Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sex Education Across the World

The article resonated for me less for the subject of sex education and more as an illustration of the importance of student relevancy in the classroom. 

As the article attests, most students (around the world) feel schools do a poor job teaching SRE (Sex and Relationship Education) because the content and delivery of the course do not reflect what students actually see and experience outside of the classroom. 

This can include the following: 
  • Being sexually active when most SRE courses espouse abstinence-only strategies
  • Knowing and/or being  gay, bisexual, transgender when SRE courses focus exclusively on heterosexuality
  • Wanting opportunities to talk confidentially about their lives when SRE courses are most often taught by school teachers rather than outside specialists
It’s not surprising that sex education is a controversial subject, not only in the United States but around the world, as it typically is filled with religious, social, parenting, and/or political beliefs and implications. 

Yet the result is middle and high school kids not getting the information, advice, and counseling they so want and need. 

And when kids don’t see relevance and connection to their lives in their classrooms, everyone loses. 

The implication for Trinity, an elementary school, is to keep striving for both the ‘what' and ‘how' we teach to be relevant to our students and to their lives at the moment. Last year as we developed the six pillars of what drives our program, we included under Cherish Childhood "design experiences around what is important in the life of a child.” 

Students would greatly benefit if SRE programs tried to do this.



In most countries across the world, school do not acknowledge that sex education is a special subject with unique challenges, and as a result are doing a huge disservice to young people and are missing a key opportunity to safeguard and improve their sexual health, conclude researchers.

They base their findings on 55 studies which explored the views and experiences of young people (age 12-18) who had been taught sex and relationship education (SRE) in school programs in the UK, Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Iran, Brazil and Sweden.

The researchers synthesized the feedback and found that despite the wide geographical reach of the studies, young people's views were remarkably consistent.

Two overarching themes emerged.

The first was that schools fail to recognize the distinctive and challenging nature of SRE, for the most part preferring to approach it in exactly the same way as other subjects.

Yet the feedback indicated there are distinct challenges when teaching SRE: in mixed sex classes young men feared humiliation if they weren't sexually experienced and said they were often disruptive to mask their anxieties; their female class mates felt harassed and judged by them.

Young people also criticized the overly 'scientific' approach to sex, which ignored pleasure and desire, and they felt that sex was often presented as a 'problem' to be managed. 
Stereotyping was also common, with women depicted as passive, men as predatory, and little or no discussion of gay, bisexual, or transgender sex.

The second principal theme was that schools seem to find it difficult to accept that some of their students are sexually active, leading to content that is out of touch with the reality of many young people's lives and a consequent failure to discuss issues that are relevant to them.
This was evident in what young people perceived as an emphasis on abstinence, moralizing, and a failure to acknowledge the full range of sexual activities they engaged in. 

But it also manifests in a failure to deliver helpful and practical information, such as the availability of community health services, what to do if they got pregnant, the pros and cons of different methods of contraception, or the emotions that might accompany sexual relationships.
The evidence suggests that young people themselves want SRE to be taught in schools, using an approach that is 'sex positive' -- one that aims for young people to enjoy their sexuality in a way that is safe, consensual, and healthy.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Empowering Students in the Classroom

This week’s article summary is Lessons Learned Going Back to School.

The focus is on a math teacher who after attending graduate school full time decided to implement more progressive, child-centered teaching strategies  in her classroom.

Enthusiastic to change from more traditional lecture style, she found the implementation to student-voice/choice and inquiry-based learning much more challenging in reality compared to the ideal of her graduate school studies.

However, she persisted (as she expects from her students), continually assessing and adjusting as needed, and ultimately found success in smaller rather than bigger ideas and initiatives. 

The article resonated for me because her experiences are what we—as teachers--all deal with: not only balancing traditional and progressive teaching methods but having periodic doubts and questions about our effectiveness in the classroom, I.e., are my students really learning.



After being in graduate school full-time and then returning to the classroom as a teacher, I was ready to move away from the comfortable (and manageable) lecture-and-note-taking pedagogy I used before.

I was psyched to bring high-level tasks, cognitive demand, meaningful math discussions, and effective group work to my classroom.

But making these changes was not a simple matter.

