ARE there more teen pregnancies now than ever before? Are “kids these days…” more out of control, engaging in more risk behaviors and more likely to get pregnant in their teen years? Students start by guessing the answers to some key questions about sex – here’s the class sheet I used.
And then we discuss the way they will find out answers to their guesses using reliable, evidence-based, scientific sources that I provide for them. This is not a time to look stuff up on Google by themselves with these loaded questions. And searching for ‘teen sex’ is likely to come up with all kinds of inappropriate sites. Here is the link to today’s lesson plan which includes the links to reliable resources.
We talk briefly about scanning through charts and graphs looking for surprises – stuff that contradicts their guesses and anything else that startles them. That’s exactly what investigative journalists do – comb through boring-looking reports looking for the headline. In this case, it turns out that the headline “Today’s teens more responsible than you were!” would work. The trends with teen sexuality are by and large good news, well except when compared with other developed countries. That surprise leads to a short discussion of discrimination experienced even by the very privileged teens in my classes, just for being teens.
For controversial topics like sex education, it’s extra important to use reliable sources and avoid fake news. This dull, dull topic is also re-vitalized when considered in the context of using science to figure out why the birth rate among teens has dropped, and why it is higher in some parts of the country compared to others. If we could figure out what is making the difference, effective policy could save lives and help teens launch into their adult lives without unwanted pregnancies.
This is just one piece of our sex education curriculum that we’ve developed. If you want the lesson plans with links, go to my school loop website. Sex ed started on March 9th, 2017.
After teaching this for about 33 years, I thought you might like a little list of tips that have helped me:
- Talk over your sex ed curriculum with your administration ahead of time. You’ll need their support and backing. Sex ed stuff is the most likely part of the curriculum to get you into trouble with parents so front loading is extra important.
- Try to teach similar stuff as your grade level colleague.
- Share what will be taught at your grade level with parents in a neutral way – we have a folder of resources we use on Google Drive and shared the link with an e mail to parents from the principal. Parents can opt out.
- Don’t try to persuade parents who want to opt their child out. Provide work from a text book so you don’t have to design an alternative curriculum.
- Be clear that you are teaching information and not values. That’s up to families.
- Frequently encourage students to talk to their parents about sex etc.- parent/child open talk about sex is the single most important factor in reducing risk behavior in teens.
- Circulate a lot during activities, table discussions and while students are watching clips on their iPads etc. That’s when they might actually ask you a private, needed question. Many fewer parents that we think talk to their children openly about sex and yet we are in a culture saturated with it. They need a trusted, friendly and informed adult to talk to.
- We teach our own sex ed and don’t outsource it to experts who will not have the depth of relationships that we do with our students.
- Never, ever say “in my experience…”. Duh 🙂 And don’t share anything about your own private life.
- Have a question box but don’t answer crazy stuff about unicorns (“If a man gets an erection on his head, is he a unicorn.” Yes. Really.), and unserious questions that are designed to disgust or embarrass you. Also questions that are inherently racist, misogynistic etc. You are the teacher. Don’t be bullied by naughty boys (mostly) intent on a laugh.
- Re-phrase questions about your own sex life if the question seems serious. Re-phrase badly written questions that may have a serious point underlying them.
- Model being matter of fact.
- Talk about sex as an important part of life and a natural drive within the context of passing genes on to the next generation.
- Scare tactics backfire. Being embarrassed is hard to avoid at first but the more relaxed you can be, the better you convey that sex is a normal part of life.
- Give students time to practice talking about sex in mixed gender groups. It’s an important skill.
- Embarrassment about ‘privates’ kills – my poor grandfather did not talk about changes in his bowel movements until his colon cancer was very advanced and it nearly did kill him. You might have similar stories in your family.
- Re-phrase questions and answers in the third person. This avoids “You will find that…. ” which could seriously embarrass a student you might be glancing at accidentally. Generalizing “Many people find that…. ” is a safer way to phrase answers.
