Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cartoon Network Tackles Bullying

Bullying has been all over the news in Massachusetts the last few months, and many of the headlines have gained attention nationally. Bullying is a hot topic (the teenage pregnancy of 2010, as I say), and viewpoints about the issue run the gamut.

Today it was announced the Cartoon Network is planning an anti-bullying campaign directed at middle school students. As Neil Swidey mentioned in a recent piece for the Boston Globe Magazine (and many anti-bullying curricula address) the role of the bystander in bullying situations is critical in defusing bullying situations (see an earlier post of mine in the topic). By focusing on the role of the bystander, the network is going to feature anti-bullying content directly in their cartoons, advertisements, and an online curriculum. CNN is partnering with Cartoon Network to provide information for parents to supplement the information kids receive. As mentioned in the article linked above, the "bridging of generations" is a unique element to this campaign. It's fighting a two front war on bullying, and as Hitler found out, two front wars are tough to fight if you're in the middle.

Bullying has always been around, and the attitudes prevalent when adults were children may not apply anymore. Today's middle school students have to deal with around the clock access to bullying through technology: cell phones, Facebook, and other media devices are all culprits in today's bullying age; not to mention the "old fashioned" methods. Cartoons have also been around for a while, and this process is simply taking something that currently exists and tweaking it to fit a need of the times.

I give a big thumbs up to the network for going after this topic after a poll of their audience (children) listed bullying as a main concern...which was not at the top of the list for parents. The campaign plans to use teachable moments in their cartoons, and the online component will contain more information too. Teachable moments might as well be under my interests on Facebook...I point them out whenever I can, about any topic (even unrelated to health), in my classroom. I will point out that this does not replace the need for parents to have timely, important conversations with their children about bullying and other loaded adolescent issues.

Efforts like this on a variety of health topics are needed in order to address the multitude of issues facing today's youth. There are clearly companies willing to tackle the tough issues. We need more motivated, enthusiastic, outside-the-box-thinking individuals to step up to the box! The Cartoon Network and CNN partnership could be a precedent for the future. Imagine the combinations that could be formed to tackle issues!

Jamie Oliver TED Speech & School Lunch Links

I have heard snippets from Jamie Oliver's TED speech, but had never watched the whole thing. Jamie has his critics, but he is tackling a huge issue that has long term implications. Check out his speech below and you will NOT be disappointed.

Also, two blogs to point out, which I may have mentioned earlier. I follow both blogs through my Blogger account and my RSS feed.

Mrs. Q blogs over at, and has built up an extensive following of readers. She has appeared (anonymously) on Good Morning America, and her blog chronicles her mission to eat school lunch every school day for a year. She is bringing a lot of attention to the need for change, and her pictures are always a treat! Featuring guest bloggers from a diversity of interests, this blog is a must see!

Ali, over at, is a food service director in Massachusetts who calls herself "the next generation lunch lady." She brings her college education and chef experience to the lunch room in an attempt to improve the quality of school lunch. Read it and hear from someone on the front lines! Seeing as she is also from MA, maybe the future will see us collaborate with other teachers, school food service workers, and districts to help create change within our lunchrooms.

Here is Jamie Oliver's speech:

Monday, May 17, 2010

PBS Frontline in the Classroom

I'm not a big fan of using videos in health class. Even if I did use them a lot, I wouldn't have enough time in 45 minutes to use a decent full-length video, and would never dare to take up multiple classes unless the video was REALLY good. I do use video clips in a variety of ways, especially if I can find one that's up to five minutes long and can introduce a topic, reinforce a point, or tie together loose ends during a lesson.

In order to use video clips, I use a Firefox add-on to download YouTube videos. I can't access YouTube at school, so I make sure to get the leg work done at home. However, sometimes I find a longer clip that begs to be shown, and sometimes this happens to be streaming online.

Enter PBS Frontline. I used this last year during a unit on advertising (using resources and clips from The Persuaders) and I just recently showed some clips as part of our ongoing unit on HIV/AIDS Education. I used parts of two clips, about twenty minutes total, in some of our past classes. The episodes can be viewed online in segments, eliminating the need to download any videos. The segments break up longer episodes, making it easier to pause and ask questions/refocus students during segments.

Frontline contains episodes about a myriad of topics, and the collection of episodes on their website is extensive. If you click on the "Watch Online" link, there are consistent episodes going back to 2003, with a few select episodes going back to the 1980s. A great advantage of using Frontline clips/episodes is the extensive amount of extra material accompanying each topic. Interviews, timelines, maps, charts, articles, etc are all provided. These resources can prove to be a huge asset when trying to supplement curriculum material or expand upon information on a higher level. I highly suggest you try using clips from Frontline in your classroom!