As a teacher, talking less and asking students to take more responsibility for their learning involved layers of complexity that I had not anticipated.

For example, many students and parents believed that a good mathematics teacher could and would clearly explain the concepts and procedures before students tackled a problem and that struggling with the material was a bad sign.  

Here are some of the challenges I faced especially in the opening weeks of school:
  • Building on student thinking was difficult without classroom norms that supported productive student work
  • Encouraging students to use mathematical reasoning and persist with solving problems didn’t make me feel successful and competent
  • Figuring out what I should do next and managing classroom time often kept me from using real-time assessments to respond to students’ understanding.

The whole approach often felt as uncomfortable as ill-fitting shoes. Secretly, I longed to just ‘show and tell’ for a while. I began to grow weary and unsure of myself.

But I persisted and by the end of the year, my students were getting into a groove.

The three key lessons I learned were:

Think big – and small; My big-picture goal for the year – implementing student-centered instruction that helped develop students’ persistence in solving problems – was hard to measure day by day, and as a result, I often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. To maintain my sanity, I set smaller, weekly goals that were way-stations to the ultimate outcome. Some examples:
  • Showing student work on a document camera at least twice weekly
  • Preparing and asking one high-level question each day
  • Anticipating students’ strategies for one core lesson
  • Using a written record for real-time assessments
  • Using student work in the summary phase of lesson             

Limit initiatives to those that support the big goal: As we try to change and grow our practice, whether self-driven or motivated by policy or district-level change, we will encounter more ideas than we can possibly implement in a year or even our whole career. It pays to focus on a smaller set of objectives, and for a while, selectively choose initiatives that fit those goals. For example, I went to a workshop that presented 50 great classroom apps and chose two that specifically encouraged mathematical communication and offered assessment strategies that support multiple competencies.

Collaboration is key: My biggest support came from working alongside other mathematics teachers. I co-taught, observed colleagues, discussed goals (big and small), monitored students’ progress, and (with some trepidation) invited other teachers to observe my teaching and give feedback. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Benefits of Being Fidgety

This week’s article summary is Why Fidgeting is Good Medicine.

Last week I wrote about two teachers who made a tremendous impact on me as a student and as a person and who inspired me to become a teacher. 

While I don’t remember for sure, my guess is they allowed me to be 'my fidgety self' in class. 

I’m not so attention deficit or hyperactive that I need medication, but I know from ample experience as a kid and as an adult that I focus, concentrate, and learn best when my body can be physically active. When confined to sitting, I have to keep my legs moving up and down like a piston.

When I was a student in middle school, the most difficult 40 minutes of the week was Quaker meeting when we were expected to sit still, be quiet, and think 'deep thoughts.' 

As an adult, I don’t relish all-day educational conferences and workshops as all too often I am expected to sit listening for extended periods of time. Usually, I try to find a seat near the back of the room, so I can get up every twenty minutes or so and stand for a bit. 

When taking notes or even just listening to a speaker, I need to doodle (usually random geometric shapes) in order to concentrate. People around me might think I’m daydreaming and not listening when in fact the random doodling is a necessity of concentration. 

At night, I rarely get under bed covers and sheets because when asleep my legs move constantly, much to the aggravation of my wife, who also has to remind me at restaurants to stop tapping my fingers on the table or rocking my chair back and forth.

Over time I’ve learned to cope and to be inconspicuous with this need to be in perpetual motion, yet when I was a kid I’m sure my antics were often interpreted as being disrespectful.

The article below is the scientific proof why many of us are so fidgety and, specifically, how moving one’s feet when sitting has cognitive as well as physical benefits.



Here’s some advice for teachers who tell fidgeting students to just sit still: let them tap their toes and jiggle their legs.

Why? Because fidgeting is good for their health.

Sitting is one of the scourges of modern life. The health consequences of muscular immobility are well documented. Studies show that uninterrupted sitting causes an abrupt and significant decline in blood flow to the legs. This causes vessel walls to pump out proteins that, over time, contribute to hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Blood pressure rises, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

The simplest solution is to get up and move around, increasing blood flow in the legs, but when standing up is not an option, fidgeting is a good substitute.

