Sweet Dance Moves! My Introduction to Health Class


NOTE: This post has a lot of explanation that gives my Sweet Dance Moves activity context, and then a video demonstrating the dance moves that I described in the post. 

The first day of class with new students always gets me AMPED UP. While I know I’ll miss the students from previous classes, having a fresh start and multiple first days of school during the year at the start of every trimester is a unique opportunity to get back into those routines that always seem to fall by the wayside once the full force of the school year hits you.

One of the first things I do with my students is get them UP AND MOVING by having them DANCE. I have a specific dance routine I use with each grade level, and these are dances I took from various people. I’ll mention them as you see each dance move in the video below.

I decided to start off each class by teaching them a dance move after one of my summers being a facilitator at the New England Student Leadership Conference, which I’ve done every summer since 2012. There’s a lot of dancing that goes on there and one of the other facilitators, Deb Holt, mentioned that it’s important for students to turn in their “Cool Cards” (which grant them access to the theoretical world of Coolness and all associated benefits of that world) once they become a student leader. One way to do this is getting them out of their comfort zone in a safe environment. And as those of you who work with middle schoolers know…they’re WICKED cool. Like, ICE COLD cool. But you’re never too cool to dance around a little bit!

Quick Story About Being Cool: When I was in the sixth grade my teacher, Mr. Bedrosian, showed us a short clip of the TV show Thomas The Tank Engine. We were confused. Then he let us know that the narrator was Ringo Starr. Mr. B mentioned that if we ever thought we were too cool to do something (especially doing the right thing), that we should remember that a kids show about a toy train was narrated by the drummer from arguably the most influential band ever. And if RINGO STARR could do THAT…well there you have it. I was a huge Beatles fan back then, so I still remember this. I guess this is my version of doing that for my students.

I start playing the music and go into a little speech about having fun, making sure our bums don’t become numb so we don’t develop Numb Bum Syndrome (thanks, Andy!) during the school day because we sit down so much, and how we need to move our bodies more. I introduce what we’re going to be doing. Then I explain the importance of moving your body…then I model the dance move…then they practice the dance moves…

Well now my Skills Based Health Education people are all like…. “HEY! That sounds familiar!! It sounds like the skill development model for skills based health education!!” Read on, friends! Yes, teaching students to dance can help them understand how a skills based health education classroom works.

In summary, here’s what I tell students about getting out of their comfort zone after we’ve gone through the Sweet Dance Moves. I do a “chalk talk” where I write the big ideas about these things down. This isn’t verbatim, but more or less what I say (the bold words are what I tend to write on the board):

“In our skills-based health classroom, we focus on learning different skills that are based on the National Health Education Standards. Our focus is less on what you know and more on what you do. Part of this process is having me, the teacher, model the skill for you, just like I modeled our Sweet Dance Moves today. Then, we’ll break them down, step by step, and put them together. You’ll practice working on those skills, just like you practiced the different steps of each dance move today. For some of you, it will take repeated practice and more time than your classmates to get it, but that’s okay. When learning, you might make mistakes, but it’s okay to not get everything right away or all at once. Today some of you weren’t able to get the dance moves right away, or at all, and I didn’t get mad at you. Some of you went all out and really got down, and others only kind of did the movements. Everyone is coming from a different comfort zone, but I want you to know that this is a safe learning environment, and you can be your authentic self. I might have to figure out a different way to teach you, or to assess your learning. For some dance moves I gave you options that made things a little easier for you. That’s another way of using a big word called differentiation, but what it really means is that I’m doing my best to figure out the way you learn best, and that I’ll find different ways to figure out what you know and can do if the way everyone else does it isn’t working. In our classroom, you’ll get feedback on your skill performance so I can help you be the best that you can be. I didn’t give you too much individualized feedback during our dance session today, but I made some general comments to the class. We also danced so we could get out of our comfort zone, because the best learning sometimes happens when we’re there. This was also a risk for me! I don’t know many of you, you don’t know me, and there I was having fun busting a move.” 

As those of you in the skills based #healthed world know, there are numerous connections to how our classrooms run. It’s a great introduction for the students! 

