PE and Core Curriculum

What other subject area would you consider for integration with health, physical education, or both? Briefly describe how you would integrate the subject area with health or physical education. 

As is no doubt clear from my two prior posts on this subject, I have a somewhat non-canonical view of this question. I believe that physical activity is essential for a successful elementary school program. Most students of this age absolutely require frequent opportunities for physical movement. The requirements that we impose on children as young as four years old to sit still and “properly” is unreasonable. Certainly there are many who can and do comply but also many that cannot and begin at a very tender age to suspect that “school is not for me.” For this reason, and because the power of “play” to cement learning is so strong, I believe that the kind of physically active learning games discussed in Dynamic Physical Education are extremely appropriate for use in the homeroom “core” education. I think children need to move their bodies every half hour, if not more frequently. Anything that gives them this opportunity is good, and the more playful learning becomes, the more effective the learning and retention. So my view is that the integration needs primarily to go the other way, PE needs to be continually integrated into core subjects.

Certainly there are opportunities to integrate core subjects into PE as well. Students can and should learn not just the rules of the sports they play but the history. In that history they can learn the history of the times as well. One brilliant and perfect example is that equality has always been a hallmark of sport, yet there have been notable moments in history (1936 Olympics, segregated baseball leagues) where that spirit of equality has been famously violated. Then, having been exposed to the fascinating history of sport (so many famous battles, the football “Ice Bowl,” Mets vs. Red Sox in 1986, on and on…), it is logical to integrate literature. By giving students the opportunity to read exciting books about these dramatic sporting moments, we create the possibility of books being interesting, a concept that is certainly not obvious to many students today. Science and math can be linked in how an ice hockey rink is cooled or the physics of hitting a home run 278’ or the brain science of concussions and football (or soccer). There are many ways to use the natural excitement so many students have about sports to extend that interest into “core” learning. Most students just need a reason to care about what we are teaching them and sports can be that reason for many students who haven’t otherwise found one.


Are Fathers Necessary?

What are some typical errors that a researcher should look for when reviewing journals?

One error I encountered recently was in a magazine article, “Are Fathers Necessary?” in Atlantic Magazine.  (

The article appears to be about an idea that is gaining more widespread acceptance: that a having a male present while raising children is statistically linked to better outcomes for those children.  I will not rehash the arguments.  Obviously, there is some inherent appeal to those of us who believe that the average male and the average female learn and, to a surprising extent, think and behave differently.  Not better or worse, but differently.  This idea that fathers are necessary is very important because fewer and fewer homes with children actually have fathers or adult males present.  Of course, it is simply not possible in many cases to have males present, but that is not the discussion.  Like so many difficult questions in science, the “problem statement” is about what happens when fathers are not present, for better or worse.

Anyway, this is very threatening for a lot of people, particularly some single mothers who feel this disrespects the herculean effort they make every day to be the best parent to their child they possibly can be.  Apparently, it also bothers some radical feminists and lesbians who believe in the old Wellesley College motto: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and do not like to see themselves contradicted.

Therefore, this brings us back to the Atlantic article.  It purports to question whether the absence of fathers does statistically lead to poorer expected results for children, but what it actually argues is mostly that two lesbians can raise a baby successfully.  That is great info, but largely independent of the question the article claimed to address and claimed to debunk.  Unfortunately, in spite of the logical argument that one cannot be true if the other one is, in real life the two questions are largely independent from each other.  Proving one does not disprove the body of evidence in support of the other.

Therefore, one error to look for is articles that purport to disprove something but which instead simply prove a different point, leaving the inference but not the proof that the initial argument is wrong.

Gender-based Educational Strategies

I think there’s no question that gender-based strategies need to be taught to teachers and incorporated into classrooms just as VAK, multiple intelligences, and many other tools for understanding and reaching students more effectively are. I think teachers who say, “I teach to every child individually” are on the right path however they do need the education to fully comprehend what those distinct personalities require.

In particular, boys are frequently very much of a mystery for many teachers (though girls have their gender-based learning challenges too, obviously). So for me, the key is getting teachers to teach to coed classes using gender-based teaching strategies (amongst others). However, one of the leading writers on this subject, Leonard Sax, has apparently moved to advocating single sex classrooms and perhaps schools. I think a lot is lost, particularly in single sex schools. But there are certainly times and situations where differentiating by sex might help (for example in middle school when there is already so much change going on).

