Exploring the power of Object Based Learning for Relationships and Sex Education


On Friday I had the honour of being invited to speak at University of Exeter about my experiences as a practitioner working on the Sex & History Project. (N.B. I co-wrote the FREE RSE lesson pack here and and lessons exploring gender and sexual diversity here for LGBT history month and beyond!)  Unfortunately due to the snow I had to Skype in and not be there in person to run a workshop, so I also wanted to summarise my thoughts in a blog post.

The topic I chose to talk about was The Power of ‘Object-Based Learning’ for Relationships and Sex Education.  For those of you who don’t know Object Based Learning is using an object (historical object/ 3D printed model or any physical solid 3D thing!) to spark a conversation and learn something new. (Or a more academic description: “Object-Based Learning (OBL) is a student-centred learning approach that uses objects to facilitate deep learning. Objects may take many forms, small or large, but the method typically involves students handling or working at close quarters with and interrogating physical artefacts.”. I first heard of it as a concept in a meeting with Melany Rose Education Manager at the British Museum. Then seeing the Ain Sakhri lovers on display there really bought it home to me the difference in learning between seeing the actual physical object is compared to learning from photo of the object (both have value but for some objects seeing them for yourselves gives a extra layer of understanding)

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3D Printed Uterus model

In Sex & History, we often have to use photographs of the objects rather than actual handling materials because these are rare museum pieces that are valuable and can’t be handled by a class of teenagers in case they are damaged! However, last year I was lucky enough to lead a teacher training workshop at Brighton and Hove Museum where they had a 3D printed Venus of Willendorf to handle alongside looking at actual objects from the museum’s collection. It was fascinating to watch the teachers engage with the piece in new and unexpected ways when physically able to handle the object rather than just look at it behind glass or in a photograph or image on a screen.  At Sex and History we are gathering a small collection of handling objects (such as examples similar to these erotic fruits)  and actively exploring 3D printing of replica objects in order to further utilise the opportunities and benefits of OBL.

For my workshop with practitioners and academics from UK and Germany I had been planning to provide a huge range of objects covered with a sheet and ask individuals to choose an object they were most interested in learning more about asking the questions: “what is it?” “how could it be used for relationships and sex education?” (whilst also making it very clear that any object chosen did not reflect anything personal about the participant choosing it!). Experiencing the value of object based learning for yourself is a powerful lesson in its value for sex education.

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Venus of Willendorf

Although this concept may seem foreign to many teachers of RSE I think that many RSE teachers are doing OBL all the time anyway without realising. Condoms demonstrations and passing around different methods of contraception to have a much closer look at all count as OBL! Being able to see, touch, feel, handle, move and rotate an object relating to relationships and sex education can create discussions and questions that you would never get without the physical object being present.

The benefits of object based learning (as well as possible objects to use) can be set out as follows:

  • Icebreakers– can help defuse tensions and create safer spaces by using certain objects like knitted uteruses/vulvas/penises/or cuddly STI toys.  Crocheted body parts have been used with particular success in Brighton and Hove with an RSE project for young unaccompanied asylum seekers in single sex groups (that I have been supporting in the background), as a way of kick starting safe fun conversations about their bodies.  These young people may come from cultures where such knowledge about their own bodies is sometimes seen as taboo and often not talked about, and cultural understandings of consent can be very different.  The benign fun nature of knitted or crocheted objects provide such a safe space to start having conversations which can then over time lead into trickier conversations such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

     

