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 Textbooks are often outdated, and health is a subject with a constantly changing curriculum.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

The Alcohol Research Lab

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It’s the end of the school year. This means our seniors are getting ready for college, the eighth graders are gearing up for high school, and many of our students will be faced with situations where they might be tempted to drink.

Rather than lecture them on the dangers of underage drinking, I like to have them find out the details for themselves, and then share the information with the class.

Here are some resources and questions I use for our research lab, but these change every semester. This is used with the 8th graders, but could easily be adapted for any grade level 8-12.

Alcohol Lab – Spring 2015

Station 1: Making the Right Decisions

The choices that you make as a teen will have an impact on the rest of your life. Positive choices bring positive results, and negative actions can sometimes lead to big trouble. In this station, you’ll see just how big.

Part One: College Life

1. Look at this list of high-risk college drinking consequences.

2. What percentage of American college students suffers academic problems due to drinking?  __________

Does this number surprise you? Explain…

Part Two: Legal and Academic Consequences in our Community

Do a little research and find out what some of the penalties might be if you were to get caught underage drinking at school, with the law, and with your parents.

Part Three: Binge Drinking

Binge drinking carries with it physical, mental, emotional, and social risks.

1. What does it mean to “binge drink”? Please define below.

2. Find four facts on the Internet about binge drinking from different sources. (Yes, you will need to site the source!)

Part Four: What Will You Do?

Despite all the risks, some teenagers still decide to drink. Create a story about a situation you could be in where alcohol is involved and what you would do. This could be a story you have heard happen or a fictional story you make up.

Make sure you write about something realistic. Your story should be at least four sentences long and includes specific details.

Station 2: Alcohol and the Brain

Listen to this news story about alcohol and the teenage brain from NPR and answer the following questions.

Teacher’s note: As this is from 2010, it could be substituted with a more current article, but I have still found this one to be the most effective. It details the ways alcohol impacts brain development differently for boys and girls, and gives some facts that really resonate with my students.

1. What was your initial reaction to the story?

2. List at least four facts that really shocked or surprised you.

3. According to the story, how often does a teenager need to binge drink to experience the negative effects on their brain?

4. Do you think that this new information will help put a stop to underage drinking?  Why or why not?  Back up your opinion with specific facts from the story.

Station 3: Making Healthy Choices

Read the recent article from CBS news entitled New Stats on Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco. Write down three facts or pointsthat you’d like to share.

Why do you think the rates of teen substance abuse have declined? Explain your theories.

Go to the website Natural High. Watch a few videos, check out the site, and figure out what YOUR natural high is. Write a little bit about it here.

Teacher’s note: Feel free to use any of the resources to create your own lab. Also, depending on the concerns in your school or community, you can easily add stations for other drugs, tobacco, and e-cigarettes.

The secret is to keep the front-loading to a minimum and let the students teach each other. It’s a great way to give them control over the material while making sure that your info is up-to-date… Saves a lot of money on textbooks too!

To go along with this lesson, check out “The Danger Of Just One Drink” and “Alcohol Poisoning: The Death You Don’t See Coming” stories from previous issues of Choices magazine!

Inspiring PSAs to Show in Health Class

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A huge part of what we teach in health class is advocacy, and one of the most effective ways to advocate is through PSAs, or public service announcements.

I’ve been having my students make them since back in the days of the handheld VHS cam and, needless to say, the quality has definitely improved over the last 10 years. Yay, technology!

I like to show my students examples throughout the year so that when it’s time to make their own, they’ve got a solid idea of what it takes to make theirs effective.

There have been a wide variety of PSAs produced over the last 50 years. Some have really worked, and some—for better or worse—have stuck in the lexicon of popular culture for years.

“You, alright? I learned it by watching you!” and “This is your brain on drugs” are usually the ones that come to mind.

And while in the past we were limited to PSAs that aired on network TV, thanks to YouTube we can now access ones we might never have seen otherwise.

Here are a few unique videos that I highly recommend. Hopefully you’ll be able to use them in class as a way to inspire positive choices and spark a passion for advocacy.

1. Cyberbullying: “Where Are You?” (Trend Micro’s “What’s Your Story?” Contest Winner from 2011)

This student-produced PSA looks like it was professionally done and it really packs a punch. It gets dark for a second, but ends on a high note, leaving the viewer with a positive solution. My students absolutely love the way it was done as a spoken word poem and the way the student who made it used graphic text to support his message.