Here’s a table that shows gender-differentiated scores on the English Language Arts portion of the California CST. Note pretty uniformly 8% fewer boys than girls are scoring proficient or better.

Boys – Girls            
Adv & Prof 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
2009 -8% -5% -8% -8% -7% -9%
2008 -7% -5% -7% -6% -6% -10%
2007 -9% -8% -7% -7% -5% -9%
2006 -7% -6% -8% -7% -6% -10%
2005 -6% -6% -7% -7% -6% -10%
2004 -7% -6% -7% -8% -6% -10%
2003 -7% -7% -8% -8% -5% -8%
Average -7% -6% -7% -7% -6% -9%
Median -7% -6% -7% -7% -6% -10%
Adv & Prof 8th 9th 10th 11th Average Median
2009 -8% -8% -7% -9% -8% -8%
2008 -9% -8% -8% -8% -7% -7%
2007 -9% -10% -8% -8% -8% -8%
2006 -8% -8% -9% -6% -7% -7%
2005 -8% -10% -9% -6% -7% -7%
2004 -8% -9% -9% -6% -7% -7%
2003 -8% -8% -8% -8% -7% -8%
Average -8% -9% -8% -7% -7% -7%
Median -8% -8% -8% -8% -7% -7%

The Trouble with Boys

Can you think of an example of an instructional strategy that would not be developmentally appropriate for a given age group?

There is growing doubt about teaching reading and writing skills to kindergarten boys. For whatever reason, boys lag girls in both verbal processing and fine motor skills by, on average, 1 1/2 years at 5 years old. We wouldn’t try to teach most 3 1/2 year old girls to read and write but have no trouble trying to make boys with the same abilities as those young girls to do the same. This has profound implications. Early difficulties in school can create learned helplessness and a lifelong negative perception of both reading and school in general. It is obviously far more complex than this and boys have significantly more nature-based hurdles in school than just this one. But the effect is clear. I put together a 4 minute, totally fact based and fully referenced video, for anybody that’s interested:

There are several solutions to this phenomenon. One is easy: start boys who appear likely to have these issues in kindergarten at 6 instead of 5 years old. There are also a variety of teaching techniques that particularly suit the gender-specific learning needs of students. As just one example, boys do considerably better if their verbal faculties are recruited first through storyboarding or other non-verbal, imaginative exercises.

Gender Stereotypes, Part Three

The secret of evolving our culture’s relationship to gender is to appreciate the reality that the sexes do differ in important ways including behavioral, neurological and physiological. However, gender differences fall on a spectrum and all points on that spectrum have equal worth and validity. Anytime we pretend something different (whether that “all women want to work outside the home” or “all women want to raise babies”), we do everyone a disservice or worse.

It is tricky to talk of differences when our differences have been used as a tool of prejudice and repression. But when differences exist, how can we not acknowledge them? The challenge and the obligation is to acknowledge our differences but to respect them.

Gender Stereotypes, Part Two

As the father of a daughter and a regular participant in kindergarten and first grade, I am pretty clear that the biological influence is very strong. While there are certainly additional socialized aspects of gender, there is a very strong and immutable biological component.  To be sure, these biological gender aspects fall on a spectrum. But, as an example, the female recipients of turned cards in last year’s kindergarten yellow-orange-red disciplinary system outnumbered males by an crazy margin. Maybe one girl got to orange once all year and not one got to red. For the boys, orange was “the new yellow” and red was a familiar stopping place. They we lucky there was nothing worse than red…

We have tried to encourage our daughter to play sport. She is adamant about not playing soccer, t-ball or basketball. The only thing she does that resembles a sport is karate, where she has stayed diligent and long enough to have earned a second-orange belt. But truth be told she mostly does that for two reasons. One, her father clearly loves that she does it. And two, she likes socializing with the other girls there. In her regular weekly resistance to going to practice, her biggest objections come when she knows her friends will be absent. So here is a case where parental pressure is the main reason for, not against, contra-gender behavior.

The reality is every one of us is a bit of a random walk down personality lane. Any combination of interests and preferences is possible. However, all results cluster around a mean and the means by trait for males and females are often quite different. We should acknowledge that and allow each their own, free from pressure to conform to anyone’s political agenda.

Gender Differences

Gender stereotyping is a very interesting, important, and complex subject.  Stereotype is defined as “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010).  Thus, stereotyping is oversimplified, uncritical, and perhaps even prejudiced.  It also lumps all members of the group into the same simplistic judgment.  On its face, stereotyping is wrong.