  • Starters- Start the conversation off by passing round an object “what is this” “what might it be used for” “how is it used?” “why does it exist” can create fascinating conversations. You could use things like wedding rings, engagement rings (non-valuable ones!!) to start conversations about marriage and relationships, gender, power and control (who wears the engagement ring- why?) and extend the conversation to explore the use of rings used for chastity (silver ring thing) or fidelity pledges or use of neck rings in marriage or sign of beauty. Something so simple as a small silver or gold band can start a conversation that could go on for a whole lesson if you plan it right and are skilled in your questioning and how you manage discussions.
  • Investigators and Interrogators  Supplying a range of objects can be used to explore and interrogate patterns and assumptions in society. For example , menstrual products, intimate washes, soaps, razors, make up. hair straighteners, Protein shakes, Pilates balls, gendered clothing or shoes. What objects make us feel good about ourselves, what make us feel bad, which are designed for men/women? what are essential? which are cultural? etc.                                                                          Or you could do the fab The Sensual Star activity (from Jo Adams who developed the RU Ready? Program) where you supply a wide range of objects that can be used to stimulate the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. eg. perfumes/scented candles/sound bowl/musical instruments for sound; chocolate/fruits/ massagers or objects with rough or smooth textures eg. silk scarves and have a conversation about sensuality and what are our favorite objects against each of the five senses. This can be drawn and decorated on a “Sensual Star” (a 5 pointed star with each sense allocated to a point).
  • Confidence building Adolescence can be a tricky time with lots of new things to master that people often don’t talk in detail to you about. For example you can also use a range of disposable and reusable menstrual products or range of antiperspirants and deodorants to kick start conversations about puberty, hygiene and menstruation. Familiarity with some of the products they may need to use in their lives can build confidence about talking about, purchasing and using them.
  • Reassurance about whats ‘normal’– exploring the range of variation in bodies by passing around objects of different sizes analogous to human bodies (E.g. as well as using knitted objects with some inner labia longer than outer labia etc, I also have a range of different sized condom demonstrators (and TheyFit is a great site to share). It also encourages young people to feel more comfortable talking about their bodies when I get out Lady Penelope it is fascinating (and really sad) to realise how many girls do not have any real understanding of how their own bodies work. 

  • Visualising how things work Until you have seen an actual IUD/IUS in the flesh and seen on a diagram or model of female reproductive tract how it works, then it can be quite hard to conceptualise. Likewise seeing the actual size of an implant (a matchstick can work here or small matchstick sized piece of ultra fine tubing), the contraceptive ring (the inner ring of an internal condom (femidom) works) then it can be hard to understanding or visualise how such methods work.  Also Object based learning is also vital for visually impaired students if you can’t see then being able to handle and be talked through anatomy or using methods of contraception is very important.
  • New directions for discussions Talking about STI testing can be a little dry sometimes but passing round a chlamydia testing kit and allowing a look at a urine testing pot, a swab kit, or passing round a speculum can help make the conversation more interesting. I’m also very interested in exploring how every day objects like a wire coat hanger could open up discussions on abortion, or egg white or flour paste or cottage cheese in petri dishes could open up conversations about normal vaginal discharge! A small Venus of Willendorf (I now have one of my own) could open up conversations about body image, breasts, weight, sexiness, fertility!
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Speculum, swab and urine testing kits.

  • Exploring new frontiers (knowledge, learning and technology!)- the 3D printed clitoris is my FAVE object for getting a conversation going about sexual pleasure and anatomy (and I still think it is outrageous that this wasn’t mapped until 1998). I now have a 3D printed uterus and I am hoping to get a vulva too. 3D printing for sex ed could be incredible!

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    Range of 3D printed clitorises

  • Consolidating learning. In youth group settings we sometimes use a “talking stick” or other object as a tool to signify who can talk and who needs to listen. We also sometimes pass an object round to close a session with each person holding the object says one thing they have learned about the session before passing it on to the next person. While I can see their might be potential for silliness if certain objects were used (!) I can also see there is potential in having a particular object close a session quite powerfully.  I am thinking something like a small squishy heart stress toy to pass round and feedback on notions of romantic love and why the heart is seen as a symbol for love and how that can make people feel. The level of SQUEEZE could indicate how much the session was enjoyed or not!

 

How would you use object based learning in your setting and what do you think are the benefits? Please comment below!

 

This post is bought to you with thanks to Sex & History Project for funding me to do this work. Rhian Drinkwater for her expert knitting skills (the uteri were knitted by a sexual health campaign up north and to my horror I can’t remember who to thank them- if it was you please shout!), Lovehoney for supplying me with loads of kit.  Ben O’Steen for 3D printing  this file designed by Odile Filod for me and putting me in touch with Valeria Vitale from  Institute of Classical Studies, Senate House who has also indulged my 3D printing whims and needs using the Odile Filod file and the Vulvacademy files (with thanks to @Gareth Cheeseman for sharing the link to Vulvacademy files)!

 

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Quotes about challenging homophobia in schools.


