Hands-On Sex Ed!

As a teacher, one of the main issues that I see in the classroom is the disconnect between textbook knowledge and application. For instance, my students know their multiplication facts, but when it comes to using that information to reduce fractions, they have no clue of how to utilize previous knowledge to help gain new types of knowledge.

Pie chart of multiple intelligences

Multiple Intelligences

There has been a lot of research into the various learning styles and the drawbacks and benefits of each type, but what is important is to remember that the various learning styles were developed to help cater to all types of learners, so that students can recognize what they were taught and be able to use their textbook knowledge in a realistic manner. If students are not using what we teach them, are we really being effective educators?

Howard Gardner is best known for his work regarding multiple intelligences and his questioning of the idea that intelligence comes from a single factor (Smith, 2002, 2008). Gardner felt that intelligence was “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting (Smith, 2002, 2008)” and in order to effectively do that, he noted eight different methods one could take to become “intelligent”. The factor that made Gardner’s work stand out from others’ such as Vygotsky and Piaget, was that the knowledge that one needed to fit within the cultural setting that they were a part of. For more information on the multiple intelligences, visit PBS’ Educational Resources page. PBS has done a wonderful job of describing the different intelligences, along with tips for working with each and resources to gain more information.

Howard Gardner explains his theory and its’ ties with various forms of assessment in the following video from Edutopia.org. Click here to view the video.

The introduction of the cultural setting is where a lot of the difficulties of sexuality education come from. As a native Southerner, my sexuality education was based on the idea that abstinence was the only responsible way to proceed through life before marriage. As a young adult, I moved to Southern California and eventually Las Vegas, where I was exposed to the idea that abstinence may not be practical for all social situations. This large cultural difference drastically altered my interpretation of sexuality education and made me rethink what I had been taught.

How do we relate to our new “types” of students?

I think that a lot of the confusion in all classrooms is that teachers do not modify their teaching styles based on their learners and the content. As a mathematician, I know that I need to teach math in a logical-mathematical type manner so that students are aware of the patterns and connections among topics. When I teach English, I have to balance between an Interpersonal perspective, understanding the desires of others, an intrapersonal perspective, understanding the motivations and desires of the learner, and a linguistic perspective, using language to understand content. It is not easy to balance all of the different methods that I need to utilize when teaching, but teaching to comprehension and application is not easy.

The public media organization THIRTEEN has some fantastic ideas of ways to incorporate the multiple intelligences in the classroom. Not only are they ways to teach students, but they are ways to assess student knowledge, as Gardner mentioned in his linked video above. As much as any teacher hates to admit it, we live in a world that bases its’ decisions around assessment, so having quality ways to assess student comprehension is the key way  to measure knowledge growth.

Teaching sexuality to these students

In the Journal for Dental Education, Murphy, et al found that “a substantial number of dental school students have a preference for several learning styles, yet dental faculty teach overwhelmingly in a single mode: the lecture (2004).” How does dentistry relate to general education and sexuality education, in particular? Sexuality is a medical field, as is dentistry. It involves memorization of certain concepts, but also the ability to apply those concepts into practice. How can a proficient sexuality educator teach learners how to look for STI’s by linguistically describing them? They can’t! That’s why we use pictures and models, accommodating the visual learner because sometimes pictures are just more effective. Other times we need to teach learners what certain things feel like, such as if giving a testicular or breast exam. It would be a lot more applicable for the learner to have tactile practice with this rather than just reading about it.

There is a great disparity between the importance of condom use and the proper use of condoms. When should a condom be put on? Some educators might say right before penetration, others might say the moment when an erection arises; walk the students through both scenarios and see which method could better prevent pregnancy and STI transmission. It’s a lot better to learn that lesson in the classroom than in the bedroom.

An example of modified general education courses

Anyone who has been in a learning environment in the past year has likely heard of the term “STEM”; meaning “Science Technology Engineering and Math.” STEM is a program modeled to teach teachers and learners the overlap between the information in those four subjects. Some of the most common ways to implement this new “subject”, if you will, is through the use of projects and constructing one’s own knowledge. Teachers are now viewed as more of a learning facilitator, not a knowledge preacher. We are encouraged to guide our students to their learning objectives and to be there as a support to help them build their own knowledge. A knowledge base that is self-formed is going to stay with learners a lot longer than information that is just thrown down the learners’ throat. A wonderful resource for students to use is the website BrainPOP. I have seen BrainPOP used in a myriad of classrooms and students enjoy searching and discovering their own knowledge, while the teacher takes a step back and puts him/herself in that facilitator role.

How can educators show their students how to use what they are learning?

Friendly happy condom

A difficulty with sexuality education is that the learners are not using the knowledge that they are being given. How can we fix that? We can present the knowledge to them in realistic ways! Pull out those cucumbers and condoms and have an experiment.

Look at pictures of diseases and if you really want to keep a teenage boy from playing doctor with the girl down the street, show him a video of childbirth!

The face of education has changed and educators need to change with it. We cannot continue with previously effective methods while we have a new generation of learners who have different ways of learning. The MacArthur Foundation has a wonderful video that describes the “21st Century Learner” and why/how teachers need to change their methods to accommodate those students. Our societies have changed from what they were just ten years ago. We have a new breed of students coming in that we need to help accommodate and in order to do that effectively, we need to change our methods.

The fact that there are so many children falling behind in school is a warning sign that educators and learners need to work together to construct the best way to gain knowledge.



Carlson, L. E., & Sullivan, J. F. (1999). Hands-on engineering: Learning by doing in the integrated teaching and learning program. International Journal of Engineering Education, 15(1), 29-31.

HCSD. (n.d.).  Multiple intelligences bodily-kinesthetic (body smart).  Crocker Middle School.

Murphy, R. J.  Gray, S. A., Straja, S. R., & Bogert, M. C.  (2004).  Student Learning Preferences and Teaching Implications. J Dent Educ 2004 68:859-866.

Smith, M. K. (2002, 2008).  Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education.

2 responses to “Hands-On Sex Ed!

  1. SO.MUCH.INFO! Thanks for the resources scattered throughout, I’ve added them to my bookmarks to use in the future. The examples listed on the THIRTEEN website really helped me to understand how multiple intelligences can be addressed. Once the ideas are there, it can be more simple than I thought.

    In regards to the changing perspective of a teacher’s job as a “learning facilitator” vs “knowledge preacher,” I have found I have a dual struggle. On one hands, as I mentioned this weekend, I am slowly (but surely!) relearning how to be the STUDENT that isn’t force fed. This has been a challenge in two ways. One, simply because I am used to learning with more direction and structure from the teacher. And two, because I never thought of myself as a student that relied heavily on direct instruction. I have always been a student who took initiative. So, thinking of myself as dependent, has been something I’ve needed to accept, and then work to change- a multi-step process. And on the other hand, I’m learning how to be an educator, and the amount of forethought and energy, but also patience and trust, that go into trusting that you have set up the lesson effectively enough to guide the students to reaching the objectives on their own.

  2. It is no secret that I love Howard Gardner. I will preach the gospel of Multiple Intelligences until I am hacking and wheezing in a corner.

    I have always struggled with coming up with ways to access naturalist learning, but one of my mentors explained it as such: Naturalist intelligence isn’t so much about being in nature, as it is looking at concepts in an ecosystem format (from the individual-micro to the exosystem–which is generally the policy/governance portion when talking about health).

    I find it easier to think about that way, being someone who learns better relationally–especially since I have pretty much always been one of the “indoor kids.”

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