I initially filmed these dance moves and showed them to my fiance. She asked my why I wasn’t smiling and why I looked so serious (she also commented on my lack of range of motion in my shoulders during “Wipeout” because she’s a PT). So I refilmed and added some commentary. Despite having very good time to keep a beat (my percussion days will never leave me) that doesn’t mean I have the best dance moves, but that’s part of the fun.

Dance Moves Summary (Video Below):

  • Sixth Grade: Wipeout! I stole this from a presenter at SHAPE Eastern in 2017, and it’s also a GoNoodle Brain Boost under the Zumba category. BONUS TIP: Check out the “Surf Rock” channel on Pandora if you want to get in that nostalgic summer mindset.
  • Seventh Grade: Uptown Funk. This dance comes from James Orrigo, another co-facilitator of mine at the New England Student Leadership Conference. He taught it to us and 200 high school students, and I guess I’m spreading it now. BONUS TIP: if you watch the music video for this jam you’ll see I kind of almost sort of can mimic Bruno Mars!! Julio, get the stretch!!
  • Eighth Grade: The Wobble. Another NESLC Dance; I think one of the college facilitators, Nick, taught us this one. BONUS TIP: This is the easiest one (I think) to differentiate. The footwork, etc. is easily modified.

Want to teach those same dance move to your own students? Check out the video below! I know my mom is probably reading this, and I want her to know that my classroom isn’t messy, it just has that lived in look to it. 🙂

I’m sure my #healthed PLN can think of other ways to tie this into a skills-based curriculum. Let me know in the comments! And, as always…dance away!!

Now, about that grading…


Choose Your Own Adventure: Decision Making Google Slides Template

One immense benefit of being connected to other health educators is the consistent sharing of ideas for lessons, assessments, and classroom activities. Last year, Andy Milne, the SHAPE Health Teacher of The Year, shared a “Party Choose Your Own Adventure” Google Slides with the #healthed PLN on Twitter. Here’s what Andy had to say about his activity on the Global PhysEd Voxcast with Jorge Rodriguez:

“I created a successful “Choose Your Own Adventure” last year using Google slides. Students worked their way through a narrative and reacted to various choices presented to them. My story addresses the topics of binge drinking and consent. The stories weaved in and out, but managed to present every student with two videos and some questions to consider. There is potential to create more of these stories and then eventually bolt them together to make a giant interactive story with multiple adventures. I’ve sat on this project for a while, but I think it might be time to bring it back to life. A global, crowd-sourced, immersive, interactive health story! Think how successful that could be. Perhaps in a few years we could even add some virtual reality elements to it, too!”

I took Andy’s idea and made a blank Google Slides template so my students could make their own Choose Your Own Adventure stories that follow the DECIDE Decision Making Model. This was first an experiment for my seventh grade students last June, when the school year was winding down and I had some students all set with their final projects. I had them try it out to see how it worked. This year I had my colleague, Danielle, look at it when I used it with students as a filler activity while I got other classes or students back on track, and she made a few changes to the instructions we gave students.

This link will take you to the Choose Your Own Adventure Slides template. By looking at the slides in “present” mode, you can see how the story unfolds through each step of the DECIDE process. If you want to use this in your own classroom, just make a copy of the Google Slides and share it to your own Google Drive account. We do need to make one change to the template, which I forgot about until I reopened it: when viewed in “present” mode, any link all the way on the bottom left corner is covered by the presentation toolbar that appears when you hover your mouse there.

While we currently don’t use this as a definite piece in our curriculum, it might be something we utilize in some way with our new batch of students this spring: so far, students completing an end of health class survey have indicated that practicing the DECIDE Model (which we do as a formative assessment, either completely or broken down in some way, almost every class during that unit) became a little stale and others suggested an option to complete our decision making comic strip (the unit’s summative assessment) electronically. This could fill that need, and we’ve been working on adding more student choice (which Andy talks about in the blog post above) to our assessments.

Access our “Choose Your Own Adventure!” slide deck here or take a look at it embedded below. I think Andy is on to something about being able to link stories to other stories; for us within a classroom or maybe even between my classroom and Danielle’s classroom…now the brain is spinning!! Happy Decision Making!