Some quotes I like:

“Gay People are everywhere… except in the National Curriculum, and certainly not visible in our schools” (Moffat, 2007 pg2).

‘Everyone is an insider, there are no outsiders – whatever their beliefs, whatever their colour, gender or sexuality.’ Archbishop Desmond Tutu, February 2004

(Taken from Page 2 of Stand up for Us Guidance jointly produced by Department of Health and Department for Education and Skills written by Mark Jennet, 2004)

 

“Homophobic language is often used in ignorance and therefore education is crucial”

(Safe To Learn, 2007, p60)

 

“Our Sexuality is the most spontaneously natural thing about us. It is the basis for some of our most passionate feelings and commitments. Through it we experience ourselves as real people; it gives us our identities, our sense of self, as men and women, as heterosexual and homosexual, normal or abnormal, natural or unnatural.”

(Weeks, 2003 p3)

 

Homosexuality exists in 1500 species, homophobia in just one.

(Source Unknown)

 

 

 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”                                                                                      (Nelson Mandela, 2003)

The concept of Procractivism (& Meta-Procractivism)


In August I coined the phrase “procractivism”  which is a combination of procrastination and activism.

(in this case procrastination from writing masters into homophobia in schools and activism into challenging homophobia in schools!)

The phrase arose during the completion of the masters in August 2013 when I had a significant role in exposing Sex and Relationships Education Policies that had language harking back to Section 28 alongside the British Humanist Association and other twitter activists. Despite the repeal of section 28 in the UK in 2003, more than 45 schools schools were identified as having Sex and Relationship Education policies that banned the “promotion of homosexuality

Days later I also exposed the DfE’s deliberate erasure of gender Identity from equalities statement in the Feb 2013 draft to the latest draft of the document. This lead to the DfE having a swift turnaround and putting it back in . Had it not been for this masters I would not have been eagle eyed enough to spot this omission, and thanks to the wonders of social media and my ace followers we were able to kick up sufficient stink to get the government to make the U-Turn. Of everything I ever achieved in my life this is in the top ten! I’m so proud!

I am now at the stage of writing my reflective chapter on the masters and talking about procractivism, but um somehow I now find myself on my blog sharing the concept of procractivism and how awesome it can be.

Seriously give it a go. Procrastination can make you achieve things you never thought possible- and heck you might as well use this as a force for good.

This blog post being an example of Meta-procractivism right!?

Ahem. *gets back to work, 42days to go…..*

 

 

 

 

Gove on Love Poetry vs. Sexting, A Sex & Relationships Education perspective.


So Michael Gove is urging young people to write poetry not sexts.

Which has currently spawned some brilliant responses on twitter (Look at #govepoems #govepoetry, #govelovepoetry #govelovepoems or variations thereof).

I just want to share this by William Shakespeare.

Love

It is to be all made of sighs and tears….

It is to be all made of faith and service….

It is to be made of fantasy….

All adoration, duty and observance,

All humbleness, all patience and impatience

All purity, all trial, all obedience.

Interpreting through a modern lens- do we think Shakespeare was a Christian Grey of his time!? And are they really notions of love we want to share and celebrate?

Personally I think love poetry is an incredibly useful tool to explore Sex & Relationships Education (Just think about sinister and unrelenting co-oercion expressed in “To his Coy Mistress” By Andrew Marvell), and I am a big fan of using poetry to express feelings, and despite not being an English teacher it is something I use a lot in PSHE lessons.

Do young people sext more than they write poetry to each other? Possibly? Maybe? I don’t know.  Is consensual sexting between a couple over the age of consent who have agreed boundaries in advance and would never share those images outside of that partnership somehow much worse than a man pressuring his coy mistress into unwanted sex with beautiful powerful pressurising words?

I think that it is so important for SRE to discuss with young people, how to express feelings appropriately and stay safe, and discussions of both sexting and poetry definitely have their place. I am definitely not convinced that presenting one as a suitable alternative to the other by someone who does not have young people’s (or educator’s) respect (or necessary understanding of the issues at stake) is going to make the slightest bit of difference, apart from ensuring a good giggle on twitter following the hashtags.

What do you think?

So are you gay then?


Talking about my masters in challenging homophobia in schools in the pub the other night I was confronted with the question:

“So are you gay then?”

