6 Ways to Bring Authentic Learning to Health Class

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6 Ways to Bring Authentic Learning to Your Health Class

When I was in 8th grade, I was assigned a project on career exploration. At the time, I was obsessed with music, and wanted nothing more than to be a radio DJ. My friend and I researched everything we could get our hands on (not an easy feat before the dawn of the Internet) about becoming a DJ, and even got to visit the local radio station.

While sitting in as guests in the studio, we were asked to select a song. My friend Gina asked for New Kids on the Block, but I said we should play something “new and fresh”, like Milli Vanilli.

It’s one of my favorite memories from middle school, and not just because of my ridiculous song choice.

It was memorable because I felt like I was actually doing something for real, not just for a grade. The learning experience was so rich that I can still recall all of the details, even though I can’t remember if I got an A or a B.

That’s what learning should be- student-directed, inquiry based, collaborative, and full of “real-life” connections.

With a subject as universal as health, we’re blessed with abundant opportunities to bring authentic learning to our classes. Here are 6 ideas to get started with yours.

Give student work a public audience

  1. Join a campaign like Food Revolution Day by chef Jamie Oliver, which aims to bring food education into schools. Not only will students learn how to cook, but they can share their work on social media and practice their advocacy skills.
  1. Have students organize a community wellness fair. Students can run talks, give cooking demonstrations, offer fitness classes, and see if local health and wellness professionals would like to get involved. Check out the resources at Action for Healthy Kids for tips, handouts and ideas. 

Have your class create a school-wide advocacy campaign

  1. Inspire kids to advocate for healthier school lunches. After watching a documentary about a group of students from New Orleans who took on their cafeteria provider, have your students create their own campaign and get more fresh and tasty food available in your school.
  1. Join a fitness challenge like the Billion Mile Race from the New Balance Foundation. Students rack up miles by running and walking during class and in their free time, and can check their school’s stats as they go. A little healthy competition is a great motivator to get up and moving.

Break down the classroom walls and get out into the community

  1. Have students organize a healthy field trip. They can take a trip to the market, go to a yoga studio, or visit a chef for a cooking demo. When students contact community experts themselves, they’re much more likely to get offers for free lessons or and services.
  1. Go and visit a farm or vegetable garden. One of the best ways to get kids excited about fruits and veggies is when they’ve picked the produce themselves. If you don’t have the space or resources to plant a garden in your own school, find a local farm to visit and get your hands dirty for the day.

These are some ideas to get started, but the magic of authentic learning happens when it comes directly from the students. Ask yours what issue they feel passionately about, and guide them along as they create a project of their own.

 

6 Online Resources for Creating a Health Curriculum

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Online Resources for Planning a Health Curriculum

Two years ago, I finally did it. I threw away (or recycled, actually) the stacks of textbooks that have been collecting dust on my shelves for years.

I’m not sure why I didn’t do it sooner. Textbooks are often outdated and health is a subject with a constantly changing curriculum. It’s best to first find out what the student health concerns are in the community, and then find supporting materials online.

It can be overwhelming to sift through all of the resources out there, so I use Twitter to help me streamline my news feed, and subscribe to the blogs that I know will consistently deliver good information.

Here are a few that have helped me keep my health curriculum up-to-date.

NY Times Well: Covering a wide-range of topics and written by a team of experts, this blog is full of breaking health news, tips for healthy living, and the latest in research and studies.

The Atlantic Health: Dr. James Hamblin writes the health column for The Atlantic, and his fresh take on things is insightful and often very funny. His video series “If Our Bodies Could Talk” takes a humorous look at current health trends, and his Twitter feed was named one of the best of 2014 by Time Magazine.

NPR Shots: The health column from the NPR blog is an excellent resource. It’s updated frequently, and delivers the latest with a balance of focus on physical, mental and emotional health. They do quite a bit of reporting on the health of kids and teens, and I like sharing these articles with my students when they’re doing health research, because it gives them the option of listening to the story or reading it instead.

Choices Magazine: This might seem like an obvious one, since you’re reading this post on their blog, but Choices is a valuable resource for any health teacher. They tackle real issues that kids are facing today, and put a lot of thought into the stories that they choose by getting feedback from both teacher and student advisory boards. They update their blog often, and are active on Twitter, so if you follow them, you can stay caught up with the latest.

