An Education Designed for Boys

Tim Ihms Current Affairs, Education

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I designed the instruction for two private schools I started in the East Valley centered on how best to educate boys. Of course, the girls attending my schools benefitted from the design of the instruction as well as the boys. But my emphasis was how best to motivate boys and provide a successful education which allowed our students, both boys and girls, to have very few limits in what they could choose for careers and advanced studies after high school.

 

The reason for the centering the school’s instruction on the boy’s educational needs was because boys are not being educated as a rule in our culture’s educational model. I experience this every day now where I work and in previous years teaching in public schools in three different states. The public school model, though used widely also in charter and private schools, usually consists of a teacher-led lecture with the teacher instructing her students on the material to be learned, small group work to reinforce the material, and tutoring one-on-one after school hours.

 

The purpose of this piece is not to argue the point that the large majority of our schools; public, private, and charter provide an inadequate education for the majority of boys. Other people have provided a good discussion on this subject, especially Christina Hoff Summers in her well-researched article in The Atlantic, May 2000 issue titled “The War Against Boys”. Also, read “Gender Bias against Boys in the American Educational System” in Pitlane Magazine and from the PBS News Hour, and “How Do We Help Boys Close the Academic Gender Gap?” by Sarah McHaney.

 

 

Here is my initial list of purposeful ways I designed our school’s instruction and practices to provide a consistently successful education for the boys attending.

 

  1. The focus was on daily individual accomplishments on goals set for each boy decided by his previous day’s accomplishments within the school’s goals.
  2. The instruction was provided in short individual talks directed at the individual student and his needs for the majority of his work/project.
  3. Class sizes were kept at 15-20 students to encourage the opportunity for teachers to build good teacher-student relationships.
  4. When the school day had interruptions that changed the day’s schedule, three subjects had to be included no matter what: Bible, math, and recess.
  5. Science was included in the class schedule starting in kindergarten. All science in kindergarten through sixth grades was a hands-on time using excellent materials from Lego and other hands-on materials.
  6. Computers were used to teach computer skills, not for instructional means for other courses. Keyboarding, Word, Excel and computer languages were taught beginning in the fourth grade.
  7. All writing was designed to produce a public product; a friendly letter to family, essay contests, poetry contests as well as science research contests.

 

The reason for goal number one is that boys like to accomplish something. Each boy was allowed to increase his skills if he successfully exhibited mastery for the previous day’s goals. One way this was accomplished was through breaking instruction down into smaller pieces. Another way was I took away the notion a certain amount of material had to be covered. If mastery is pursued and skills are not just covered to say I covered the skills, then steady progress with consistent retention was the rule of thumb.

 

The idea of providing individual instruction goes along with reason number three also. If the skill I am teaching today is built on previous learning, which it is, then instruction about the newest skill should be short and sweet.

 

Boys are about individual relationships. Small class sizes and short individual instructional discussions are teaching to boy’s strengths. Developing individual relationships and allowing them to work towards their individual goals to be achieved daily was a big part of the success of the school. And if their goal is not achieved, it is their responsibility to achieve it.

 

Three subjects had to be instructed each day for the boy’s sake, Bible, math, and recess. Bible for their moral growth. Math because consistent daily instruction supported daily growth. And recess because boys need to play freely but within boundaries of respect and putting others first.

 

Hands-on science was provided weekly in grades 1-3, thrice weekly in 4-6 and daily in 7-12. Minimal instructions and background in grades 1-6 were provided for each lesson. The idea was to give them enough background knowledge to see a purpose to the project and then the majority of time was creating and building. The boys would have to work with a partner to solve or understand the concept they were working on. If the teacher felt one boy did more work than the other, then the project was rejected until both boys showed an equal amount of effort. Science in the middle and high school years was built around textbooks with over 30% of their science time in labs.

 

Computers are a very poor replacement for a great or even a good teacher. But with that said, computer skills were learned at the school so computers can serve a student’s purposes. The boys had to know computer skills to allow them to exceed in their future lives. Keyboarding skills for speed of work.  Word and Excel for speed of work as well as greater quality. Computer languages to give them options for careers.

 

The writing was always for an audience in addition to their teacher. Friendly letters were used to communicate and to receive immediate praise on the quality of their writing from the recipients. Contests allowed the boys to receive awards in something else besides sports. It allowed them to receive outside recognition for the work performed in school. And for some boys, their first time being recognized for doing anything at all.

 

These basic ideas behind the school worked in many ways beyond just test scores. But our test scores were good. Over 60% of my high school graduates exceeded on at least one test on the state’s annual exam, the AIMS. One third exceeded all three areas. And over 60% of my boys (and girls) initially went into college in a science or engineering area.

 

Boys need a different approach than what our culture is generally providing. This was my very successful attempt to provide something better.

 

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after 31 years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. I’ve been teaching engineering, science, and math at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career. I also sponsored my school’s MESA program, which prepares members to enter college and major in a STEM career, for twenty-one years. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team, and serving on my school’s literacy council. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education. During the 2017–18 school year I also served as an Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

  • Susan Collins

    Tim, this is a great outline of how education should be structured. It very much reminds me of the Montessori philosophy: Follow the Child. If we follow the needs and interests of the learner, help him/her develop a deep desire to learn, and foster the skills to learn…the rest will fall into place!

  • Sandy Merz

    Thank you for this. We’re really struggling in my school right now and you’ve got some great pointers that I can use as I try to break through so many barriers and connect with our male students.

  • Yolanda Wheelington

    Thank you for this. My district is looking at this issue as I type these keys. I will be passing it along.