquent speech to the entire school as part of a Martin Luther King Day assembly. And in his teacher’s words, “It was a powerful moment.” The 9th grade leadership class then followed this up with public service videos demonstrating appropriate and proactive ways to deal with immature and irresponsible behaviors, specifically focusing on how to change the behavior of bystanders who witness an inappropriate behavior and do nothing – a challenging, yet critical tact to helping to stop these irresponsible behaviors. The videos were then used across all 9th grade English classes to prompt class discussions around bullying, diversity and appropriate behaviors.
It is not surprising these stories resonate in the press as they demonstrate all of the qualities of a meaningful, engaging and student-driven learning experience. The thing I like the most about both of these projects is that in the end, it is students showing students. You have to believe it makes the learning more powerful and personal. Sure, there is certainly a technological slant, as the delivery in both of these projects used accessible tools like PowerPoint, PhotoStory and MovieMaker, but these were simply the tools to convey and deliver the message. Along the way students learned about developing a storyline, being persuasive, editing for clarity, working in teams, and producing a product that they can stand behind in front of their peers, parents, caregivers and the broader school community.
This is perhaps one of the best parts of my job, seeing all of these amazing educators, demonstrating real student impact in classrooms around the country, and we are humbled that they are taking the time to submit their projects to our Innovative Education Forum. It will be great to meet these folks in person in Redmond this summer. There are still a few days left to apply to this event as the deadline is May 15th, so if you are feeling inspired, we would love to see you this summer! If you have questions about the forum, please feel free to email us or post a comment here.
(aka putting the “Teach” in @TeachTec)