The Greater Good Science Center from UC Berkeley: This has been an extremely useful resource for me over the last few years as I’ve incorporated mindfulness into my classroom. They’ve got the latest on social and emotional health, and their site for educators is full of resources and research to help any school or teacher that’s shifting towards a focus on educating the whole child.

Their focus is on the science of what makes a meaningful life, and their new website Greater Good In Action, is full of active, research based practices to help improve health and happiness that could easily be used in the classroom.

Common Sense Media: Subscribe to this blog! I can’t say enough about this site as a resource for teachers, students and their parents. It covers all things digital, including screen time, cyberbullying, and media literacy.

So much great stuff out there… this is just the tip of the iceberg, but can help you stay in the loop. Which, in our age of information, is key when it comes to getting buy-in from the kids. Happy planning!

7 Reasons to Use Journaling in Health Class

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Journaling has been a big part of my health classes since the day I became a teacher, and the benefits it has had on my teaching practice keep piling up every year. Even with all of the technological advances over the last 15 years, I start every semester by giving each of my students a small spiral bound notebook.

Here are 7 reasons why you should too.

  1. Gage student concerns and keep your content relevant

 When I first became a health teacher, I was given the teacher’s guide to an outdated textbook and told to just “go in order and get through what you can”. When I thumbed through the first few chapters, it was clear I wasn’t going to cover the topics my students wanted and needed me to.

So I asked them what I should cover, by writing the following on the board,

“Journal #1: What are the biggest health concerns in our school community? In your family? For you personally?” 

I spent that first afternoon looking through all of their journals, and built my curriculum from there.

  1. Enjoy one-on-one conversations with your students

 When I was a sophomore, I had a Language Arts teacher who had us journal at the beginning of each class. I still remember some of her comments back to me, as it felt like she really was getting to know me as a person.

I used to collect journals twice a semester to spend time writing back to my students, but would end up overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of it all. So for the past few years, I’ve used a staggered “journal check” schedule. Each student has five days during the course of the semester when they’re assigned to hand their journals in. This keeps them on top of their entries, and gives me about 12 journals a day to check, making it much more manageable.

  1. It gives students a healthy coping skill

Research shows that keeping a journal is good for our health– physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It helps us gain perspective and work out problems on our own. Getting students in the habit of writing down their thoughts and feelings is worth the time in and of itself.

  1. It’s a good place to write down gratitude lists

In a recent study, university students who took the time to write down five things they’re grateful for had a marked increase in their happiness levels. I have my students jot down a gratitude list in their journal during the first lesson of each week. It takes just a second, and as one of my 7th graders put it, “It’s like the fastest happiness hack ever.”

  1. Increased mindfulness and focus

 My students spend the first five minutes of class every other day writing in their journals (three years ago we started alternating it with a guided meditation). If they have something pressing on their minds, they’re always free to write about that rather than the prompt I’ve given them. Having the chance to get their thoughts out on paper and out of their heads helps them focus and get ready for class.

This is especially useful when you teach 6th graders right after lunch.

  1. It’s a tool for formative assessment and reflection 

My journal topics are always connected to our current projects or units of study, so with the staggered journal checks, I can really get a feel for what’s working, and what I need to spend more time on. I can also track individual student progress and get an idea of who needs help.

  1. It’s a great discussion starter

Not all kids are good at thinking off the cuff, so by giving them the chance to get their ideas on paper first, they’re more comfortable when it comes time for our class discussions. As for my introverts who have a hard time sharing at all, I get to check for understanding on journal check days.

Unlike is usually be the case, some of the strongest relationships I have are with students who rarely raise their hands. And that is the biggest reason for journaling of them all.

4 Cross-Curricular Projects with a Focus on Health

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Short on instructional time? Health is a universal, so team up with another teacher on campus and see where you can layer in health literacy skills with other content areas.

The field of education is currently undergoing a big shift from traditional methods of instruction to project-based learning (PBL). Most teachers are excited to implement PBL in their classrooms, but in subjects like health, where instruction time is limited, teachers struggle to find ways to fit it all in.

Luckily, PBL offers ample opportunity for cross-curricular learning. Here are some ways in which health teachers can team up with other teachers to deliver lessons in an authentic, relevant, and enjoyable fashion while still addressing their standards.

