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Second Place

6-8 | Health & Fitness | Real World Application or Field Study

Station KOCE in California

My Classroom Innovation

According to the Healthy Kids Survey, nearly 30% of 7th graders in our county report being bullied at school. These students report being physically or sexually harassed by students who are not “joking around.” The survey concludes that “too many of our children are being bullied in our schools, in the neighborhood, and in cyberspace.” In response to such findings, students and I began exploring what it means to bully, how to prevent bullying, and what to do if one is the target of or witness to bullying. Still, even with anti-bullying curriculum in place and a common language and awareness about bullying, I would see students engaging in bullying behavior. When asked about such behavior, students would often answer, “I was just kidding,” or “We’re just joking around.” Students in middle school are in an interesting developmental stage in which they search for their own identities by bouncing off of each other, and what they might sincerely perceive as playing or joking can be hurtful or quite damaging to their peers. As a result, using the PBS documentary, “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America”, I developed this five-week, project-based unit, “What is Funny? The Art of Comedy and Standing Up for Each Other.” In this unit, I make the claim that something is not funny unless EVERYONE is laughing. I contend that humor can isolate groups and/or individuals or can build community. Students watch various clips from Make ‘Em Laugh, identify various types of humor, and discuss the work of various comedians from Charlie Chaplin to the Simpsons. This unit is innovative because it integrates history, technology, character education, and writing, and more importantly, it challenges middle schoolers to look at their own thinking, reflect on the impact of their actions, and improve their school community.

How Students were Engaged

Students were engaged throughout this unit. In order to address the issue of middle schoolers saying, “We were just joking,” I made the claim that a joke is only funny if EVERYONE is laughing. If any student/group is being isolated (by race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc), then the joke is not funny. The kids participated in activities in which they placed jokes/events on a number line continuum between isolating or building community. For example, if someone calls a club on campus “gay,” is that isolating or building community? I made the claim with the students that the people in that club AND anyone who is gay is being isolated by that comment, therefore it’s not funny. So what is funny? Students next engaged in the study of comedy. I used selections from the PBS documentary “Make ‘Em Laugh: the Funny Business of America” to introduce American comedy. The students and I watched clips from comedians such as: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, the 3 Stooges, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Paul Lynd, Urkel, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, and the Simpsons. We discussed if the comedians were isolating individuals or building community, explored genres of comedy (such as parody, slapstick, and satire), and discussed historical perspectives. Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Using Make ‘Em Laugh, the middle schoolers laughed a lot together, and we definitely built community in our classroom and made differences in our school climate. The final project was for students to think about their thinking (meta-cognition) and create powerpoints about comedians. This unit gave students a framework for what “joking around” really means. In an exit survey, most students reported that they better understood how to build community and how to help end bullying on our campus.

PBS Program/Content Used

Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America