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PTA Coffee Break: Closing out with talk on gender differences

June 12, 2012|By Kate Rogers

PTA's Coffee Break hosted Michael Gurian for its year-end program at the Aliso Creek Inn on May 23.

Co-founder of the Gurian Institute and author of many best-selling books, Gurian spoke on the topic of gender differences in brain structure, activity and learning behavior. There were many "aha" moments for the audience, particularly among the educators present.

Gurian focused primarily on describing differences that are based on "nature" vs. "nurture." Nature-based differences show up on SPECT and PET scans and are universal across various cultures. Nurture-based differences are culturally-dependent gender roles which are taught. Gurian cautioned that all of his statements on gender differences are demonstrable in 80% of the population and would be less characteristic for the remaining 20%.

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According to Gurian, the first step of gender differentiation occurs at the moment of conception, when a fetus has either an extra X or a Y chromosome. For boys, at five weeks the mother's body is stimulated by the Y chromosome to release a bath of testosterone at a level 10-20 times the amount present for girls.

This reformats the male brain wherein words are processed only on the left side (girls' brains encode verbally on both sides of the brain and feeling and sensations are also present on both sides). The male brain is actually stimulated by spatial mechanicals and visual graphics, and this becomes very important when engaging boys in learning. Boys relate through mediating objects and movement, and even boys' eyes are more sensitive to movement.

Within any class of 25, one would find four to five boys whose brains would not easily function within the less spatial, more verbally-oriented system. It is important to engage the physical/spatial aspect in boys; for example President Obama had been featured in the news talking policy on the front lawn of the White House while throwing a football around.

Boys gain from being physical (and spatially stimulated) before learning in the classroom, and it would be even better if this kind of learning could be integrated within the classroom. (This is why boys are so mesmerized by video games: They are spatial and visual and give an added benefit of bestowing a sense of concrete accomplishment.)

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