If I do use longer videos in class, I have a specific exercise students complete as the video plays. I'll be sure to post that soon. As always, please e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Go Ask Alice!

Providing teenagers with accurate, up-to-date health information is critical to any health curriculum. While difficult to do, there are numerous resources available in today's technology-filled world. In addition to using Google Reader, I've been using a resource that has been around since 1993.

Go Ask Alice is run by Columbia University (specifically the Alice! Health Promotion Program, a division of Columbia's Health Services), and the website contains information on a variety of health topics: alcohol & other drugs, fitness & nutrition, emotional health, general health, sexuality, sexual health, and relationships. Users submit questions that are answered by team members who have "advanced degrees in public health, health education, medicine, and counseling." Information is constantly updated, and articles that have new information have their own section. As the website states, "Go Ask Alice! is a health Q&A Internet resource. It provides readers with reliable, accurate, accessible, culturally competent information and a range of thoughtful perspectives so that they can make responsible decisions concerning their health and well-being. Information provided by Go Ask Alice! is not medical advice and not meant to replace consultation with a health care professional."

Users can sign up for e-mail updates as well. This resource has been helpful to me when a student asks a "loaded question" in which I have to tread carefully around my response, especially with sexuality issues. Check out this timely and important resource for accurate information on a variety of topics!

NOTE: Some of the sexuality information is way beyond the curriculum for middle school students. Use your discretion if you allow students to browse the website on their own.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Melanoma & Sun Exposure: Melanoma Prevention Experts Project

I'm hoping to have a few posts this week about our melanoma and sun exposure unit that we're just finishing up. This year I've been able to utilize different resources and try some new lessons out, and I'd like to share them.

In 8th grade we have a unit on the topic of sun exposure and melanoma. Focusing on the preventative angle, we use modules from the "Take Control of Your Sun Exposure" binder of the Michigan Model for Health Education. Our students do receive basic information on melanoma in seventh grade if we have time during our trimester together. This information is provided free to us by the Melanoma Education Foundation, and we get into more detail in 8th grade. The Michigan Model contains modules that we can use, in any order, to supplement what the students already know.

Initially, many students wonder why we learn about melanoma and sun safety. It can be a rather bland topic to many. I'm still figuring out if the unit actually creates behavior change, but if anything it makes them more aware of the need for sunscreen and other forms of sun protection. I'll have the results from a pre-test/post-test (not actual graded tests) next week, and I'd like to try to reword it so I can get an idea of any behavior changes that occur as opposed to just knowledge. I do notice that eventually, it gets a little more exciting.

The end-of-unit assessment I use for this unit is called, "Melanoma/Sun Exposure Prevention Experts." I want my students to show their expertise relating to tanning, sun exposure, and melanoma. A PDF is at the end of this post; here are the objectives (and changes I would make in parentheses):
  1. Identify at least seven facts about sun exposure, tanning, and/or melanoma
  2. Describe at least three ways people can protect themselves from the sun (and how these will protect them)
  3. Create an action plan, utilizing the three protection methods above, (that will reduce the risk of harm from sun exposure)
  4. Advocate for the importance of sun protection in teenagers (and defend your reasoning)
Those are the objectives, on a basic level. I toyed with the idea of going more in depth with my explanation, but I kept it simple for now. More likely than not they will be re-written for next year.

Well, how are students accomplishing these objectives, you ask? Anyway they want that is approved by me. I want students to dip into their creative sides during this unit. I book the laptop carts for this unit, and most projects are submitted electronically. Students simply drop their file into a "drop" folder with my name on it, and I can open it from my computer and grade it. It makes the whole process a lot easier! I give examples of project ideas on the handout: posters (created in PPT, similar to how research posters are created, except these are never printed), songs, essays, comic strips, stories, radio shows, etc. For this trimester, I'm asking the students to stay away from Power Point. That's too basic; I want them to challenge themselves.

The "Prevention Experts" theme could work well with any topic in health education. I've used this idea for my ATOD unit and have tweaked it so it's never the same. It can be different depending on the objectives of each unit, too.

Some examples from last trimester of this project:
  • An educational Power Point, using the MTV show Jersey Shore as a main component (the characters frequently tan as part of their G.T.L. (gym, tan, laundry) routine).
  • A song called "Brown" set to the music of the song, Down by Jay Sean ("So baby don't worry: you can use bronzer, or a self-tanner....are you brown, brown, brown?...")
  • Adapted lyrics to the hit song Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees, with a guest appearance from yours truly ("Whether you're a mother or whether you're a brother you got mel-a-noma, mel-a-noma...Well I can't run, and I can't hide, from the blaring sun, right in the sky....")
All of the above did accomplish the project objectives, and did so in a creative way that went beyond just putting facts on a poster. While the objectives for this trimester's project are a little different (I'm always revising...heck, as I was typing this I noticed something I wanted to change in the objectives), the above examples are worth mentioning.