Chocolate Chip Cookies & Single Point Rubrics

Today: an analogy for explaining our single point rubrics, after explaining their set up to a parent during parent/teacher conferences today.

Our health education department uses single point rubrics for all of our summative assessments. A single point rubric is set up differently than your traditional, column and row analytic rubric. To make a long story short: three columns, left to right: the middle column has the criteria for a student to demonstrate proficiency and the left and right columns allow a blank space for teachers to explain how students are either not meeting or exceeding that criteria. We use the single point rubric because it brings the focus to feedback, and in our experience allows for more critical thinking and creativity from our students. It also opens up the door to differentiation for each assessment.

The analogy I use to explain this to my students (and their parents) involves baking chocolate chip cookies. If I buy a bag of chocolate chips, I’ll see a recipe on the back to make chocolate chip cookies. If I follow that recipe, will I produce a chocolate chip cookie? Yes. Will it get the job done for someone who is craving a chocolate chip cookie? Sure. But if I want to be the best cookie baker I can be, then I need to think about how I can add to that recipe to make it that much better. Maybe I add in more chocolate chips. Maybe I add in mint extract to make mint chocolate chip cookies, or I modify the recipe based on the food allergies of whomever will be eating them. Maybe I add a box of vanilla pudding mix into the cookie batter, as Lianna H. (DHS alumna!!) used to do with her cookies she made for after cross-country meets. And after I do that, I taste the finished product and go “WOW! What a cookie!” 

So I’ll ask my students, “For this project, what is going to be your ‘vanilla pudding mix’ ?” Not all of them accept that challenge; many are content with just doing what the recipe says to do. Education has gone down the road of recipes and checklists, and I want my students to think beyond just following directions when they complete their projects. Using single point rubrics help us accomplish that goal, and helps us avoid getting 100 projects turned in that are all the same, while allowing us as educators to look for what end up being essentially endless possibilities around different areas of concern or excellence from each student. I could go on and on with this analogy, but I’ll stop here for now.

Ideally, all of our students end up in the “proficient” category for their summative assessments. Is that good enough? Sure. But as I mentioned earlier, in today’s world, we want people who don’t just follow the recipe all the time.

For more on single point rubrics, check out these articles from the Cult of Pedagogy on the single point rubric and other rubrics

Now, about that grading…

Reflective Practice, 11/30/17: Curriculum Adjustments & Formative Assessments

Thursday, November 30 2017

As the trimester winds down, Danielle and I found ourselves having to cut our advocacy & puberty unit down into one or two classes for our sixth graders. This is a reality of teaching! Sometimes these things are in control and sometimes they’re out of our control; in this case, I’d say it was a little bit of both. We’re going to adjust the order of our units next time around so we can avoid the prolonged group project for our interpersonal communication and bullying unit that became difficult to manage with multiple environmental school field trips happening over a two week period (and the resulting classes that were missing anywhere from 30-50% of our students). So, Danielle looked at our entire unit and took one of the performance indicators (PIs) for us to focus on. In this case, it’s a content performance indicator, but in the discussions and group work we’ll do with our students they’ll hopefully be able to hit two of the advocacy PIs for NHES 8: Advocacy. This is another example of how we attempt to have, in the words of one of our administrators, “curricular choreography.” We’re not always able to physically meet when we need to, so having a colleague who is on the same page and understands the SBHE approach has been huge for our department.

Recently, I added a few Tickets to Leave (TTLs) to our 7th grade unit based on the specific objectives of each lesson to give us a better idea of which students can actually do what we want them to do with each lesson; with G-Suite and our shared Team Drive, I can just fire off a quick email or grab Danielle in the hallway to let her know about the changes. These TTLs aren’t graded, and they’re just something we can scan quickly, but they provide enough information that helps us when we review the last few lessons at the start of each class. Formative assessment is something that gets focused on a lot in our district, and we’ve done plenty of work with it in the past and added formative assessments to many of our lessons. But for the ones without any formative assessment, I’m starting to think about “quick hit” TTLs that we can scan to get a general idea of what our students know and what they can do. We still have the “bigger” formative assessments (usually the “skill practice” portion of our SBHE curriculum) but these extra little quick hits are being added so we can do more to prevent misunderstandings before they happen.

