A new educational website is showing students some valuable skills to fend off real-life and cyberbullies. Developed by LiveWires Design, Braincells uses quizzes, activities and mini-games to give teens a better understanding of just how serious hacking and bullying can be.
Told through sets of photo animations is the story of Oliver, a nerdy boy entering high school who is bullied by an older-boy, Eddie. Mini-games accompany each section of the site which is broken down into Hacking, Bullying and Cyberbullying areas.
In the first, Eddie tries to force Oliver to hand over his cellphone. Players use their knowledge of cellphone science to guide Oliver through the halls to safety. The second game creates an analogy between cellphone security and the walls of a castle, in a mini tower defence game. The last has a more serious theme as players chase Eddie, now an escaped felon, through the streets to arrest him.
Launched in March 2009, the program was adopted by the Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School District in Massachusetts, for use in their middle and high schools. Braincells also received an endorsement from Plymouth and Bristol District Attorneys who praised the valuable lessons being taught through the program.
“One of the biggest challenges facing kids today is how to navigate safely in this increasingly technical world,” said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, in a news release (PDF). “Today, kids often communicate on the internet and through cellphone text messages. Braincells not only teaches children appropriate cell phone behaviour, but it also helps them recognize unsafe behaviour.”
But the program goes beyond showing students how to protect themselves and teaches teens about the seriousness of bullying, pointing out the criminal nature of certain actions. Braincells quotes a British study which shows that more than 40 percent of students report that they have been bullied on-line, making electronic bullying one of the most pervasive problems in schools. Theft and extortion are also commonplace with 12 percent of students reporting having been forced to hand over a cellphone to a bully.
“By teaching our children how to respect one another in a world that is increasingly becoming an online one, we are preparing them for adult life and preventing bullying from growing into real life violence,” adds Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter.
There is even more to expect from Braincells. The web-based application will launch a new series of games and activities every four months, each featuring a new theme. Testing continues in Massachusetts, but also in schools in British Columbia and Manitoba.
“We will be revamping [Braincells] over the summer and launching formally in September. In the meantime, we are working on our next issue,” said Drew Ann Wake, president of British Columbia-based LiveWires Design, to Game Forward.
“Since our office is located a block from two Olympic venues, it was logical that the next theme will be Winter Sports! Games and activities dealing with fitness and nutrition will continue through to the end of the Games in February ,” added Wake.
After its first two months online, Braincells has already been tried by 2600 teachers in 25 countries. “Games for schools have slightly different requirements than casual games. Our teachers need to complete the programme in an hour, so the games have to be short enough so they do not overwhelm the other elements of the program,” says Wake.
Until September, both the old and new Braincells content will be available to users for free. After its launch, schools will be able to purchase a site license for use in as many classrooms as needed for $45 per school year.