Tag Archives: Students

How to Improve the World while Surfing the Internet

Do people even say “surfing the Internet” anymore?

Regardless of what we call it, we certainly do a lot of it! Lucky for us, the folks over at Tab for a Cause have developed a browser extension that donates to a charity of your choice every time you open a new tab. As part of our school’s Valentine’s Day campaign to do something nice for someone else, I started encouraging my students to being using Tab for a Cause. It’s an easy way to do good while simply doing all of the things you already do.

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Interested? Click here to get started. After creating a username, you can sign in on any device and the number of hearts that you earn (one tab = one heart) will sync across devices. I’ve been using Tab for a Cause for a while now and my stats page looks like this:

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Thanks for helping us make the world a better, more peaceful place.

#MeToo

There is only one way to begin this post, which is to acknowledge that I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky and that I’m writing from a place and position of privilege, safety, and security. I’m writing to honor the women and men who have come forward with their stories and to encourage those who remain locked in worlds of hurt and shame. If you haven’t spoken up because you feel that you have no one to tell, I’m here to listen to you.

I thought about writing this when the #MeToo movement first gained ground, but I didn’t. Again, I am incredibly lucky. I didn’t want my uncomfortable experience to be misconstrued as a cry for attention and I didn’t want it to take away from the “real stories” that people were telling. And frankly, my grandparents read this blog and this isn’t something I want them to read. (Sorry, grandparents.)

But the more I thought about it, half the problem is that I feel like I need to justify what I’m going to say. And then today happened.


A man filmed me while I was running this afternoon. I realized this as I ran towards him and he didn’t move from where he was standing on the path, holding up his phone. There was a glint in his eyes that went right through me and a leer that made his actions apparent. Instead of knocking his phone out of his hands or spitting at him, both of which I was close enough to do because I was hellbent on making it obvious that I knew what he was doing, I snapped, “Totally in the way” loudly enough for him to hear me and ran past him.

My heart rate sped up and I felt my legs begin to pump faster. Hello, fight or flight. I tried to relax my breathing and stopped running. I sat on the rocks by the beach until my body felt normal again.

This experience reminded me of being tickled from behind for the entirety of a crammed three-hour bus ride. It reminded me of all the times I’ve been whistled at, catcalled, stared at, and approached while walking down the street. I thought of the podcast I heard this morning about sexual assault in the entertainment industry. And I thought about the time I repeatedly used the words, “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, and “get off” before he finally did.

The only time I’ve ever alluded to this experience on this blog was when I wrote about my online dating experiences in New York. The guy I’m talking about is one I named “The Guy With Two Faces”. That post was supposed to be light, airy, and humorous.

This one is not.


The first night we went out, he walked me home and then asked if he could come up and use my washroom. I knew that was coming because he hadn’t let go of my hand for the entire walk. New York isn’t a city known for its public washrooms and it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Against my better judgement and because I really do understand that plight, I said yes.

He wasn’t the first person who had walked me home but he was the first to ask to come upstairs and I didn’t know how to get rid of him. I didn’t want him in my apartment. I didn’t want what was next in the script of “boy pays for a nice evening and girls pays him back”. But that’s the script we was running.

What made me uncomfortable wasn’t anything we did that night, but his insistence that we do it. In my experience, people are usually a little cautious at first and let me lead. That was not how this worked. He was very strong and forced on me things that I did not want. And I didn’t kick him or punch him or scream because I figured it was easier to play along. I also figured I’d given enough mixed signals because of my own confusion that he actually may not have realized that I did not want to participate. In many aspects of life, I am bad at saying no. This was no different.

We went out again because we did have a lot to talk about and he was really sweet over text messages. I reasoned that nothing had really been that bad, that I hadn’t gotten hurt, and that this time I just wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Easy enough.

But I hadn’t solved the problem of not knowing what to say when he asked if he could use my washroom. So again, he came upstairs. Again, I couldn’t get him to leave. I couldn’t figure out how to simply open the door and say goodbye. I failed at acting as my own agent.