Reflective Practice: September – Mid November

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to share my reflective practice with the world. Hopefully, others can learn from my reflections and ideally provide advice. It’s important for educators to put themselves out there. I’m reminded of Scott Todnem’s “Monday Mistakes” video series whenever I reflect, even if it’s not about mistakes. Student names will be changed. Below is the first set of entries from my Google Doc. In the future, I’ll post these as I write them.

Thursday, September 21 2017

My seventh graders began working on their analyzing influences/relationships project today. Danielle and I have talked about differentiating our projects, in the way of providing students with more options to complete the project objectives. I don’t know if students will take us up on it, but in addition to the usual Google Slides presentation, I threw in the options of completing the project as a poster or as a Google Site. It might not be a specific differentiation based on specific learning differences, but having other options that accomplish the same objectives is a way of differentiation, too. This was the first time this year of differentiating a summative assessment for students based on their IEP/504 plans. G-Suite makes that easy to do: just sit down with the student and change some of the requirements on their Doc. Danielle’s done a great job creating modified documents for the class cohort that is currently our 8th grade class, and I think we’ll eventually do that for 7th graders, too. But, I like having to sit down with the student and change things on an individual level: it gives me some one on one time to go over the instructions a second time, and it challenges me as an educator to re-explain instructions in a new way. This helps me with ALL my students, because often I realize I’ve explained things in a manner that is more complex than I realize, and I can take time during the next class to explain instructions in a new way.

“Joe” is a student in my D Blue class. He has an IEP, the details of which I don’t need to go into. I felt bad last class because I didn’t give him enough support while he was practicing the skill of analyzing influences, and I was so hyper-focused on a different student who also needs a lot of support. I was challenged to think of different strategies to assist him. Today, Joe didn’t seem to be into the whole school thing. Here’s an outline of my attempts to work with him:

  • We first looked at the practice document, which he had trouble with last class. Joe had a difficult time thinking of someone to analyze, and I had his older brother a few years ago, so we decided to see if we could use him.
  • The next step of the process is to describe the influence. I wanted Joe to think of two words that could describe his brother.
  • Joe was having a difficult time, so I asked if he thought looking at a list of character traits would be helpful. He said no.
  • I said we should give it a try, and he decided to give it a shot. We used a list from the ReadWriteThink website.
  • I had Joe look at the list of character traits to see if there were any that made him think of his brother.
  • He didn’t see any that made him think of his brother.
  • So, I moved onto the project planning sheet, which breaks down the skill into a more concise format, as a chart.
  • I asked Joe to look back at the list of character traits to see if any of the traits made him think of people in his life: friends, family members, etc.
  • Then, class was over.

This was all sandwiched between checking in with other students. I have other students with IEPs/504s that needed different levels of support, and other students who were finishing their planning sheets and needed feedback from me. I enjoy project work because it keeps me moving around the room, checking in with students at different times, and glancing at their work with the opportunity to make suggestions.

Project work isn’t a time for an educator to sit back while students spend class time working on their projects. If anything, project work required the teacher to be more mobile, more verbal, and more on top of their students. I don’t know how some can just sit back. Yes, at some point students are independent and need to do their own thing. But, even just making sure students are on task, redirecting them when they’re not, and letting them know you’re going to keep them accountable…that alone requires the teacher to be in the trenches with their students.

Monday, September 25 2017

I had Joe again for 7th grade today, and things went a little better after I tried to focus on his self-esteem and pumping him up a little before asking him to do more. It’s going to be a process, and one that will probably vary by the day, but I think that approach is worth continuing.

