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Boys afloat?

December 20, 2008

As the middle one of a trio of brothers, and as the father of three boys, I have always  been intrigued to observe the way boys play and learn.   At Prairie Creek last year, the faculty read Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax and undertook lengthy discussions about Sax’s premise that boys learn differently to girls and need a different school environment to be motivated and successful.

Sax, a family physician and research psychologist documents what he believes to be a worrying pattern in the decline of boys.  He claims that a combination of social and biological factors are creating an environment that is damaging to boys.    Sax explores ideas that an overemphasis on reading and math in the early years, too much time playing video games and too much emphasis on medicating attention deficit disorders have all contributed to the problem.

While I don’t necessarily endorse all Sax’s ideas (as a young man I attended a single sex middle and high school in England and, through experience, would question his enthusiasm for single sex public edcuation) but it’s an interesting read.  You can learn more about his ideas at

It’s interesting, therefore, to watch boys socialize and learn in the ARTech project-based environment. Daily, I see examples of  young men benefiting from the freedom to socialize and learn together in our small school.   Very often, boys in the high school program opt to explore projects together.  Let me tell you about a couple of examples of this that I chanced upon just the other day.   In the art room last Thursday, I encountered Chris, Matt H and Josef intent upon a project to

create, market and sell snowboard wax.  These three guys were engrossed in the process of creating a workable texture for their “wax popsicles”.  Watching them was fun, chatting to the fellas about the repeating process of experimentation and marketing was even more fascinating.   This was a truly intrinsically motivated project that integrated many different learning areas (chemistry, art, design, economics…) inspired by Chris and Josef’s passion for snowboarding.  

Leaving the art room, I then happened upon Brent, Hector and Diego in a side room.  Diego was intent on learning how to play a song on the guitar (he had never picked up this instrument before) under Brent’s instruction.  The activity piggy-backed on a previous music making

img_0295project Hector and Brent had recently finalized.  In my experience as both an educator and a parent, boys often learn and play well this way.   In the hands of a self-motivated group of boys, games and projects gather energy and momentum.  For this to happen in a school, there needs to be a flexibility of both environment and curriculum.  


  • When it works, it’s a delight to watch.   Just yesterday, I was reminded again of just how boys can build a support network for each other under the right conditions.   Nick B finalized his first independent project on Ancient Rome and sure enough, he had a supportive crowd of buddies present for his share.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 10, 2009 6:06 pm

    I, too, have found that boys flourish when they are allowed to co-create. Watching writing in my classroom, I see boys reach across to read each other’s work, intimately involved in its creation and often incorporating characters into each others’ stories. They also share reading passions, often reading sections out loud to each and discussing details during our “silent” reading. Without these shared experiences, the work is dull and lifeless to them.

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