Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tying Sexuality Lessons to Current News Topics

I recently learned that The New York Times publishes lesson plans and I was very pleased to see that several of them address sexuality topics. “Go New York Times!” The most recent, from March 7, 2012, is the first I’ve reviewed and it immediately piqued my interest. Jennifer Cutraro and Holly Epstein Ojalvo have created a lesson titled About Birth Control: Clearing Up Misconceptions About Contraception. If you overlook the lack of stated goals, objectives and rationale, the lesson plan is very good, in my opinion. At the least, it lays the groundwork for a potentially powerful lesson.

What most caught my attention is the fact that the current debate on health care coverage of birth control is integral to the lesson’s activities. Eggen and Kauchak, in Strategies and Models for Teachers: Teaching Content and Thinking Skills, noted that learning is most effective when real world topics are correlated with class discussions and activities (p. 30). Having now explored The New York Times The Learning Network section, all of the lessons are based on current news topics reported in The Times. While the lesson plans are not as comprehensive as we are instructed to create, the strategy of linking educational topics with current and real-life issues is excellent. This resource gathers related articles on a variety of sexuality topics into lesson plans that can be adapted to suit our student and teaching needs.

The article About Birth Control includes activities that can serve to engage the students in active discussion or debate about Health Care policy, gender issues, politics and religion, etc. These kinds of teaching methods encourage critical thinking, a more advanced and vital cognitive skill. Eggen and Kauchak list a number of abilities associated with critical thinking: identifying bias and propaganda, detecting assumptions and overgeneralizations, deciphering relevant from irrelevant information, etc. (p. 73). A lesson plan, such as this one, that incorporates opportunities for students to practice these skills serves to help prepare students to be critical thinkers. This lesson plan does just that and, as we all know, there are numerous hot button issues in sexuality that can be integrated into lesson plans for students to grapple with.

Curiously, a student raised the health care/contraceptive issue in class a couple of weeks ago and I was caught off-guard. They were more up on the debate than I was. That was a teachable moment for me! Since then, I have read more and have decided to implement this lesson plan, with added goals, objectives and rationale, into my curriculum. I am eager to see how it goes and if it is successful, I will work on bringing in more news issues of the day into my sexuality education classes. Even if the NY Times lesson plans have some wrinkles to iron out, they are a useful resource that we can use. I am convinced that tying sexuality lessons to current news topics is important in our teaching. What do you think? 


  1. Chris thank you for point out that the New York Times has this kind of information! I must say that while I am not up on health care in the US with regards to birth control, I do know that if teens do not have parents with good health plans here they will too have pay out of pocket. Generic brands are often prescribed for this group to lessen the cost. I have also seen some companies provide a price match to the brand of contraceptives if people have a brand name card, often provided by the ob/gyn for the name brand.
    To bring myself back to your point of staying on top of the news, I think that is also important in our line of work. Although, I think sometimes certain issues might pertain to a certain area of the country and perhaps I may not know what's going on because the local media focuses less on what's happening elsewhere! I too this morning was taken off guard when one of my coworkers said that prostitution in Ontario had become legalized. I can only recall this legalization in 2010 to have the sex workers do business inside rather than be on the streets to reduce violence against these workers. Apparently yesterday, the new addition to Ontario provincial law is "that brothels and pimping that protect prostitutes are now legal" (Now Public, 2012).
    In reality, I think keeping up on every sexual issue that occurs in the media is important, however, we are just one lone person, so keeping in touch with colleagues and social media groups that support our line of work helps with keeping oneself informed!


  2. Chris, that is so great that the New York Times does this! What a great resource! I think a lesson plan like this one is a great idea. I know that when I was in high school and college, I was woefully ignorant on what was going on in terms of current events. My family didn't watch the news and this was before the internet really became huge. In elementary school we had a current events day where we had to write a little paper on a news article but you could do it about anything and it wasn't tied in to anything else we learned. And it was only elementary school. I think this is a wonderful way to get teens interested in what is going on around them.