I had another subpar lesson with sixth grade today. On Friday, I chalked it up to it being lunch block and the general rowdiness of the class. Today, it was clear I need to revamp the activity. The Friday class is dropped tomorrow, and will have sub plans on Thursday (Danielle needs them too) so I also have to figure out a way they can do that activity without me there. For today’s class, when I see them again I plan on making the following adjustments:

  • Have a checklist with what I’m looking for, for verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Similar to a project planning sheet.
  • A brief outline of what should be in each mini-script.
  • An opportunity for peer feedback…really just a checklist. This way, when students share, their audience knows what to look for. If they can identify what skills are there or missing, that will make them more efficient, too.

So, I’ll give each group a specific scenario (or options) and then they’ll fill out a template to create their role play. I’ll have to check the notes from SHAPE Boston (Jess Lawrence’s session) on role plays and make any changes based on that, too. I think giving students more structure will help in the long run. It is practice, after all. I need to figure out what that will look like…it’s in my head, but not on paper.

Monday, October 2 2017

Danielle and I decided to wait to fully implement the changes I mentioned above, but we both realized we need to allow students an opportunity to practice using communication skills while actually communication among their peers. We tweaked the “What Would You Do? What If It’s You?” activity to add nonverbal communication skills to it. I also added a mini practice/feedback loop. In their groups, students practiced speaking an I-Message and using nonverbal communication skills from the perspective of a victim and a defender, and another group member was providing feedback to their group members. Peer feedback is so important with SBHE, and it’s something we need to do more of: students become more proficient at using skills themselves when they can observe their peers using them and provide feedback in a safe, supportive learning environment.

Wednesday, October 4 2017

Danielle and I continue to discuss different ways (better ways) to implement projects. Our revamped SMART Goal Game Plan assessment could have been implemented in better ways. We are finding that our students are completing their planning sheets and checking in with us with problems that began from the first page on the sheet and affected the rest of their assignment. For the next trimester, we’ll make sure to have students check in with us after they complete the following sections: the intro. letter (check in #1), after the “Specific” and “Measurable” pages (check in #2), the “Adjustable” and “Rigorous” pages (check in #3), and the “Timely” and “Impact” sections (check in #4). More frequent check ins will enable more conversations with students while they’re in the middle of their work. This will eliminate the longer, end of planning sheet conversations that can create a lengthy line of students waiting to check in with us as we work with students one at a time. This will help students and give this project a more consistent flow and timeline. Making mistakes is a part of teaching, and Abbey, who is completing her fieldwork with me from SSU, was able to observe a great conversation between Danielle and myself as we discussed what went wrong and what we could improve upon for next time. I showed Abbey Scott Todnem’s “Monday Mistakes” video series to demonstrate that even veteran teachers are constantly working through mistakes and thinking about how they can do better.

Yesterday I had “Joe” again in class, and I tried a technique I learned about from the Slow Chat Health blog, written by Andy Milne. Essentially, you ask the student a few questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how are you today?
  • What can I do to help you get to a 10?

So I asked Joe this when students began working on their projects. He answered he was probably at a low number; I think he said a 3-4. When I asked him the second question, he was surprised. He kind of looked at me, and said he didn’t know. We came up with an idea or two, and he got some work done. I’ll still heavily modify his grading, but progress is progress. This is something I want to use with my other students, too. I don’t think students are used to being asked questions like that, along the lines of “How can I help you, the student?” So much of teaching is about relationships, and this is one way to develop positive relationships with students.

Thursday, October 5 2017

Our 7th grade students began presenting their Analyzing Influences/Relationships projects today. I’m always positively surprised by quiet students who ROCK their presentations in front of the class. At this point in the trimester, I’ve been able to interact with every student one on one, but some more than others. After these first two classes went, we discussed the presentation aspect of this project. Every now and then we do have students who are anxious about presenting. Typically unless a student has a specific IEP/504 plan/need, we have all of our students present. Danielle and I were discussing some strategies that we could use in order to help ALL of our student feel more comfortable presenting. Some students are fine with presenting, but feel embarrassed at the way their slides look or don’t feel comfortable discussing their families/peers in front of others. These would be in an attempt to be fair to all students, and what’s fair is not always equal. It’s a never ending attempt of the fine art of balancing student needs/concerns and pushing them out of their comfort zone. Here are some options we discussed:

  • Students could record their presentations with a screencasting tool like Screencastify. The 7th grade geography teachers used this last year.
  • Instead of presenting in front of the room, students could decide to stand or sit at their desk.
  • Students could hold their Chromebooks in front of them, and simply read off of their slides. We noted this would assist students in making eye contact and looking out to the audience.