2. Anti-Smoking Ad from Thai Health (2012)

In this moving PSA from Thailand, grown-ups are forced to acknowledge the hypocrisy of engaging in a behavior that they know is unhealthy and the message that it sends to kids. It’s longer than the traditional PSA, but it still has quite the impact. My students love it and even though there are subtitles, the message translates into any language.

3. #ThisGirlCan from the U.K. (2015)

This is a new PSA campaign from the U.K., and I think it needs to be added to any unit on body image. It features women of all sizes, races, ages, and physical shape working out in the best way possible. It’s a groundbreaking PSA, because so often the media shames women and girls for the way they look when exercising, when we all need to break a sweat.

The philosophy behind #ThisGirlCan is that we should exercise because we love our bodies, not because we hate them. And that’s a message I think all of our students need to hear.

For other great PSAs, check out some of the classics from Above the Influence or the great anti-tobacco advocacy group The Truth.

What Influences Teenagers to Drink?

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This post originally appeared on Choices.Scholastic.com

In the old-school method of health education, we were taught that alcohol use was mostly caused by peer pressure, and I grew up envisioning high school as some sort of giant John Hughes party where everyone would be forcing me to drink alcohol if I wanted to be cool.

But that wasn’t the reality. I mean, there were parties and there was alcohol, but different kids drank for different reasons and peer pressure was only one of them.

In the last few months, there have been some interesting new studies and articles about additional factors that influence teen drinking. For teachers looking to update their alcohol prevention and switch to a skills-based model, these resources could be a great place to start.

National Health Education Standard 2- Students will analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology and other factors on health behaviors.

1. Family

In a recent study by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, they found that when kids were offered a sip of alcohol before middle school, they were more likely to have a full drink by ninth grade and four times more likely to binge drink in high school.

Now, the numbers are still low and we wouldn’t want parents who have already let their children try a sip of alcohol to panic, but I think it’s an important study to look at. What’s interesting is that most of the kids who participated in the study were given the alcohol by a parent at a party or at a special occasion.

It’s most likely that it wasn’t the taste that triggered the desire for more alcohol in these kids, but rather, growing up in an environment where alcohol was regularly used by parents in a party-type setting. Associating alcohol with celebrations and happy times was much more likely to have influenced them to drink.

2. Peers

When I teach my students about peer pressure, in addition to learning about refusal skills, I like to put a positive spin on things. Surround yourself with awesome people who are following their dreams, and you’re much less likely to drink or use drugs.

For a great example of positive peer pressure, check out the advocacy group Natural High.



3. Culture

As a teacher from a school with a multicultural population, this is a great area of interest for me. My students come from different countries with different laws and very different attitudes about alcohol use. How does this influence their personal thoughts on drinking?

In a fascinating report from USC, Steve Fan—a Korean American—writes of his experience growing up, and why we need to protect Korean youth from a “culture of drinking.”

From a very young age, Korean boys are exposed to high levels of alcohol use that is not only widely accepted among teens, but often encouraged by their parents. He writes about how easy it is for teens to buy alcohol in areas with high immigrant populations, and how parent education is key in preventing abuse or dependence down the road.

While he writes of counseling mostly Korean and Latino parents in his youth center, this is an important read for all adults working with teens from any background.

And for further learning, you could have students do some research on alcohol in different cultures, reporting on how it’s used in cultural situations and how problem-drinking is viewed and handled.

4. Media

This article from CBS News features a study from the Journal of Pediatrics that looks at how the amount of alcohol teenagers see in movies will factor into whether or not they are going to drink.

The study authors recommend including a pediatrician and child psychologist on the board that determines movie ratings and suggests that they should be content-based, rather than age-based to help parents make a more informed decision.

For a great website that actually does use a panel of experts to rate media based on content, check out CommonSenseMedia.org. It’s a valuable resource to parents and teachers alike.

5. Technology

This is an interesting one, and although many will say that social media and fear of missing out are causing teens to drink even more, I actually think it’s one of the reasons we’ve seen a significant drop in teen alcohol and drug use over the last 10 years.

Kids are using social media to follow their passions, find people to connect with, and fill their lives with things besides drugs and alcohol. They also realize that getting drunk makes you do stupid things, and thanks to technology, we now live in an age where everything can be recorded… and that has to have a huge influence too.

For more of the latest on teenagers and alcohol, check out “One Deadly Night” from the April 2017 issue of Choices.

