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.

Talking to Kids About Emotions Using Pixar’s Inside Out

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Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Summer Institute for Educators at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, where we attended presentations from a variety of experts in the field of mindfulness and Social/Emotional Learning—often referred to as SEL. On the last night, we had the privilege of going to the Pixar campus for a screening of Inside Out.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, it’s a beautifully done look inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl. The amount of work that went into the film, which took five years to complete, is astounding, and you can see how much effort the Pixar team put into making sure their research was accurate, as well.

While watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful teaching tool this will be for students on the brink of adolescence. During a Q&A with one of the directors, I asked if there were any plans to release a guidebook for educators to go along with the film. He said not yet, but that the film has definitely been bringing up meaningful discussions between kids and their families.

While I plan on showing this to my 6th graders as soon as it’s available on DVD, many of the kids will come back from summer break already having seen it.

Here are five discussion questions about the film that I plan on incorporating into our lessons on emotional health. If students haven’t seen it yet, they’ll still be able to participate after a quick explanation.

1. The director said he was inspired to make this film when his daughter started going through adolescence and seemed to become a completely different person. Has your relationship with your parents shifted at all as you’ve been growing up? If so, what are some of the ways that it has changed, and why do you think that is?

2. Riley’s five main emotions—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—all had different times when they were in control. What are some times in your life when you think each of those emotions is “steering your ship”?

3. In the movie, Joy was trying to protect Riley’s core memories, because they helped shape her personality. What are some of your core memories? Were they guided by one emotion, or a mixture of different ones?

4. Joy realizes that Sadness is important because it makes us want to reach out to others. This is, according to the director, why sadness is driving the mother’s brain – because mothers often have high levels of empathy. What is empathy, and when in your life have you experienced it?

5. Riley had five “personality islands” that made her who she was. What do you think your “personality islands” would be? Have you lost any islands and gotten new ones as you’ve started going through adolescence?

If you haven’t had a chance to see Inside Out yet, make sure you get to a theater right away… just don’t forget your Kleenex!

6 Online Resources for Planning a Health Curriculum

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Two years ago, I finally did it. I threw away (or recycled, actually) the stacks of textbooks that had 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 within your 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 streamline my news feed, and subscribe to the blogs that I know will consistently deliver good information.

Here are some that have helped me keep my health curriculum up-to-date:

1. The New York 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 research and studies.

2. The Atlantic – Health

Dr. James Hamblin writes the health column for The Atlantic, and his fresh take 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.

3. NPR Shots

This health column from the NPR blog is updated frequently and delivers the latest news with a balanced focus on physical, mental, and emotional health. I like sharing these articles with my students when they’re doing health research, because it gives them the option of listening to or reading the stories.

4. Choices Magazine

This might seem like an obvious one, but Choices is a valuable resource for any health teacher. They tackle real issues that kids face today, and put a lot of thought into the stories that they publish – thanks to feedback from both teacher and student advisory boards.

5. 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 teacher whose goal is to educate 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, which could easily be used in the classroom.

6. Common Sense Media

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.

In our age of information, staying in the loop is key when it comes to getting buy-in from kids. The resources above are just a small handful of all the helpful teaching tools the Internet has to offer. Happy planning!