Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Addressing Misconceptions about Birth Control: Case Studies Immersing Students in the Facts & Real-Life Decisions

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Addressing Misconceptions about Birth Control: Case Studies Immersing Students in the Facts & Real-Life Decisions

Article excerpt

** Rationale

High school and undergraduate students have pervasive misconceptions about birth control methods and often do not apply their knowledge, when correct, to decisions they must make in their lives. Unintended pregnancies accounted for almost one-half of pregnancies in the United States in 2001 (Finer & Henshaw, 2006), and teen pregnancies result in lower educational attainment and job income (Centers for Disease Control, 2011). Even the National Science Education Standards address birth control methods, in 9-12 Life Science Content Standard F (National Research Council, 1996).

Using mini-cases about birth control methods can teach the facts, address misconceptions, and develop decision-making skills that may transfer to real-life situations.

Case studies involve a story to which students apply knowledge learned in class to challenge ideas, perceptions, and beliefs regarding the story (Herreid, 1994). Because the cases focus on a story that is not threatening, students discuss topics more openly and are more interested in what they are learning (Smith & Murphy, 1998; Zojonc, 2009). Additionally, case studies enhance students' understanding of concepts (Hodges, 2005), problem solving and critical thinking skills (Dori et al., 2003), and ability to make objective judgments (Dinan, 2002).

** Objectives

By the end of the mini-case-study lesson, students should be able to (1) compare and contrast birth control methods in terms of failure rate, cost, how they work, proper use, and long-term effects, especially for the male condom, the pill, fertility awareness, withdrawal, and the vaginal ring; (2) know which methods of birth control reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases; (3) determine which method(s) are best for a set of real-life circumstances, including their own; and (4) openly communicate about birth control with a partner.

** Materials & Engagement

The only required materials are the four mini-cases (see Figure 1) for each student to read and the research each student brings to class about a birth control method. The cases follow a young woman and her partners from her high school prom until after she is married and has had children. They engage students of both genders in learning about birth control methods and making decisions about birth control. Most high school and college students can relate immediately to one of these stages of life and can imagine some of the others. As students analyze the cases, they have the opportunity to talk about someone other than themselves, making very private topics, sexuality and birth control, less intimidating and embarrassing.

Other materials, although optional, make the lesson concrete, personal, and relevant to students. A sign-up sheet that allows students to choose a particular birth control method to research, while requiring them to divide up equally among the methods, facilitates analysis and discussion of the cases. Students are engaged and motivated by researching a topic that is personally interesting and useful. Since students are often unfamiliar with some methods of birth control or have misconceptions about how to use them, the sign-up sheet should include most or all of the methods of birth control found in Table 1. Furthermore, students have sometimes heard the name of a birth control method but do not know what it looks like. It is helpful if the instructor can show students examples of the more easily obtained birth control methods, including male condom, female condom, birth control pill case, sponge, and spermicide. Other optional materials include a water-based lubricant to show students while discussing how oil-based lubricants make latex condoms fail and one condom to hand out per student, if appropriate.

Figure 1. Birth control mini-cases.

Birth Control...What are the options?

Directions: Using the information you learned researching various
methods of birth control, read each of the following cases and
answer each of the questions below. … 
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