5 TED Talks to Use During Health Class

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This week, I’ve been getting ready to make the trek from Shanghai out to Seattle for the SHAPE America National convention, and I’m super excited. Love the chance to connect with other health teachers and see what everyone’s been up to.

What I wasn’t so excited about, however, was writing up a week’s worth of sub plans. Sub plans are the bane of many teacher’s existence, and I’ve seen coworkers come in when they should be home resting, just so they can avoid writing them altogether.

Luckily, I knew this trip was coming up, and had planned it so my students would be working on projects while I was gone. Also, my amazing regular sub will be able to assist them should anything pop up.

But as I was writing out my plans for the week, it got me thinking. What about when we’re not prepared? When something comes up—which it sometimes will—and a lesson is scheduled that can’t be taught by a sub? With such little instructional time as is, what are our options for last minute meaningful instruction when we can’t be there in person.

And that’s when it hit me… TED Talks!

Gone are the days of filler movies or meaningless worksheets. We’ve got a wealth of amazing guest speakers at our fingertips, whether we’re absent or not.

Here are five talks that I show almost every year. Usually I’m there when I show them so we can discuss afterwards, but in case of a last minute emergency, these classics would work in a pinch.

1. Andy Puddicombe: “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes”

Grades 4-12

In this short talk, Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, the wildly popular meditation app, explains meditation in a way that is completely accessible to kids and adults as well. He uses humor and explains clearly why we need to meditate, and how simple it truly is.

After watching the talk, the kids can try out one of the meditations from his app, or use a free program like Smiling Mind.

For further learning in older classes, have students read this recent article from The Atlantic about meditation in the workplace: “Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation

2. Kelly McGonigal: “How to make stress your friend”

Grades 6-12

For so many years, we’ve been taught to view stress as the enemy, and according to this uplifting talk from health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, it’s only making our problem worse. She reframes the way we look at stress in a positive way, as a tool that we can call upon to help us find courage and face our challenges.

This is an engaging talk and I highly recommend it.

For further learning, have the kids reflect about a time when they used stress to their advantage to help them reach their goals.

3. Jane McGonigal: “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”

Grades 8-12

Yep! Another McGonigal. In fact, they’re twins. My students often joke about what their parents must have been feeding them for breakfast to make them both so smart.

Jane McGonigal is a famous video game designer , and this is her second time at TED Global. In this moving talk, she reveals her personal struggle after recovering from a concussion, and how she created a game to help pull her out of depression and build her physical, mental, social, and emotional resilience. She also gives the viewers some actionable ways to build this resilience themselves.

It’s great to hear someone combine the language we use in class with the language of video games. My students absolutely love this talk and it’s great to remind them that video games can be an amazing stress reliever (when used in moderation, of course!).

For further learning, you can have the kids sign up for her game, SuperBetter, and try to tackle some of their own personal challenges, whether it’s overcoming anxiety, exercising, or getting more sleep.

4. Sherry Turkle: “Connected but alone?”

Grades 8-12

In this powerful and controversial talk, Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, warns us about the impact that our dependence on technology is having on our social relationships, and where we could all be heading if we’re not careful. It leads to some great discussions with the kids, and hopefully could feed into more conversations at home.

For a shorter and more digestible version of the talk, there is a great video animation that was created called The Innovation of Loneliness. It touches on the key points from her talk while using some pretty cool graphics. My 8th graders love it.

5. Russell Foster: “Why do we sleep?”

Grade 7-12

This is a great talk, as it focuses on all of the amazing benefits of sleep, rather than just on the dangers of sleep deprivation. It gives good scientific information, and a wide variety of reasons as to why we need to change the culture and get to bed at a much earlier time.

For further learning after this talk, have the kids pick one of the benefits of sleep, research more about it, and find a creative way to present it to the class.

These are just a few of the talks that I’ve used, but there are many more coming out all of the time. The 20 minute time limit is perfect for the attention span of today’s students, and the current and relevant nature of the talks make them useful teaching tools that can easily feed into some great discussions and further project ideas.

So, the next time you find yourself scrambling for those last minute sub plans, rather than leaving a bunch of worksheets for the kids to complete, dig through the list of popular TED talks and find one that supports whichever unit you might be studying.

There are talks on nutrition, body image, relationships, bullying, basically all of our major content areas, and for a more comprehensive list, you check out this link from TED of talks directly related to health.