- Some of the questions in the question box suggest that my 7th graders are viewing porn – how do we address this? This is a serious question that I don’t yet have a good answer for. It’s so easy for students to see it – if not at a parents house, then at a friends house or on a friend’s phone. Porn consumption is having a real effect on adult relationships. What is it doing to our children? Our school community will need to engage with this question and soon.
Relaxing laundry list requirements for this traditional lab results in this:
Usually, it’s a slog through the parts of a flower, structure and function followed by a recall test. Kind of sucks the joy out of it and anyway, all that is available on the internet in one second.
Just asking the question “How do flowers work?” is a much more open ended and fascinating investigation. Students watch for pollinators, they look up a variety of search terms:
They examine their flowers and draw them from life. If they really struggle with drawing, I give them a little instruction on how to ‘see’ the flower and get started. If they were still struggling, I had them take a photo of their flower and put tracing paper over the iPad screen – it’s better than just downloading a photo I think for appreciating the minute beauty of nature. Which is part of the subtext of the lab of course.
We talk naturally about the co-evolution of pollinators and flowers, about the benefits of cross-pollination.
Students who are confused about how to move beyond the structure and function grid, I ask them to tell the story of how pollinators are attracted to the flower, how they are guided for where to go etc. in a 1, 2, 3 kind of way.
Circulating, praising, poking flowers around with kids looking on, we are all fascinated with the pollen under the binocular microscopes. It’s pin-drop quiet right now with my squirmy 5th period completely absorbed in the old-fashioned art and science of making a nature notebook sketch to show others how flowers work. With classical music playing. So yeah, I have the best job in the world.
Instead of giving extra credit for extra greatness, I gave extra kudos by making a display of the best ones in the display boxes outside the school office. Kids are excited to see each other’s work. Should have thought of this years ago!
Here’s what we did today in the wake of this:
And also, let’s be honest, because trying to get across the importance of using reliable sources and evidence is one of the hardest concepts and skills to teach. Something that might help keep democracy working.
Here’s what worked so well today that we were stunned when the bell went. So interesting to hear their thoughts about all this.
1. What is ‘truth’? Are there different kinds of truth? Why does truth matter? How is science related to truth? Similies? Opposites? Is it good or bad? When? Examples of useful truths and destructive lies. Write on your whiteboard. Share out in a ‘Socrates Seminar’
2. Write about truth for 5 minutes in your journal.
3. Look up ‘truth’ on Wikipedia. Translate to simple English. How does it compare to what you wrote?
4. Read about fake news. Pick any of these:
- Snopes.com list of fake sites and definition of ‘click-bait‘.
- SF Chronicle Students and Fake News article.
- Why Fake News is written – NY Times article about the election.
- Here is a fact-checking site – Snopes.com or FactCheck.org Find something that surprised you.
- And a NYTimes article about the effect of social media and our grip on the fact-checked truth.
- Fake news compared to real news in the run up to the election. Vox article and graph.
- The effect of fake news on international elections NYTimes article
- Ways to spot fake news from USAToday
5. Answer at least a couple of these questions in your journal:
- What is ‘fake news’? Why is it created?
- What was the most surprising ‘fake news’ you found? What was so surprising?
- Why do people write, believe and spread fake news?
- How can you tell if news or information is fake or reliable?
- Why is fake news such an important issue in society right now? What are hallmarks of reliable, evidence-based information?
- What can you and your friends do to improve the amount of real news shared on social media?
6. Discuss what you learned about the importance of evidence-based information in science and in society. (And therefore why it’s important to use and cite reliable sources!)
The specifics of exactly how to run the re-wilding project with your students, from us at Orinda Intermediate School to colleagues at NSTA Portland!
Preparing kids for the dog-eats-dog real world of work…
Noticing patterns in data is a story – the initial ‘set’ is the experimental question. The data has hidden in it the resolution, at least partially. Like a joke with a set, an expected outcome and the sudden switch to something that is incongruous and yet makes sense. Unexpected truth looked at in a different way: why scientists are so fascinated is at least in a way, similar to reading a compelling and complex story that in science, never really ends.
How wrap up the cool shoe box competition: data collection and analysis with a minimum of time wasting frustration…