Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dumb Choices When Teaching Sex Ed

Well, since I brought up the topic of sex ed yesterday and discussed one of my recipes for success, today I'll share one of my biggest fails. I'll start by saying as many times as I've been through these units, I've actually never had any trouble with immaturity, inappropriateness, etc - I think this is primarily because kids don't want other kids to think that they are immature. As such, these particular class sessions tend to be more civilized and mature than most.

I've always had the policy that you can ask me anything - after all, if they don't ask me, they're probably going to ask their friends who actually know even less than they do. You open yourself up to all sorts of crazy things, but I'm not the type to become flustered by anything they have to say or ask.

There are, however, times when on the inside I'm thinking "please oh please oh please don't let anyone have overheard that" and "why oh why oh why did I open this can of worms." This used to be complicated by the fact that for three of my years teaching I had constant adult traffic coming in and out of my room, because kid you not the office to the Business Manager, Director of Building and Grounds, and Director of Transportation was accessible only by walking through my classroom. Which meant a constant parade of administrators, bus drivers, accountants, school board members, parents, etc were strolling through the room at any time.

So here's my story. We are beginning to learn about conception (for a great ice breaker, see yesterday's post), so we begin by going over the basics of anatomy, both male and female. We get to the point where we learn that women are born with all of the eggs that they are ever going to have, but men are constantly producing sperm. No matter how I set this up, without fail a conversation ensues on what happens when that sperm begins to build up. It is unavoidable.

And this particular year, for no real reason that I can think of now, I decided on the fly to try to avoid the m-word, and simply stated "Sexual activity does not have to involve another person."

The SECOND that phrase was out of my mouth I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen.

Immediately after I said that, a boy asked "So what, like a pig or something?" And chaos erupted.

"EWWWW!" "Who would do that?!" "Whaaaaaat???!!!" and then the inevitable "Mrs. C, do people really do that?"

Great. This is exactly what I wanted to discuss today. So I come back with yes, there are some people, it's called such and such, and by the way it's illegal.

"Why is it illegal? You own the pig!" And then a kid who I swear has never in his life written a paragraph that made any sense came back with the admittedly clever turn of phrase "Yeah, how come you can make your pig into pork but you can't pork your pig?"

Inside my head: make it stop, make it stop, make it stop... And then a girl chimes in "Wait, can you get the pig pregnant?"

And now I'm thinking REALLY? And I make a statement about DNA compatibility, etc, and how no, humans cannot get pigs pregnant.

And then comes my next mistake, which is one of automaticity: any time you say something to the effect of "no, you can't get pregnant from..." "you have a lower risk of pregnancy when..." etc, you automatically follow it up with something to the effect of "but that does not protect you from diseases." It's a good practice to always remind them that pregnancy is not the only risk associated with sexual activity. And so I made that statement.


At that precise moment a school board member was about three steps inside the room. He stopped dead in his tracks, raised his hands, and with a horrified look on his face pulled a 180 and made his escape. He did not come back. Ever.

And I was left to answer the question about pig herpes. Which went something like this:

"I don't really know enough about pigs to know if they actually carry the herpes virus, but obviously the risk of some kind of infection increases with this kind of activity. Leave the pigs - and all other animals - alone. If the pressure is getting to you, find a private space, lock the door, and fly solo."

To which they all nodded their heads in agreement that yes, that did seem like the more logical way to go about things.

And a girl said to me "I bet you wish you had just said that to begin with."

Amen, sister.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Sex (Education) Trick

Risque title today, eh? So one of the joys of being a FACS teacher is the sex ed component that accompanies so many of your units, particularly in Child Development when you really can't skip over that whole "How are babies made" question.

One of the challenging things about handling this subject matter is that you've got kids all the way across the comfort spectrum: some will have no problem publicly asking the most graphic questions, some wish only to curl up under their desks and die. Most are somewhere in between.

Because of this, it's really crucial to work to establish an environment in which nobody is spending a full 52 minutes desperately pleading with God for a bear to walk into the classroom and eat them so that they can escape this discussion. So naturally you're not going to jump straight into "When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much...", but instead you're going to take some time to create that more comfortable climate first. Even with that, you're going to need some boosters here and there to keep things light and break the tension when necessary.

Here's one of my favorites.

For background, I use guided (sometimes called "skeleton") notes for my classes - they're already formatted and have most of what they need, but they have to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. It's enough to keep them paying attention and on task, but not so much that they're focusing only on copying to the exclusion of listening (or that their hands cramp up and they begin crying carpal tunnel).

When we begin our discussion of conception, I make no assumptions. We start with the basics - the essentials of female and male reproductive anatomy. As such, it's obviously necessary to work with some diagrams (NOT pictures, diagrams). When I have the female anatomy on the board - and their note sheets - and we go over the different structures, I've never had any issues at all, they take it stride, almost ho hum. As soon as we flip to the male anatomy, that changes - you just can't project a penis onto the board (again, a diagram people!) without the room immediately becoming charged (and you can really see it in the less comfortable kids' faces - "ohmygodtheresapenisupthereitsapenisicantdothis WHERE IS THAT BEAR, GOD????"). Additionally, you have your less mature kids who are desperately, desperately trying not to giggle because they don't want anyone else to think they are immature. And of course everyone else is aware that things suddenly got weird and now everyone's a bit on edge.