This person assumed I must be as she could not comprehend why someone who is straight would be bothered about discrimination of a group that they did not belong to.

With students I usually reply to that question (with a gentle reminder about ground rules and no personal questions!)with:

“would it matter if I were?”

and we start to unpick why this stuff should be important to us all, and how ones sexual orientation does not affect their ability to be a good teacher, a good friend etc.

In the classroom it is an interesting one- if you are a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual teacher, do you really want to come out to the students in your school? You could be an amazing role model but likewise in a non-supportive school you could be opening up a can of prejudicial worms. Likewise a straight teacher doing this work maybe worried people will assume they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and treat them differently as a result, and this may serve as a barrier to this work. Also they may feel they don’t know enough about the issues to address it properly (to that I must point out white male teachers can teach about racism or sexism just fine- this is no different). (Oh and N.B Straight Teachers answering that question with an emphatic “No!” as if its a bad thing, only serves to reinforce the pervading culture of heteronormativity. Sigh.)

To the woman in the pub I didn’t ask her “would it matter if I were?” but said loftily

To me this is an equalities issue and it’s something we should all be bothered about whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity.

(and then carried on ranting about my research to the poor woman- sorry!)

Whilst doing this work I have always been aware of having heterosexual privilege. Being a married (to a man) mother of two working in this field, means that it brings this issue into the mainstream. I’m not someone from a so-called “sexual minority” (I hate that term- very “othering”) on a soapbox but someone who never experiences homophobia but is actively engaged in challenging prejudice and discrimination particularly related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In my experience this has possibly added a level of engagement to the work from straight colleagues, that might not be present if I was a gay, lesbian or bisexual teacher?

I’m not saying all teachers need to be as engaged on these issues as rantypants me, but I am saying all teachers can and should challenge LGBT prejudice as much as possible regardless of their own identity. It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equalities issue and even just taking the time to consider how you might answer the question from a student

So are you gay then?

in a way that addresses sexualities equality in some way is a step in the right direction.

Anyhow Macklemore, Ryan Lewis &Mary Lewis say it better than me afterall its “Same Love.”

Bring on the Vulva revolution!


Following this post exploring the gendered aspect of naming of the genitals.

@bfaware suggested

Which got me pondering what a Vulva Power salute would look like?

Twitter suggest this?

Vulcan Hand Salute via @BFAware

or this:

Ovarian Gang sign via @Edforchoice

What do you think?

Bring on the Vulva revolution!

Who is with me?

A portrait of me


My 3.5 year old proudly presented me with this picture she had drawn of me. I’m very impressed.

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Any resemblance to anything else is entirely co-incidental yet rather amusing given my dayjob (which hasten to add she knows nothing about as I am very careful to keep my work stuff age appropriate)

The power of teachers


Yesterday I spent the day training a lovely group of teachers. We had a great day but during the training a strange thing happened. I was talking about my experiences challenging homophobia in school in particular the privilege of being the first adult a young person came out too, and the impact that had had on her (and me), and suddenly I got all choked and teary and I struggled to regain my composure.

This has never happened before despite sharing these stories many times previously. Without meaning to sound like a sanctimonious pompous prat*, I think it suddenly dawned on me the incredibly important role I played in the wellbeing of that student, and how without me and the work I was trying to do, how differently things could have turned out for that student.

Teachers, never ever underestimate your power and importance in a students’ life. Please try use that power as a force for good. Be there when your students need you, challenge bullying and discrimination when you witness it. Your influence is so much more than achieving target grades. Never forget that.

*Which I do a bit. Sorry. Lecture over. Rants about artificial semen and the like will resume shortly.

How to make your own “artificial semen” or “UV sensitive fluid” for condom demonstrations.


When doing a condom demonstration I like to use an ejaculating condom demonstrator with UV sensitive fluid (artificial semen) and a blacklight to show that semen can still be present on the penis (and hands) even if they look clean post “ejaculation”. This highlights the need to be careful post coitally and not to get intimate again without clean hands/another condom etc, otherwise you maybe at risk of sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancy.

I recently ran out of my Health Edco UV sensitive Fluid and although it is £6.95 they have a minimum order charge of £20 plus its about £10 P&P so in order to try and save money I thought I would have a bash (no pun intended) at making my own.  I do also have this non UV sensitive artificial semen but its very grittty (eh?! and Urgh!) and tends to go off after a year plus the lack of UV sensitivity ruins part of my demo, so I tend not to use it if I can.