Health + Science

Project Idea: The environment and personal health

Environmental health is a growing issue— and one we should be including in our curriculum. Today’s teens are more environmentally conscious than ever, so they are naturally curious about the impact of global warming on future generations.

In this article from the New York Times, Unraveling the Relationship Between Climate Change and Health, there are a number of links to studies and resources the kids can use as they research the issues we’re currently facing, as well as some possible solutions.

The final product for this project could take on many different forms- from a video, a presentation, an article, a pamphlet, or even a community information night.

Health + Math

Project Idea: Healthy eating on a budget

Give students a budget and have them figure out how to plan a week’s worth of healthy meals. They can research recipes and create shopping lists using measurements and rations. If it’s possible, you can take them to a neighborhood market to check prices, and if not, there are plenty of online grocery stores they could use as well.

Health + Physical Education

Project Idea: Setting personal fitness goals

Whether your school has combined PE and health, or if you’re lucky enough to have a stand-alone health program, teach the kids to set personal fitness goals and record their progress along the way.
Begin the year in health with a lesson on goal-setting, and have students pick an area of fitness they’d like to improve on. Through the use of fitness trackers, heart monitors, or even journaling, students can track their progress along the way and then reflect at the end of the semester on their progress.

Health + Language Arts

Project Idea: Teen issues in contemporary literature

So many young adult novels have themes involving issues covered in health, such as peer pressure and the struggle to fit in, mental health, substance abuse, family conflict, and more. Use the classic Freak the Mighty to teach kids about bullying, or The Hunger Games to teach media influence. Find out what the kids are reading in Language Arts, and see if any themes support what you’re currently teaching.

They could then put together an action plan for one of the characters to help tackle their issues with skills taught in health, like decision-making, communication, goal-setting, or advocacy.

Health isn’t a subject that should live in isolation, as it affects our students on a personal level every day. Put the word out to your colleagues that you’re looking to collaborate, and see who bites. The possibilities are endless, and the benefits to the students immense.

4 Ways to Implement Cross-Curricular Learning in Health

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The field of education is currently undergoing a big shift from traditional methods of instruction to project-based learning (PBL). Most teachers are excited to implement PBL in their classrooms, but in subjects like health, where instruction time is limited, teachers struggle to find ways to fit it all in.

Luckily, PBL offers ample opportunity for cross-curricular learning. Here are some ways in which health teachers can team up with other teachers to deliver lessons in an authentic, relevant, and enjoyable fashion while still addressing their standards.

Health + Science

Project Idea: The environment and personal health

Environmental health is an issue growing in importance, and it’s one that we should be including in our curriculum. Today’s teens are more environmentally conscious than ever, so they are naturally curious about the impact of their environmental footprint on future generations.

In this New York Times article, “Unraveling the Relationship Between Climate Change and Health,” there are a number of links to studies and resources the kids can use to research the issues we’re currently facing and ponder some possible possible solutions.

The final product for this project could take on many different forms—a video, a presentation, an article, a pamphlet, or even a community information night.


Health + Math

Project Idea: Healthy eating on a budget

Give students a budget and have them plan a week’s worth of healthy meals. They can learn how to research recipes and create shopping lists using measurements and rations. If possible, you can take them to a neighborhood market to check prices, but if not, there are plenty of online grocery stores they could use for reference, as well.


Health + Language Arts

Project Idea: Teen issues in contemporary literature

So many young adult novels involve themes covered in health classes, such as peer pressure, substance abuse, family conflict, and more. Use the classic Freak the Mighty to teach kids about bullying, or The Hunger Games to demonstrate media influence. Find out what the kids are reading in their language arts classes, and see if any themes support what you’re currently teaching.

Then, using skills taught in health class—such as decision-making, communication, or advocacy—the students can create an action plan to help one of the characters tackle their issues.


Health + Physical Education

Project Idea: Setting personal fitness goals

Whether your school has combined PE and health, or if you’re lucky enough to have a stand-alone health program, teach the kids to set personal fitness goals and record their progress along the way.

Begin the year with a health lesson on goal setting, and have students pick an area of fitness they’d like to improve. Through the use of fitness trackers, heart monitors, or even journaling, students can track their progress along the way and then reflect on their achievements at the end of the semester.


Health isn’t a subject that should live in isolation, as it affects our students on a personal level every day. Put the word out to your colleagues that you’re looking to collaborate, and see who bites. The possibilities are endless, and the benefits to the students immense.