After day one of this project with trimester three, some ideas from my current students: an audio-story, a cartoon strip (created using a computer program...I can't recall the name), a melanoma rap, and a short story, among others. When I used this last year for sexual harassment (before we switched things around), most students tended to shy away from the longer writing pieces, but I did receive a couple stellar essays, persuasive letters, etc about the issue from students.

For a PDF of this project, please click here! It may very well change by the next time you check back in (if you do at all), so make sure you adapt it for your own use! As always, please feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Recent Bullying In the News

Neil Swidey wrote a piece for the Boston Globe Magazine this weekend about stopping bullies, and examined varying viewpoints on effective/ineffective bullying prevention programs. I've always like Swidey's pieces, and he certainly brings up some valid points about bullying prevention in schools. Swidey focuses on the role of bystanders in bullying situations, something we talk about in sixth grade health. The curriculum we use for bullying prevention is a familiar one, Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders. This is a research based curriculum used in schools all over the country. Numerous government organizations sing its praises, and it gets high marks from independent reviewers. Due to adding more to our curriculum, we don't get to cover all of the lessons in AVB, so we combine them when we can in order to get as much out as possible.

To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of AVB. Don't get me wrong, it has its good parts. In my opinion, the best part about AVB is their focus on the three roles people play in any given bullying situation: the aggressor (bully), victim, and bystander. I tend to try to emphasize the role of a bystander, and their ability to either positively or negatively influence a bullying situation. This, combined with strategies students can use to prevent issues from happening, is great information for students to know.

While the material and content in any curriculum might stay the same over time, I feel the way AVB is presented is outdated. For this trimester, I'll most likely try to reproduce the handouts to make them more appealing to this age group while still maintaining the integrity of the curriculum objectives. I'm surprised the publishers of AVB, Teenage Health Teaching Modules, haven't updated the curriculum at all. Talking about portable CD players and rollerblades doesn't really stick with the kids in my classroom.

I do think, as Swidey mentions in his article, that most anti-bullying programs (AVB being one) make standing up to a bully seem "Overly simplistic." If teachers present information to students that seems to be unrealistic, then they're going to zone out. As teachers, we need to engage in conversations with students, understand their beliefs/perceptions/influences, and then go from there. Some students of mine really do believe that anything can be talked out if both sides are willing to do so. Others hear that and laugh, literally. This may be one reason this statement can be so shocking: "None of the current anti-bullying programs, despite their fanfare, have been successful in reducing actual bullying among American students in a meaningful way." Determining why this happens is beyond the scope of this post, and the theories behind what is effective or ineffective are as numerous as there are people. Maybe, right now, someone is figuring that answer out.

The bigger news story around here is Governor Deval Patrick signing an anti-bullying bill into Massachusetts law. With it comes the requirement for all schools to provide "age appropriate instruction on bullying prevention," as well as professional development relating to bullying for all staff. I briefly discussed this change with my principal today, and will likely discuss it with our curriculum director at our meeting later this week. It will be interesting to see the changes that schools across the commonwealth make as a result of this bill! Check back for later posts as we develop a plan to meet the needs of this new law.

As always, please feel free to e-mail me with questions, comments, or concerns.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Technicolor Feedback

My school is experiencing a paper shortage. We ran out of paper last year with a few weeks left, which wasn't that big of a deal. However, this year we ran our pretty early, and the paper has been pretty low around here, despite ordering more. I'm waiting for some black market type activity to pop up... :)

This has affected how I teach and made me think about the role of paper in a classroom. Obviously, in a perfect world, everything would be electronic. We're not there (yet), so we have to adapt. When I assign projects, I pass out rubrics to each student so they can see what they're be graded on. I state the objectives and assign point values based on how well the students accomplished those objectives. Standard operating procedure for any teacher.

Well, one paper per student quickly adds up over the course of three grade levels, three trimesters, and many projects. I do double side the papers (the assignment sheet is usually on the back), but now I have stopped doing that.

I'm trying something new.

Instead, whenever a project is assigned, I'm going to have the rubric zoomed in on my Smartboard. I also will have three or four copies hanging up around the room for the students to view. These rubrics are comprehensive in nature and look like your typical rubric: set up in chart form, differing point values explained, etc. I'm not going to give each student a copy of the full rubric: we will go over it in class, and it is then their responsibility to know the rubric and consult the copies hanging up around the room if they have questions. I'll probably upload a copy to the homework calendar, too.