In a recent study, college students sat for three hours with one leg immobile and the other regularly fidgeting. They measured a striking difference in blood flow between the two legs: a precipitous decline in the immobile leg and an increase in the fidgeting leg, compared to the baseline. At the end of the three hours, when the researchers tested the ability of the subjects’ legs to respond to changes in blood pressure, the immobile legs no longer worked as well as they had during baseline testing, meaning that they were already not as healthy as they had been. The arteries in the fidgeting legs responded as well or better than before.

The muscular contractions associated with fidgeting are quite small, but they are sufficient to combat some of the unhealthy consequences of sitting. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Which Teacher Inspired You?

This week’s article summary is What Teachers Can Do to Boost Student Engagement.

As I read about the teacher qualities that support student the development of agency (sense of self) and a growth mindset in students, I kept thinking about the type of teacher most of us remember as the most influential in shaping us as adults.

We probably recall a ‘tough and strict’ teacher—an intimidating,  no nonsense task-master who took no slack, suffered no fools, ran his/her classroom in regimental fashion, and was kind of scary and frightening. This teacher introduced us to the ‘real world’ and taught important life-lessons about hard work, effort, and responsibility. 

It’s interesting to me how in hindsight we think that the teacher’s strictness shaped us. Often I hear from both parents and teachers that this is the type of teacher that children need and, if we had more teachers like this, education and today’s youth would be better served.

Educational pundit Alfie Kohn refers to this as the “Listerine Effect” of education: the belief that growth and progress require suffering and even misery (or in the case of Listerine, its bad taste lets us know that it’s killing germs).

The reality, as the article attests, is that a different type of teacher shapes and influences our sense of self and belonging.

My inspirational teachers were Mr. Podmore (in a self-contained 6th grade classroom) and Mr. Coe, my 7th grade American history teacher. 

They helped me grow as a student and as a person, not by making me fear them but by encouraging me to look inward and to see the value of my thoughts, feelings, opinions, and individuality.

Their classrooms were alive with student ideas and opinions. We had lots of class discussions and, especially in 7th grade history, tests were principally essay questions that began with the words “Why do you think…” 

Mr. Podmore and Mr. Coe made me think and form opinions, using content as the springboard, not the goal. They pushed me to justify my ideas with supporting evidence.

At Trinity, we talk about the importance of student empowerment and deeper learning, and these teachers fostered both in me. 

They helped me begin to see that the world was complex with much grayness and ambiguity, that truth has many dimensions, and that my opinion was one of many perspectives.  

They valued my classmates and me as individuals, not as one large group. 

My sense of self began to take shape in those years, and, as a result, school became more interesting, relevant, and even fun to me. 

6th and 7th grade for me were seminal school years,  6th grade being my culminating year in a public elementary school and 7th grade being my first year in a private Quaker school.

Moving from a public to private school was daunting--being a new kid, trying out for football, having to wear a tie and jacket at school, having a different teacher for every class, getting much more homework, having to take notes and study for tests. 

Yet Mr. Podmore had helped prepare me for this transition. In my new school, I felt that I mattered, that I had to speak up and advocate for myself, that I had something to say, and that I could think, not just memorize and repeat. 

And every day Mr. Coe’s history class buoyed these emerging personal revelations. 

I can trace becoming a teacher to Mr. Podmore and Mr. Coe. Beyond admiring them, I wanted to teach just like them.

It may be more common for us to reflect back on teachers who were strict (and I had some of them too), yet our true models and influencers are those teachers who live to the 7 standards below.

I hope you had a teacher like Mr. Podmore and Mr. Coe and that we as educators inspire our students the way they did for me!



Below are the 7 Cs of Teaching to boost student agency and to foster a growth mindset

Care: Be attentive and sensitive, but don’t coddle

Confer: Encourage and respect students’ perspectives, but don’t waste class time with idle chatter

Captivate: Make lessons stimulating and relevant while knowing that some students may hide their interest

Clarify (clear up confusion, lucid explanations, instructive feedback): Take regular steps to detect and respond to confusion, but don’t just tell students the answers

Consolidate: Regularly summarize lessons to help consolidate leaning

Challenge (require rigor, require persistence): Anticipate some resistance but persist

Classroom Management: Achieve respectful, orderly, and on-task student behavior by using clarity, capitation, and challenge instead of coercion