A discussion on twitter on how to get UV sensitivity suggested laundry brightener and then just a white liquid soap or shampoo for the “semen”.

UPDATE 10th March 2014. Have found a much better way. Scroll to end!

So you will need the following:

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A clean jar (I just washed out my old jar of UV sensitive fluid). Some laundry brightener (about £3) and some white liquid soap (about 90p).

I filled the jar three quarters full of soap and stirred in half a sachet of laundry brightener.

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Something very odd happened. The previously powdered laundry brightener clumped into hard solid lumps…..

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and so far I have not been totally able to get rid of them. However the UV sensitivity is excellent!

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I ended up adding the rest of the sachet of brightener and topped up the jar to full with the liquid soap.

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The solution has oddly gone runnier than it was when the two things weren’t mixed- I thought it would go a bit thicker with a powder being added to a thick liquid, so I am pondering adding some cornflour to thicken it up! It also doesn’t have the slightly translucent quality that my previous jar of UV sensitive fluid (and real semen) does and to be honest it looks a smidge radioactive in the jar (tinge of fluorescent yellow/green)! Overall, I am reasonably pleased with the result even if its appearance isn’t as good as the Health Edco stuff, the UV sensitivity in my homemade stuff is far superior making this demo much more obvious when working with larger groups and since it is so much cheaper to make then I’m happy!

By the way real semen would probably glow under a black light but not to the vivid extent that my homemade artificial stuff does! My homemade artificial stuff also smells very strongly of soap and laundry unlike the real deal which many say smells like Bleach but heck its in the same genre of “cleaning fluid smells”. 😉 Ha!

I have enough liquid soap and sachets of brightener left to make up about 3 or 4 more batches (so £1 a batch instead of £20!) but as I only use 3-5ml at a time (the average ejaculation size) per demonstration, then I think this lot will last me a while so long as it doesn’t react/go off in the coming weeks. I will keep an eye and keep you posted.

Hope this post helps any cheapskate sex educators out there :D.  If you would like a copy of my 25 page indepth guide to doing a condom demonstration with young people (or anyone over 13 really) then you can email me on sexedukation@gmail.com it costs £3.50 or is provided free on condom demonstration training courses I deliver, just contact me for more details.

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UPDATE 10/4/14

Turns out white hand soap on its own is UV sensitive (feel a bit silly for not trying that first and faffing with the laundry brightener! So basically you can ignore the entire post above but leaving it for posterity of the daft things I do for my job). I bought an 80p one from the supermarket and I will easily have enough for thousands of demonstrations.  The added bonus is it will not clog your demonstrator, usually when training I pack away hurriedly and sometimes forget to flush the tubes of the demonstrator. One time I was doing a training and the tiny plug of artificial semen that rose majestically from the end of the demonstrator caused a hysteria that was hard to come back from so to speak.  But I have discovered that hand soap doesn’t seem to solidify in the same way as have just flushed the tubes with water as I am training this arvo and it was all clear and soapy fresh.   😀

Happy Educating

Teaching is in my blood


I have been solely freelance for the last three years now enabling me to work around my two tiny children who are both under three (previously I was part employed in a school and part freelance) . Although I was occasionally able to deliver sessions direct to young people and volunteer as a youth worker, I found I was really missing the school environment and developing those longer term relationships supporting young people to learn and succeed. So at the start of September I rejoined a secondary school for one day a week, I’m not teaching PSHE but a GCSE subject where I have two classes of Y11’s and I can honestly say its the best decision I have made in a long time. I am absolutely loving being back in a school, having fab new colleagues, and ace new students. The school is in special measures, the kids can be temperamental, my working day is 7.30am can be until 9pm (if I want to keep my school work to the one day) and I am only earning a tiny amount above my childcare costs but I really am absolutely thriving on the challenge and enjoying every second. I’m utterly knackered but heck teaching really is in my blood.

I love my job*

*I may revisit this post after the September back to school love rush has faded, the kids have missed their coursework deadlines and I’m behind on marking, report writing etc etc to see if I still feel the same! I hope so.