This time, he wouldn’t put on a condom and all of my protesting and squirming didn’t seem to register. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t you trust me?”

Done playing, I replied, “No. I hardly know you.” And that was when I figured myself out. I kicked myself out from underneath him and shoved him off, which was easier than I had expected, likely because it came as a surprise. I told him to get out of my apartment.

I can’t actually remember what happened next. Part of me thinks he asked to take a shower and part of me thinks that if this happened, I probably said yes. But part of me thinks he just left. I’m sure it’s written in a journal somewhere but I really can’t remember. When I described this to several girlfriends later, I said he’d “given me sass about using a condom.” All could relate, too familiar with that scenario.

Reader, we out again. I was lonely, it was a nice day, and walking around the city with a buddy seemed like more fun than doing it on my own. He kept trying to direct our walk towards my neighborhood. I kept turning the other way. He finally said, “Look, I don’t have all day.” I made up a story about my roommate having friends staying with us.

“So?” he asked.

“I’m shy,” I said.

His hands were all over me in the middle of the street and he muttered, “You don’t look shy to me.”

I saw people on the opposite side of the street and loudly demanded, “Stop” and pulled away. He saw the people, too. He stopped and we kept walking. Eventually, he said he had work to do and led us towards his office. On a random street corner with no office in sight, he announced that we’d reached his destination. We said goodbye. I went into the first coffee shop I passed and sat there for hours.

I didn’t reply to the message he sent me weeks later and never saw him again.


Although I have a number of concerns and questions about the #MeToo movement, this is not the time for those. This is the time to say that yes, me.

And you, and you, and you.

I do not know anyone who has not been touched by this movement in some way, even if it’s just through degrees of separation. And in case someone in my world hasn’t understood that yet, here’s my story. So now you’re part of this, too.

As a society, I hope we can do two things to move forward. First, I hope we can talk to young people about what it means to have a relationship. We talk to students a lot about actions (this is what sex is, this an STD, this how to use a condom) but very little about what it means to love, value, and respect another person. Love is a verb. What does that verb mean? What does that verb require of you and of someone else? We need to talk about that. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about how we enter into relationships and why the agreement of both parties matters. We need to talk about how we relate as humans and how we come to know each other. Consenting to embark on any journey together is essential to the journey’s success. We need to have conversations about that.

Secondly, we need to allow adults to have conversations about the very human desire for intimacy. It’s still strange to me that so many people meet in the workplace and then feel the need to keep their relationships secret. After all, the workplace is where you’re supposed to turn off the part of yourself that is human. This then becomes the place where you’re probably the least honest with yourself and with those around you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a stranger to coffee, but you’re not supposed to think of a colleague, someone you actually know, in the same way. And if you do, and if you voice those thoughts, you run the risk of a sexual harassment claim even if a rejection is respected and never brought up again. Why is that? Why are we prohibited to be human around the people with whom we spend the most time?

I think these are questions worth considering and I know there’s more to ask, to say, and to do. We will have come a long way when #MeToo leads us to rebuild the society we live in.

Building Peace: Classroom Activities

The last week of the semester is always a bit of a challenge. Our second quarter grades were due last week and there’s little point in beginning something new that will be immediately interrupted by a three-week break.

For me, this week was the perfect time to do some work with peace and conflict resolution with my grade 10 students. As I’ve written before, I believe that building peace really ought to be the purpose of education and that we need to provide our students with a toolkit to build a better, more peaceful world. This year, I’ve tried to include those ideas in every topic we study.

In grade 10, we recently concluded a unit on genocide during which we discussed social enterprises, NGOs, and other organizations that are currently working to help affected communities move forward and improve the problems that have resulted from these atrocities. Spending a few days talking about peace and conflict seemed more than timely.

Below are three activities that I’ve developed and/or adapted from the United States Institute of Peace. You can download their Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators for free! These activities require students to talk with each other and move around, which is always helpful towards the end of a semester. They tend to work best with chattier groups, but even quieter students react pretty strongly.