Now, I'm going to try something called technicolor feedback. I learned about this from the wonderful teacher who taught the course, The Skillful Teacher for my district (FYI, if you get to take this course...take it!). We had completed a paper assignment, and as we got the assignments back we noticed they were very colorful. Our teacher had used colored highlighters to highlight parts of our paper based on how well we accomplished the objectives. She gave us a reference sheet so we could decode the meanings of the colors and determine what our strengths and weaknesses were for the assignment.

The order of the color scheme could be whatever, from low to high: blue, green, orange, yellow, pink. Each color would represent how well a student completed each objective.

For example, here's how I could use it in my 8th grade health class; these objectives are currently being tweaked for a project relating to melanoma/sun exposure (which I plan to post about this week). The objectives could be:
  • Identify at least seven facts about sun exposure, tanning, and/or melanoma
  • Describe at least three ways a student can protect themselves from the sun
  • Create an action plan utilizing the three ways described above
Or, whatever the objectives are for the project. I'd print them as written on a piece of paper (leaving space for teacher comments!), and it's incredible how much paper you save. As I'm grading the project, I'll mark each objective with the appropriate color highlighter. When the students get their grades back, they'll know how they performed for each objective/part of the rubric. The students can look at the rubric and color keys around the room, and I'll have the color code on the Smartboard as I hand back their grades, too. The rubric takes up far less paper space (I'm working to get four on one page), and it's visual. Initially, the students might be confused, but by being consistent with coloring, they can eventually catch on; e.g. yellow always being the highest score possible. Then, they can see what they did or didn't do well.

This requires multiple highlighters. I bought a box of highlighters (24 total; 12 yellow, 6 pink, and 2 each of blue, green, and orange) at Costco for less than ten dollars, even though I don't need 24! I could have the students do a peer-evaluation or self-assessment using the same method, too. Of course, a self-reflection after the assignment on what they can improve in is always a good idea!

I'll post back once I've used this a few times between now and the end of the school year, explaining how things went. As always, please feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moving Forward

I was having a discussion with a colleague of mine about teaching, and how in an ideal world we would be able to teach everything until the students master whatever objectives we're trying to teach. Then, we would move on. Everything would be differentiated and specific to each child's unique learning abilities. Ah, in a perfect world!

But, why can't we make this happen? We can, of course. The initial ground work is substantial, but after that it can be very worthwhile. My current goal for the summer is to figure out how to provide such an experience for my students. Some of my students are capable of going so much deeper into topics and aren't able to because of different limitations, mostly due to time and other parts of the curriculum to cover. Another challenge for me is to not step on the toes of the high school teachers, whose curriculum does go into more detail, expanding upon the knowledge students gain in middle school. I also don't want to take away from the objectives of our curriculum.

As I was going over some student work this week, a thought occurred to me. The assignment was a list of divergent questions relating to sexual harassment. These types of questions have no specific answer; they're open ended. Instead of trying to find the answer that may be deemed correct, the students are asked to think critically about the content. I read about these types of questions specifically for health topics in the American Journal of Health Education, and adapted them for use during our sexual harassment unit in eighth grade. I viewed it as an opportunity to hopefully allow students to think about sexual harassment in different ways, as well as to think on a higher level.

A lot of the answers were great! However, some of the students didn't quite make the connections I wanted them to. Others had some great points, but I wanted clarification on their answers. When I was writing comments (a whole other post in itself...comments, their effectiveness, and if they influence student involvement/accountability) I thought, "I wish this was an ongoing conversation between the students and myself." Ideally, I would hand the papers back and have the students answer my questions. I would merely be guiding them. Then I would make comments, and the process would repeat itself. I'm not sure why I don't do this, to be honest. It makes perfect sense.

If a class is really getting into a unit (or even a lesson, or series of lessons within that unit), then why can't I spend more time on it? I'm lucky enough that my middle school has three years of health education classes, and we do cover a lot. But, I still wish I could take more time to cover the topics when the kids really show passion about what we're doing, instead of moving on because I have to cover x,y, and z. I don't want to come off like I'm complaining (I'm just stating facts), but with education today there's so much to cover.

In times like these I find myself craving the opportunity to be teaching language arts, or freshman writing lab. Then, I would be able to work with students as they write and revise, refocusing their efforts and honing their words, and I'd be able to take part in this continuous dialogue of learning.

So, I'm going to try this with my assignments. I'm not really sure how it will work out, or how I will do it with three different grade levels. Because it's currently the third trimester, I see kids every day and only have 125ish students. For trimesters one and two, when I see them every-other-day, I'll have about 220 students. This could prove to be very time consuming!

There is a way to get it done. I just need to find out how I can to fit my teaching situation. In my view, it's using Google Docs, or Moodle, or something to do with technology. I think I've found something to do this summer after I get home from working the summer recreation program.

I know students get a solid health class experience in my classroom, and the other health classroom in my building. To me, there's still a lot to do, but I'm on my way.
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