Our society has entertained many gender stereotypes over its history.  Most were directly prejudicial to women.  The most recent swing of the pendulum brought the culture to a belief in androgyny, a belief that all Homo sapiens have “the characteristics or nature of both male and female” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2010).  However, recent neurobiological research demonstrates that this cultural assumption, however laudably equitable, is simply not correct.

A recent NIH/NIMH study found that “robust sex differences in developmental trajectories were noted for nearly all (brain) structures” (Lenroot et al., 2007).  The study also noted “peak gray matter volumes generally occurring earlier for females” and that “mean total cerebral volume was approximately 10% larger in males.  Total cerebral volume peaked at 10.5 years in females and 14.5 years in males” (Lenroot et al., 2007).  Thus, on average, male brains are larger than female brains and both total brain volume and gray matter volumes peaked 1 ½ to 2 years earlier in females than males.

A different study found that “girls rely on a supramodal language network, whereas boys process visual and auditory words differently” (Burman, Biten, & Booth, 2008).  In other words, females use different parts of their brain to process language and do so in a different fashion than males. 

With the recent developments in modern neural imaging technology, brains can be observed as never before.  A flood of research is revealing many new facts about how our brains work.  Many of those facts are revelations about how distinct average male and female brains really are.  One other study I would like to note is from a different field.  This study examined prenatal stress in rats and its effect on “latent inhibition (LI),” a Pavlovian conditioned response.  Fascinatingly, “prenatal stress increased the amount of LI only in the males” (Bethus, Lemaire, Lhomme, & Goodall, 2005).  In this pre-natal (i.e. almost entirely social influence free) study, female rats were unaffected. 

The body of evidence is large and growing larger that, on average, males and females have significant neurobiological, developmental differences.  Some are only in the timing of development, some are in structure and processing.  To be sure, there are no claims or assumptions of superiority for either gender.  However, unfortunately the easier and morally simpler assumption of androgyny is simple incorrect.  Unfortunately, there will be no simple answers in the area of gender differentiation.

Lenroot et al. (2007) sum it up nicely: “Differences in brain size between males and females should not be interpreted as implying any sort of functional advantage or disadvantage.  Size/function relationships are complicated by the inverted U shape of developmental trajectories and by the myriad factors contributing to structure size, including the number and size of neurons and glial cells, packing density, vascularity, and matrix composition.  However, an understanding of the sexual dimorphism of brain development, and the factors that influence these trajectories, may have important implications for the field of developmental neuropsychiatry where nearly all of the disorders have different ages of onset, prevalence, and symptomatology between boys and girls” (Lenroot et al., 2007, p. 1072).


Bethus, I., Lemaire, V., Lhomme, M., & Goodall, G. (2005, March 30). Does prenatal stress affect latent inhibition? It depends on the gender. Behavioural Brain Research, 158(2), 331-338. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2004.09.013
Burman, D., Biten, T., & Booth, J. (2008, January 4). Sex differences in neural processing of language among children. Neuropsychologia, 46(5), 1349-1362 . doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021 Retrieved from
Lenroot, R., Gogtay, N., Greenstein, D., Wells, E., Wallace, G., Clasen, L., Blumenthal, J., … Giedd, J. (2007, March 17). Sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories during childhood and adolescence. NeuroImage, 36, 1065-1073. Retrieved from
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (2010). Androgyny. Retrieved February 25, 2010, from
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (2010). Stereotype. Retrieved February 25, 2010, from

Gender Stereotypes

What are some examples of gender stereotypes?  Describe the development of gender stereotyping from early childhood into adolescence.

Gender stereotyping can occur in many forms and at many stages of development.  Studies show that gender stereotyped behavior can be increased by parental behavior in very early childhood.  As one example, children’s scores on sex role discrimination at age 4 were elevated in children whose parents had shown sex-typed toy preference at 18 months (Fagot & Leinbach, 1989).  Similarly, another study identified the emergence of gender labeling at about 18 months (Zosuls et al., 2009).  Another study showed that the use of gender in functional categories (e.g. “Good morning, boys and girls”) by teachers in elementary school led to subsequent increase in gender stereotyping among the students (Bigler, 1995).  Interestingly, from a developmental point of view, this increase in gender stereotyping was largest among students who had not yet developed multiple classification skill.  Susan Witt studied the relative influence of parents and peers and found that parents had the more profound influence on gender stereotypes. In addition, she argues, “Sex role stereotypes are well established in early childhood” (Witt, 1997, para. 11).  Other research shows gender stereotypes to be quite persistent, “The experimental intervention with elementary school children led to a reduction of occupational stereotyping.  Children’s own occupational aspirations were not, however, significantly affected” (Bigler & Liben, 1990).