Before we move forward with these changes, we’ll have to consider exactly what we want students to get out of the presentation, and what we want them to demonstrate by doing it. Once we have that figured out, we can go ahead with implementing changes that give students choice while presenting. Although none of my students took me up on the options to differentiate their project, a few of Danielle’s students did. I think differentiating the presentation aspect could be nice, too.

Tuesday, October 10 2017

Today’s day long professional development had me thinking a lot about what we do in health class, particularly around objectives. I left today really wanting to focus on nailing my mastery objectives for units moving forward, and maintaining the “What? Why? How?” template I’ve been doing. In reading from “The Skillful Teacher” today during PD, there are two questions I want to keep in mind as I write my objectives:

  • “What exactly so I want my students to know and be able to do when this lesson is over?”
  • “How will I know they have learned in, that is, what will I take as evidence the objective has been met?” (p. 375)

I think it would be beneficial to print these quotations out and keep them by my desk, within eyesight of my computer so I can see them while I’m writing objectives. As Danielle and I work to streamline our objectives, I will make sure we remember these two lines.

I was perusing the chapter of “The Skillful Teacher” on assessment, and found a great diagram about response categories. The three types include: Feedback (value-free, objective, description of performance in relation to a goal or set of known standards or criteria); Guidance (advice, questions, suggestions, encouragement); and Evaluation (praise, judgement, criticism, grade). I looked at what I had been writing for feedback so far this year, and found examples of all three. If I leave a comment specific to evaluation, I try to have a comment about feedback in the appropriate spot of the rubric. Evaluation on its own doesn’t tell the student anything, and although it may look like I only provide that on some rubrics, I’ve also made notes elsewhere specific to guidance and feedback. This is something that’s important to keep in mind as I grade projects: feedback I leave for students should be focused on feedback and guidance, with evaluation thrown in when necessary. I think adding the evaluation humanizes the response a little bit, and including the student’s name does, too.

Tuesday, October 17 2017

Over the last few classes I’ve been able to utilize formative assessments to adjust and re emphasize different aspects of my teaching. Linking a formative assessment, even a small one, directly to a lesson objective has been a valuable exercise in planning. My 8th grade students, for example, were not entirely hitting the objective of one lesson recently. Instead of describing, as the performance indicator requires, they were merely identifying. This formative assessment asked students to describe two different health enhancing behaviors individuals could use to protect themselves from the sun, based on a specific scenario. In looking over the student responses, it became clear they were able to identify health enhancing behaviors/sun safety action steps without issue, but the description was lacking. Some students did explain in detail, but most did not. At the start of class, I made two columns on the board: one side said “identity” and the other said “describe.” I gave an example of a health enhancing behavior (use sunscreen) and mentioned that I simply identified it. I had students then describe it to me (Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 and reapply every two hours). I pointed out the difference, and we went over a few more, taking them from just listing/identifying to being able to describe the health enhancing behaviors to me like I was an alien or a third grader with minimal knowledge. Those changes aren’t examples of rocket science, but just some thoughts about formative assessment and actually using that information in future classes.

I added a ticket to leave/formative assessment to today’s 7th grade lesson, too. I had students content the content of alcohol with the skill of interpersonal communication. The content piece of today’s lesson asked students to record information on specific alcohol “terms to know.” As a ticket to leave, students were asked to use on of those terms while writing a complete STOP method response to someone offering them alcohol. I haven’t examined them yet, but I mentioned this to Danielle and we agreed to add it for all classes to that lesson.

