The Power to Enrich

Rocky View Schools

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Guest Author- Lauren Curry – A motley group of 30 teens, some wired, some waning, have just strolled back into the classroom from a hall break. The break has not been nearly long enough to exchange news of the latest drama that has unfolded that day. A chatter accompanies them as they enter. I transition into class-time by simply hitting play on my computer screen: a public service announcement from the Ad Council begins to project onto our class SmartBoard.  At about second eleven, not a voice was to be heard. My students proceeded to watch the commercial in silence.

Watch the 48 second video here: In the Kitchen – Cyberbullying Prevention Commercial

A few moments after the commercial ended, comments and questions began to abound.  First student: This would never happen. Second Student: No one would ever say those things in front of other people. Third student: Why would she say that in front of her mom? I could never do that in front of my mom! Fourth student: It just seems like a mean joke that is not funny.

We were getting somewhere… After discussing that, in fact, the video was intended to be satirical in its reframing of cyberbullying, we were ready to launch the research process.  Like the public service announcement, we needed to take it upon ourselves to bring cyberbullying out from behind the screen, into the open, and investigate the impact it has on very real people.

We formulated our inquiry questions and evaluated a variety of online resources for their reliability and relevance. There were many studies to be found, though the most recent research relevant to Canadians was a University of Toronto study done in 2008.

It was no surprise to these middle school students that over half of the total students surveyed in this study had been cyberbullied in some form. Further, 75% of those who admitted to cyberbullying someone had never bullied anyone offline, face-to-face.

This brought our class to an important conclusion. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to feel like they can hurt others without consequence; however, as soon as that anonymity is jeopardized, and their methods are exposed, cyberbullies quickly lose that sense of security and power.

So, we confirmed that, indeed, cyberbullying has become a widespread issue for Canadian teens; more importantly though, we learned that now, more than ever, schools, parents, educational psychologists, and local police forces are building tools to help solve the problem. You can check out Rockyview’s own Bill Belsey’s website for more on his efforts to battle against cyberbullying.

At this point, it is important to note that Rocky View’s Three Year Plan necessitates that learning be both responsive and generative in the 21st Century classroom.  It consists of continued responses to the learning that has taken place and further generation of more learning, as a result.  For me, as a teacher, this means that we didn’t brush off our hands and pack our bags after we learned some facts and statistics about the prevalence of cyberbullying. We needed to do something with that information. In Rockyview, students are encouraged to not only be media literate, but also to be civically engaged.  We confirmed that we have a serious problem; we decided to take action and try to be a part of a solution for our community.

I am reminded of Leslie Collings’ most recent blog, in which she shared the aspiration that students could be empowered by their learning environments to “feel confident that they could tackle any problem.”

Tackling the problem became our goal. In response to the new information we gathered, we decided to use our most powerful tool: our own voices.  We practiced the skill of persuasive letter writing and composed letters to the editor to speak out against cyberbullying. Many of these letters, with parental consent, we submitted to the editor of our local newspaper.  And wow, when students know they have a real audience for whom they are performing, does that motivation ever soar.  These guys planned, drafted, revised, edited, peer-reviewed, and revised again to finalize letters that stated clear, defensible positions, each with a voice that was uniquely their own.  I have learned that real world tasks motivate students. Of that, I am sure.

As with all real world problems, there is no single, certain solution. We can only hope, in this case, that the media works to fulfill its role in representing the voices of the community. Now, however “real world” this learning process may have been for my students… I must say I did make a personal call into the editor of the newspaper to impress upon him how absolutely thrilled he would make some 13 year olds if the their letters were “for real” chosen to be published…

Keep your eyes out in the opinion section of the Airdrie Echo!

About the Author: I am currently a middle school teacher  in Airdrie, Alberta. I have been teaching for two years, and  eagerly embrace Rocky View’s vision to engage, enrich, and empower our 21st Century learners.