Gender stereotypes can be created and reinforced in many ways.  They can be accidentally reinforced by the unspoken assumptions of caregivers and peers. Gender discriminated color choices (e.g. pink & blue), toy choices (Barbies & GI Joes) and even behavioral expectations (playing catch & playing house) are all examples of unconscious gender role differentiation.  More deliberately, boys are frequently expected to play sports, be tough and exhibit characteristics our culture associates with masculinity. Likewise, girls are directed towards dolls and more feminine behaviors and pursuits. Statements like “You hit like a girl” and “Boys don’t cry” make crystal clear the societal expectations for both genders.  As socialization and maturation progresses, peer pressure to conform can easily come to include gender stereotyped behaviors.  The enforced conformity of adolescence certainly adds to the stereotyping, but as we’ve seen above, gender stereotypes are well in place from very early on.


Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Bethus, I., Lemaire, V., Lhomme, M., & Goodall, G. (2005). Does prenatal stress affect latent inhibition? It depends on the gender. Behavioural Brain Research, 158(2), 331-338. Retrieved from

Bigler, R. S. (1995, August). The role of classification skill in moderating environmental influences on children’s gender stereotyping: A study of the functional use of gender in the classroom. Child Development, 66(3), 1072-1087. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.ep9509180275

Burman, D., Biten, T., & Booth, J. (2008). Sex differences in neural processing of language among children. Neuropsychologia, 46(5), 1349-1362 . doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021

Fagot, B. I., & Leinbach, M. D. (1989, June). The young child’s gender schema: Environmental input, internal organization. Child Development, 60(3), 663-672. Retrieved from

Lenroot, R., Gogtay, N., Greenstein, D., Wells, E., Wallace, G., Clasen, L., Blumenthal, J., … Giedd, J. (2007, March 17). Sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories during childhood and adolescence. NeuroImage, 36, 1065-1073. Retrieved from

ScienceDaily. (2008). Boys’ And girls’ brains Are different: Gender differences in language appear biological. Retrieved from

Witt, S. D. (1997, Summer). Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles. Adolescence. Retrieved from

Zosuls, K. M., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Shrout, P. E., Bornstein, M. H., & Greulich, F. K. (2009, May). The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for gender-typed play. Developmental Psychology, 45(3), 688-701. Retrieved from

Boys, Part One

There is a problem with boys in our educational system.

Among other disturbing statistics, males enrolled in college as a percentage of the total has dropped steadily from 70% to 42% between 1949 and 2006 (Sax, 2007), boys receive 70 percent of the D’s and F’s on report cards (Kauchak & Eggen, 2005, p. 97), 73.4% of children diagnosed with a learning disability are boys (I Teach I Learn, n.d.), and boys make up 80% of discipline problems (Gurian & Stevens, 2005, p. 22). In the state of California, from 2003 to 2009, consistently across all grades and years, 8% fewer boys than girls scored proficient or better on their California Standards Test English Language Arts exam (California Department of Education, 2010).

Michael Gurian said it very well, “Boys get unfairly labeled as morally defective, hyperactive, undisciplined, or ‘problem children,’ when quite often the problem is not with the boys but with the families, extended families, or social environments, which do not understand their specific needs as human beings and as boys” (Gurian, 1999).

What are those specific needs? That is a subject much larger than the scope of this post. However, in general, boys have more need for physical movement and are interested in different subject matter than girls. Developmentally, they tend to be slower and/or different in many regards, especially as it relates to lateralization and language and emotional processing.

We cannot and should not change our learning expectations. There is much room, however, to change the classroom environment and add new teaching tools to our inventory to better accommodate the way boys learn.


California Department of Education. (2010). Standardized testing and reporting (STAR) results. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from

Gurian, M. (1999). The good son: A complete parenting plan. East Rutherford, NJ: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Gurian, M., & Stevens, K. (2005). The Minds of Boys. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

I Teach I Learn. (n.d.). Gender as a factor in special education eligibility, services, and results . Retrieved February 19, 2010, from

Kauchak, P., & Eggen, P. (2005). Introduction to teaching: Becoming a professional  (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Sax, L. (2007). Boys adrift: The five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men . New York, NY: Basic Books.