I’m seeing the value in quick, ungraded formative assessments. I’m not giving students specific individual feedback, but at these points while introducing skills I think it’s good to keep it general. Once students practice these specific skills as individuals, I can provide more specific one on one feedback. But, I’m also finding that depending on the skill, having generalized feedback that the class goes over together isn’t a bad thing. I can’t find anything bad in having ALL students be aware of common errors their classmates are making. It saves me some time, but it also brings ideas to light students may not have thought of, and can limit future mistakes students might make by addressing things globally as a class. The only downside I see is that specific students won’t always know or remember what they did/didn’t do if their formative assessment isn’t in front of them.

Thursday, October 19 2017

Danielle and I have been having some difficulties with the sixth grade curriculum, and decided to switch the order of unit moving forward. Some of the difficulties are out of our control and some are in our control. The current first unit (interpersonal communication skills and anti-bullying) makes sense as a logical starting point, especially for our students entering middle school during the first trimester of the school year. However, there are two main concerns with having this unit first: one being group dynamics and the other being the Stone environmental trips. The Stone trips always occur during the summative assessment of this unit, which is a group project. Groups are missing students for a majority of this project, so it drags in on a fractured state, essentially wasting valuable class time. Our main concern is focused around group dynamics. Because this assessment is a group project, we feel it’s important for us to know our students to we can appropriately group them. This assessment comes a little too quickly for us to feel like we have a solid grasp on the dynamics within our classes. This is not a concern for our 7th or 8th grade classes because we’re familiar with most of the students already. Our hope is that by shifting this unit to be the second unit of our curriculum we will have groups that are better functioning, more prepared to the challenge of the assessment, and that are consistently in class.

Without going into details, today was a reminder of the importance of setting an appropriate classroom tone and environment when we’re teaching about sensitive topics, in this case alcohol or other substances/substance abuse. Sensitivity is a huge part of maintaining a respectful atmosphere, and not all students understand that their classmates may have had personal or family situations relating to alcohol use that were not positive. Although I did make a statement about this at the start of the class, today reinforced the importance of doing so and why we need to make sure we do it at the start of every class moving forward.

Tuesday, November 14 2017

Yesterday in class I tried to mix up a formative assessment by using technology instead of “old school” whiteboards and markers. Sixth grade students were tasked to create an “ideal lunch” which includes food from all five food groups, as well as an explanation as to why their meal would be considered healthy. The original plan has students working in groups, writing down their answers on mini white boards. I decided to mix it up by creating a Google Slides deck which the entire class could edit. My intention was to increase the likelihood that ALL students in the group could contribute, and give more of a voice to students who are quiet. I was specific about instructions: each group would add their own slide to the deck and they would only be editing their own slide. Despite the best intentions, some students decided to interfere with the slides of other groups. When I do something like this with 8th graders, I don’t have to worry about that happening. This was a reminder that not all activities are appropriate at all grade levels. There’s a chance that during trimester two or three sixth graders will be able to handle an activity like that, but for now, when I teach this lesson again I’m going to keep it to the whiteboards or paper. I brought this point up to my student teacher, Abbey: whenever making modifications to a formative assessment, or really just designing one, make sure that the format of the assessment does not limit the student’s ability to demonstrate what they know or can do, or interfere with the ability for you, the teacher, to gain the information you need from the formative assessment.

On a related note, I did get the information I needed from the formative assessment. Danielle and I are trying to cram in the rest of the sixth grade curriculum in the few classes we have left, and after seeing the results of this formative assessment, we know our students are ready to move on to our summative assessment and we can move past one of our other content and skill practice lessons. I guess that’s just a classic example of a formative assessment doing exactly what it should do!

Now, about that grading…

Reflective Practice

Today I mentioned on Twitter that I’ve been keeping a Google Doc for reflective practice. I have no specific schedule for my writing, but I started it as a way to keep track of changes Danielle and I are making to our curriculum, as well as different attempts at handling your daily classroom activities. Any educator knows that constant examination of your work and teaching practice is an essential part of the teaching routine. Without it, there’s really no point of being a teacher. We all reflect informally throughout the day, and my intentions with writing down those thoughts was to help me sort through them. Today, I decided that I’ll share these with my professional learning network.