    In terms of the birth control debates, I too have had students ask me about it. It's so refreshing to find out that they care about and are passionate about political issues. I think that if we can encourage this in young people, through activities or lesson plans like this one, we can increase voter turnout among youth and really educate future voters on the issues of today specifically, and make them more aware of the world in general.

    I recently saw a website that is a feminist website for teens. I remember thinking "I wish someone had shown me this when I was a kid." I only had vague ideas about bra-burnings when I was a teen and I knew enough not to call myself a feminist in front of certain people. I wish that I had had a resource like that one, or lessons in school that encouraged debate within the class, rather than as a separate class or elective. Thanks again for sharing this with us, Chris!

  3. Super Cool! I had no idea the New York Times posted lesson plans. What a great resource Thank you so much for sharing this information!
    When it comes to current events about sexuality I am usually the last person to find out. I don't have T.V. and I don't follow any news online. The only source of current events I get is when i listen to NPR on my 20 minute drive to work 5 days a week. And honestly, when NPR is talking about war, presidential elections, the health care debate, and anything else politically related I usually change the radio station. I found out a long time ago that I have a better day at work if I choose not to listen to political arguments and violence throughout the world. Admittedly, I am often behind on the latest news but it seems to get around to me sooner or later. If something about current events is brought up in a workshop or classroom setting I usually take this time to learn from the learners, open the floor for a mildly heated discussion and play moderator. Most of the time this works out really well because I don't have to worry about having a biased opinion to one side of the argument or the other so I can effectively play moderator. Other times, I have felt a little "behind on the times" but I would rather feel this way sometimes than have too many depressing days because I am listening to sound clips from the war in Syria. I may be a little more sensitive to political and violent news than other but doing things this way helps me to have better days overall.

  4. Thanks for the great post, Chris. I am so excited about this new resource so thanks for bringing it up. Ever since grad school, I have felt behind on the times (no pun intended). I wish I had the time and energy to keep up with everything that is going on in the world. I have actually had some worries and fears about not being able to keep up with everything that is going on in the world. I worry that I might appear uneducated to a student or colleague, that I might blow an interview, or that I might make a total fool of myself. I know this is not at all what you were talking about in your post, but reading this post and realizing the feelings that it brought up for me have made me realize how important it is to take care of myself in this profession. What I mean is...I want to do everything, read everything, and be a super woman. But I can't do all of those things and stay sane. What I need to do is figure out how to healthily balance everything. I haven't figured it out yet, but I have begun to realize that the more resources I have at my fingertips, the better prepared I am. So thank you for helping me get one step closer to being more organized and up to date.

  5. Chris, what a great resource! I agree that incorporating current events into our curriculum is a good idea. First, I think that it allows students to develop critical thinking skills, as well as take a more active roll in current issues happening. As others have noted, it is hard to stay on top of current events while I have been in school. Having lessons written, specifically about current events within sexuality are wonderful resources to have access to.

  6. It seems like everyone posting here didn't know about the NYT lesson plans, and I didn't either. What a great find. I totally agree with you that the inclusion of real life events into lessons can have amazing benefits for the learners. I think that it gives students something concrete to tie it to. I don't know how anyone else feels but I think this type of learning regarding articles posted by the New York Times would be of particular use for college aged students. I think that high school kids would be able to grasp the concepts but its been my personal observation that college students are more likely to keep up with the news. Maybe that's just me though. I know I was much more well versed in current events in college way more so than I ever was in high school.

    Either way having something real and current to relate sometimes obscure information to is a good way to ground learning. I believe that a lot of lesson plans out there definitely need some tweaking but there is some really great info and ideas tucked in along the way.

  7. Thanks for sharing. I am teaching a intro to human sexuality course for my practicum, and I can relate to how difficult it is to stay up to date with all the information and news that is coming our way. Especially in such a tech savvy and news/information hungry world what a great way to connect with our audience and also a great way to build confidence in our learners. Thank you so much for introducing the importance of connecting news with our material.