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 Textbooks are often outdated and health is a subject with a constantly changing curriculum.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.

5 Tips for Teaching Kids How to Set Goals

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National Health Education Standard 4: Students will demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting skills to enhance health.

One of the best ways to kick off the school year is with a unit on goal setting, since everyone returns fresh from summer vacation and ready for a strong new start. I particularly enjoy this unit because it’s one I get to participate in, along with the kids. In order to teach them how to maneuver the goal-setting process, I first have them help me come up with a goal, and then have them set one of their own.

While kids have a vague idea of how to set goals, many of them focus on extrinsic rewards, like pleasing their parents, so I tell them to use this project to work on accomplishing something that is personal to them. It can involve any aspect of their health – physical, mental, emotional, or social.

Here are some of the key points we go over before they get started:

1. Set a SMART goal.

Many different versions of the acronym SMART have been used in relation to goal setting, but the following is what I have found to work best with middle school students. For a goal to be effective, it must be: Specific, Measurable, Adjustable, Realistic, and Timely.

To explain this concept, I present the kids with a vague goal of mine, such as, “I want to make more friends at work.” By examining the goal through the lens of the SMART descriptors, the kids were able to change it to, “I will eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other teachers at least four days a week.” This new goal hits all of the key points, and is much healthier than eating at my desk.

2. Find someone who can help.

Goals are difficult to accomplish without support, so finding help is an important part of the process. Keep in mind that help can come in many different forms: a parent, coach, teacher, friend, or even a helpful group of seventh graders who check the cafeteria every day to make sure that you’re sticking to your plan.

3. Set goals that are based on action, not circumstance.

For example, “I will not get angry at my little brother” isn’t really a measurable goal, and it likely depends on your brother doing something to provoke an emotional reaction. If you want to get along better with your brother, put a positive spin on it, and change the goal to, “I will play with my little brother for 30 minutes after school everyday.”

4. Write it down.

This one’s backed by science. Recent studies have found that when student write out their goals (and thus, become more likely to achieve them), they’re helping to erase gender and ethnic minority gaps in education. As my mother used to say, “You’ve got to see it to achieve it!” I’m sure I found that highly annoying as a teenager, but now that I’m all grown up, I totally get it. Thanks, mom!

5. Model good goal-setting behavior.

It’s fun for the kids to see me sitting down at the cafeteria socializing with my coworkers. They’ve witnessed how a goal can become a habit, and they feel like they’ve helped me make new friends. Share your goals with your students, whether they’re physical, like trying to master a yoga handstand, social, like cutting down on screen time in your family, or professional, like working on an advanced degree. The kids will see that goal setting is a skill they’ll need for life, plus they can help you celebrate your success.

(Just be sure to avoid any goals that are focused on appearance, as that can send the wrong message… besides, the kids already get enough of that from the media!)

For a fun way to get the unit started, here are some clips of inspirational goal setters that will motivate any class.