On Sunday, I’ll post what I have so far in one (large) post. Moving forward, I haven’t decided if I’ll post a separate post for each specific reflection or if I’ll have a few in one, maybe weekly. My goal is to get other educators to read my thoughts and hopefully provide some of their own. Nothing I write will identify any specific student, and all thoughts are obviously my own. Reflecting on your teaching practice is a powerful activity that can be made more powerful when the thoughts of others are involved.

What types of reflective practice do you engage in as an educator?

Self-Management/Health Enhancing Behaviors Activity

Our health education department has been revamping how we teach the content portion of our skills-based curriculum by working to develop activities that are student centered. In this post, I want to share an idea we took from the social studies department in our school, and provide links to templates you can use in your own health class. There’s also a link to a folder that we (health teachers from across the US) are trying to fill with skills-based health education activities at the end of this post.

I enjoy getting into other teacher’s classrooms whenever I can, even if it’s just to look around. Spending time seeing how other teachers do things, even from different subject areas and grade levels, can provide meaningful information on how we can improve as educators.

Earlier this year, I was asked to cover a geography class during one of my prep blocks. In our building, we can put in to be a (paid) “spot sub” when the school doesn’t have enough subs to cover all the classes needed for the day. I don’t always say yes, but I often do because teachers typically leave lesson plans that are easy to follow.

I ramble a little here, but I think it’s important in order to understand the assignment. During this particular geography class, a review activity was planned for the day. The geography teacher had placed different resources around the room in stations: physical map, political maps, climate maps, charts with economic data, etc. Students worked in pairs and were asked to pick a card from a pile in the front of the room. Each card was numbered as a different challenge and required different resources to complete the challenge.

After reading the challenge, students had to first determine the appropriate resource to use in order to correctly complete the challenge. When they thought they had correctly completed the challenge, students were to come up to me. Then I, armed with the answer key from their teacher, would simply point to one of three color cards on the desk: Green (Go Ahead!), Yellow (Go Back & Fix Something) or Red (STOP! Start Over). When pointing to a yellow or red card for the first time on any challenge, I was told NOT to give the students any clue as to what was incorrect so they could figure it out themselves. If they came back again and it was still yellow, then I could provide a hint (“Maybe you should use a different map,” or “I’d re-read the instructions because they’re very specific”). Students could only work on one challenge at a time, and the activity continued until all the challenges were completed.

Students were engaged during this lesson. They were accessing information and analyzing it, and they were communicating with their peers. It was a kinesthetic activity that required movement around the room. Naturally, I figured we could use this in health class, so I left that class and told my colleague, Danielle, what the lesson was and that we should use something similar in health class.

One thing you should know about the working relationship Danielle and I have is that we have two very different styles that work very well together. I am (overly) methodical, focused on planning, and typically won’t try something unless I’ve made sure it’s put together. Danielle excels at jumping in with two feet and just going for it full speed ahead, and is creative enough to roll with something on the fly. Danielle listened to my idea and whipped up a “Challenge Packet” for our eighth graders to complete during their health enhancing behaviors & sun safety unit. Instead of making separate cards for each challenge we just made one packet with separate boxes for each one. We then created a “Challenge Packet” for our sixth grade health enhancing behaviors/nutrition unit. These challenges go over content or have students review health skills from the national standards.

The sequence is the same as in the geography class. Students are given different challenges, and provided with resources to help them complete each challenge. 

This is an activity that could work with other National Health Education Standards, like accessing information. Students could examine information first, determine if the resource is valid and reliable, and then move on from there. So essentially you could use this as a skill practice. For us, we took what would normally be a teacher centered, more lecture style lesson, and made it student centered. Because we’re a 1:1 school, we have some information for students to look at on their Chromebooks, but have also printed things out to get them completely off-screen.

I’m going to throw a bunch of links at you below. The first two are templates we use in our middle school health class. If you think this is something you’d like to modify, simply make a copy to your Google Drive and you’ll be able to edit your own version. As always, we may adapt this activity and change it around a little, but for now, this is what we have.

As always, suggestions are always welcome! We are constantly adapting how we teach our health classes (sometimes even in the hallway between classes!) and would love to hear your ideas. Comment below or send me a tweet!

Now, about that grading…wait! There is no grading! It’s summer time!