Posted by Andrew Ko
Senior Director, U.S. Partners in Learning, Microsoft

It’s hard to ignore the pictures in the news of bright-eyed young boys and fresh-faced teen girls with infectious smiles, full of life, and a future full of potential placed under the headline ‘Bullied to Death.’

Bullying is one of the most pervasive issues affecting every school in the country on campus and online, and is a challenge that parents, teachers and administrators are tasked with tackling every day. With the vast use of social media, the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” has become a thing of the past. Words have become powerful enough to drive students to tragically end their young lives.

Bullying has emerged as a top theme among the applications for Microsoft’s 2011 US Innovative Education Forum (IEF), with several teacher applicants submitting lessons that use Microsoft technologies to help address the issue of bullying. These teachers are among 100 U.S. educators selected to attend the U.S. IEF, presented by Microsoft Partners in Learning. Microsoft will honor these educators for their creative and effective use of technology in the classroom to improve learning outcomes for every student’s future. The projects centered on bullying impart knowledge while addressing a serious problem facing students of all ages.

At Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma, Wash., there were a large number of fist fights at the beginning of the school year. Colin Horak’s 9th grade leadership class took on the challenge to address the problem and restore the freshman class’ reputation, working together on Project UNITE by adopting the universal hand sign for ‘I Love You’ as the logo to represent the campaign.

They also created a moving PhotoStory music video, two public service videos, as well as t-shirts and signs. These were used in a presentation to the entire freshman class about making the school a better place for all students. Horak noticed that students in his class improved their attendance and academic performance because they felt like respected and appreciated members of the group and the overall mission.

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Another project example comes from Beacon Heights Elementary School in Salt Lake City, where an anti-bullying project stemmed from an unlikely source: The school’s art teacher specialist, Donna Pence. The project, called “Art, Bullying, and Videotapes,” started with the idea of having students show one another responsible forms of behavior inside and outside of school. Projects included staged skits, music videos, puppet shows, Claymation, stop-motion video and animation with Windows Moviemaker and Windows Media Player.

During the assignment, students learned to work together and problem solve to achieve their goal of producing their videos. The projects were debuted on a video night at the school’s annual fundraiser, and will be used next year to introduce the idea of responsible behavior to a new group of students.

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Microsoft is committed to the education of our children, creating software and programs to teach and inspire them to strive for a successful future. Student safety has always been and will continue to be a top priority for the company, which is why it is so gratifying to see Microsoft software being used to address such a wide-spread issue that affects children of all ages.

At Amazing Grace Christian School in Seattle, Michelle Zimmerman saw the root of bullying take the form of nurturing. Michelle began the lesson ‘From the face in the webcam to the face of humanity: Pre-teen researchers influencing little lives’ and assigned her middle school students preschoolers to mentor and instructed them to use a webcam to help research and document the development of their ‘buddies’ through human connection.

Michelle noticed the boys showed the most verbal enthusiasm and traced it back to male dominance hierarchies and its commonality in schools as boys attempt to assert their status among classmates. Through the work mentoring younger boys, Zimmerman noticed the middle school boys felt a raised status because the preschoolers looked up to them. This observation prompted the discussion of bullying behavior and how the leadership role the students were learning in the lesson can improve social interactions among their peers.

Horak, Pence and Zimmerman will join more than 100 innovative teachers at the Microsoft U.S. Innovative Education Forum from July 28-29 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. In addition to the anti-bullying projects, other teacher submissions this year address topics such as engaging students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, starting their own business and learning financial responsibility, and effectively implementing social media in the classroom. The IEF provides a forum for these innovative teachers to come together, share best practices and be honored for their amazing work. I look forward to watching them share their projects and collaborate to continue shaping education for our next generation!

To read more about the remaining teachers and their projects selected to attend the U.S. IEF, please visit our TeachTec blog.