So here's my built-in way to diffuse this inevitable event. For about seven or eight blanks in a row, they have to write in the same word over and over: sperm. By about the third of fourth one they begin to catch on, and by the sixth time they're writing "sperm" everyone is laughing out loud, the tension has disappeared, and "sperm" is now a meaningless word because they've looked at it so much and we can now move on.

Seriously, works like a charm, every time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Story Time, Part 3

My next story time idea was very specific, but had absolutely HILARIOUS results!

We read this book:

Synopsis - a brother and sister lament that no matter what story they share, their grandfather always remarks "Could Be Worse!" Grandpa, having overheard them, then tells them a fantastic tale of adventure and danger... to which they respond... well, I'm sure you can guess!

After reading this, I gave them a template with two large rectangles, then asked them to create their own "Could Be Worse!" scenario. The results were hilarious (and revealed some truly demented minds!). I again scanned them to use for story time the next day; I divided their stories onto different slides, so that the class could guess what would happen next before seeing it (modeling prediction as a reading strategy, anyone?). Here they are:

Boy did the kids love this one! In fact, by request I showed their "Could Be Worse" stories again at the end of the school year a few months later.

While super fun and entertaining, there were of course many real lessons learned:
  • discussion of the moral of the story
  • using prediction as a reading strategy
  • making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections
  • discussions of how to utilize all of these when reading to little ones!
And of course, more memories made!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Story Time: Part 2

In Part 1 I mentioned that I would share activities that I incorporated into my Child Development class along with "Story Time" - here's the first!

On back-to-back days, I read the following books:

The first is exactly what you would think: an alphabet book of NASCAR terms. The second, well, it's obviously not a real children's book. Great opportunity to teach about both satire and using good judgement when choosing reading material for young children! Also, just plain hilarious for both teacher and students alike - definitely a memorable class moment!

Reading these in succession naturally leads to a discussion of why so many books for kids have an alphabet theme, wherein we review the importance of letter awareness and learning letter sounds. And then, I have them write their own mini-alphabet stories.

I gave them a blank template with four squares, and the following conditions:
  • Choose any four letters in a row of the alphabet
  • Choose a theme
  • Use words and pictures in each frame to create a mini-alphabet "book"
Here is a sampling of the results:

Several students chose a fruit/veggie/food theme.

A few chose to use names.

Animals were very popular.

And a couple of them really developed their themes.

After I collected them I created a slideshow from them, which became their "story" for the third day (note: before showing I of course went over guidelines for commenting on and responding to other students' stories - particularly the drawings and the spelling). For each we discussed what children could learn from these little stories, what age group each might be appropriate, and then we talked about how to help kids create their own short alphabet stories. 

And naturally the students LOVED having their stories projected on the board. Even for them I cropped the names out so that they could remain anonymous if they wished, but almost every single one was anxious to claim credit for their creation - pretty cute how much pride they took in something like this!

Very successful lesson, I would definitely do this one again. And if nothing else, you should definitely read "K is for Knifeball!"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Child Development: Story Time, Part 1

One agenda I chose to really push in my Child Development class this year was early literacy and the importance of reading to your children beginning in the womb. One method I used to do this was dedicating the last 5-10 minutes of nearly every class to "Story Time" - that's right, I read a story aloud to my high schoolers nearly every day. While some of them complained that it was "babyish" and beneath them, the complainers were usually the first to be upset when we ran out of time for their story.

The first several story time sessions, and on occasion throughout the rest of the semester as a refresher, we went over the following Story Time Rules before the story:

It really bugs me when people ruin the ending of anything for anybody - why do people DO that??

I did not have them sit in a circle on the floor or anything like that - they simply remained at their desks during story time. To make sure that they could all see the pictures (I didn't want a riot on my hands, after all), I did one of the following: 1) checked out oversized books from the library, 2) scanned the pictures and displayed them via projector, 3) took photos of the pictures with my phone, uploaded the pictures, then displayed them via projector. In addition to listening to the stories, they also engaged in various activities related to the stories - I'll present a few of them in subsequent posts.

The experience was amazing. I was able to model how to make reading an interactive rather than a passive process for the child, thereby increasing learning. I was able to introduce them to a wide variety of the children's literature that is available out there. I was able to trick them into working on their own listening skills, their own prediction skills, their own metacognitive skills. I was able to get them to make connections between the course content we were learning in class, the characters in the stories, and their own childhoods.

And best of all, I was able to create an experience that they will carry with them - remember that class in high school where that crazy teacher read us stories every day?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kingsley's Got Your Back

For all of you who are feeling a little overwhelmed/anxious/stressed/unprepared/in need of a break from this end-of-the-break-period-of-time, here is a fabulous video in defense of teachers - I could not stop laughing! I did a little editing work to erase any profanity so it is good to go to share with colleagues, if you should so desire.