Defining Peace
1. In pairs, ask students to come up with a definition of peace.

2. Each pairs partners with another pair, making a group of four. Ask the group to come up with a definition of peace that everyone can live with.

3. Two groups of four form a group of eight and repeat the exercise. (Split the groups of four as needed with a small class so that the whole class is ultimately in two large groups.)

4. Continue until the class is split into two groups and have each group write their final definition on the board.

5. The last part of this activity is to see whether the class can agree on a definition of peace, either by choosing one, combining the two options, editing, or writing something new entirely.

6. Debrief as a group about this process and how the definition changed and developed (or not!) as the groups changed. Compromise, learning from others, and agreeing with different ideas are usually the topics that come up. Some groups really enjoy the language structure component of this activity, as well.

Peace Scenarios
1. Ask students to keep in mind the whole-class definition of peace (or two definitions if the class couldn’t come to consensus). Create a continuum of peace along a wall with one side as 100% peace and the opposite as 100% not peace. The middle of the room is an even split between peace and not peace.

2. Present students with a variety of peace/not peace scenarios. They should place themselves where they fit along the continuum.

3. Page 31 of the high school toolkit from USIP has a list of scenarios representing personal, local, and international conflicts. I’ve found that Personal #2 (Your teacher accuses you of cheating on a paper, but you did not. You schedule a time after class to work out the
misunderstanding.) is great starting point and then I proceed from there in this order:

  • Personal #1 – You arrive at home and your mom has taken money off your dresser without asking. This frustrates you, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to cause a fight.
  • Local #2 – A school holds a charity event to raise money to build schools in an area affected by a natural disaster.
  • Local #3 – A high school hires armed security guards to manage school violence.
  • International #3 – Humanitarian aid with medical supplies and fresh water reaches a community affected by conflict.
  • International #4 – Children in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp are not able to go to school for fear of violence if they leave the camp.
  • (optional) International #1 – There are 300,000 child soldiers involved in conflicts around the world.

4. Many of my students are language learners and we do pause to make sure that everyone understands both the content and concepts in each scenario. Students move according to their opinions, which is also an opportunity to share with a classmate. This is particularly helpful for language support. Then, I call on them at random to justify their views.

5. I usually start with the students at the far extremes and then choose one in the middle and one or two others before opening the floor for anyone to share. If a student moves during the activity, I ask why. Some students will purposely take the opposite perspective from the majority of the class just for the sake of discussion, which is always really fun. I also allow students to question each other.

Over the Line
This is a really quick activity that I generally preface simply by telling students that it is related to peace and conflict.

1. Divide the class into two groups and have them pair up with someone from the opposite group.

2. Tell students that you will hand out specific directions to each group and give each student the instruction sheet from page 38 of the USIP high school toolkit. The instructions are identical and read as follows: You will be sentenced to life in prison in exactly 3 minutes. Your only chance to escape is if you can get your opponent to cross over to your side and stay there before the time is up. Good luck. 

3. Students are not to look at the directions until the activity begins.

4. Tell students to stand facing each other and draw an invisible line across the floor between them. Remind students that each group has specific directions and that their task is to accomplish the goal using any means except physical violence. Announce that they have three minutes to complete the task.

5. After three minutes, ask students who thinks they accomplished the task. (The solution is for the partners to trade places.) There is usually at least one group who read their instructions to each other, realized they were the same, and figured out the solution. Ask this group how they went through this process and why they chose to share their instructions. Ask a few other groups about their experiences.

6. Debrief as a class about how this activity relates to peace and conflict. Ideas that come up generally include trust, considering different points of view, compromise, and communication.


This is the type of work that I love doing and I was really glad to do these activities with my grade 10s this week, especially coming off of our unit on genocide. The classroom can be a powerful place if we’re willing to have conversations about difficult topics. I believe that this work is essential if we aim to improve our world.

I’ve used these activities for several years in grades 9 and 10 and would love to hear how they work for you in your classrooms! If you have your own peace and conflict activities to share, please do so. I’d love to learn from you.