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…

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!

Those Fidget Spinners…

Fidget spinners are the latest trend to take over American schools. Like anything, they have their fans and their opponents, and in my mind it’s another go-round of a pretty consistent cycle of mini-trends of toys captivating kids that adults don’t understand or take issue with on a way too personal level.

A few years ago Tech Decks made a comeback, and in our school Rubik’s Cubes were the thing for a while. Water bottle flipping was the thing a few months ago. When I was in middle school, the cycle went through pogs, and Giga Pet/Tamagotchis (mine always died), then Yomega Brain yo-yos. Members of my Twitter PLN are noticing the same thing. With any trend, it’s time to cue members of the education profession calling for a ban of the most recent distraction…because surely it is ONLY a fidget spinner, or a Tech Deck, or a water bottle, a computer, a cell phone, the sky outside the window…surely only THOSE things are why students are bored and distracted in our classrooms, right?! Are we going to get fed up with…pen clicking? Finger tapping? Looking out the window? Let’s ban all clicky pens! No fingers for you! Block all windows!


My Man Kermit

All sarcasm aside, earlier this week I talking to a colleague who made the following observation: these spinny things captivate students and hold their attention. We recently saw the same thing happen with water bottle flipping.

So, we found ourselves asking questions. How can we harness this in our classrooms? How can we captivate students like these inanimate objects? If a small plastic device with a few ball bearings can hold their attention for that long, what can we do to do the same in our classrooms? My Twitter PLN is full of educators meeting students where they are, particularly PE teachers who are using them as fitness timers. They did the same when the Bottle Flipping Movement took over our cafeterias, by developing similar games using cones in PE, and our engineering teacher used that as an opportunity to teach about concepts related to physics. As educators we constantly have to find ways to make our subject areas meaningful and interesting to our students, especially in a world filled with distractions.

“But kids are already so distracted these days! They already don’t pay attention in MY class, and MY subject area is SO IMPORTANT that they NEED to pay attention ALL the time!”

Say what!? I don’t even pay attention all the time and I’m an adult. Of COURSE your students are distracted: they’re kids!! I don’t want to go into the science of brain development, particularly during adolescence, but as we know (or you SHOULD know) we can’t expect kids to pay attention for long periods of time without a break. Many teachers forget this or choose to ignore it. Brain boosts and movement breaks are used for this specific reason by educators who understand that kids can’t learn with a “numb bum” (thanks for that term, Andy!) after sitting down all day. Perhaps something similar can be accomplished by allowing students to use their spinners every x amount of minutes.

When I see fidget spinners, I’m also reminded to keep things simple. We live in a time where the world is literally at our fingertips and accessed through phones or computers 24/7. Virtual reality is a legitimate thing now. Sometimes, going low-tech is the better way to go, and it’s actually nice to see students so absorbed by something not on a screen, no matter how silly or simple or time-wasting it seems to us as adults.

I understand the purpose of fidget cubes, but based on how my students are using the fidget spinners, I’ll admit the spinners are a distraction for most (but not all) kids. That doesn’t mean I would advocate for banning them. For me, a simple request to keep them away is all it takes. As educators, we can find ways to incorporate them into our teaching, and they’ve given me another opportunity to connect with my students. Students have shown me modifications they’ve made to their own fidget spinners in order to try to make them spin longer, and students trade different color bearings with each other. They even make their own! Students have asked me how long I could make them spin for and have me take one of theirs for a spin (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

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An American Adolescent completes her work while modeling appropriate fidget spinner use based on clear, common sense classroom guidelines…

Sample Ways to Incorporate Fidget Spinners in Classrooms

  • As fitness timers in PE class or during movement breaks
  • As Creative Writing Prompt Devices for ELA classes
  • As devices to “hack” (try to improve) during an engineering class
  • As a model for art class (okay, I’ll admit that’s a stretch)

I’m not saying we have to adapt what we do to fit every.single.micro.trend that students are into, or that we even need to incorporate them into our classes. But if we can find something to engage students, how is that a bad thing? Set parameters for your classroom that are based on common sense, take a deep breath, and realize it’s not that big of a deal.

For the record, I handle the Fidget Spinner Situation by actually doing one aspect of my job as an educator. I talk with the student and determine what needs to be done on a case by case basis. Most students are understanding and respond to a polite prompt to put it away. It’s not that difficult. If it’s particularly distracting to a student, then I may take the spinner for the block and let them have it at the end of class. To me, all of this is common sense and it takes approximately fifteen seconds out of my class. I have too many more important things to worry about during the course of a school day to get all fired up about a toy. This might even speak to a larger issue of educators making decisions that benefit them and not the students, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole I don’t want to go down in this post.

I’ll end with a Hot Take: one student has told me that the Moondrop is going to be the next “it” thing. If so…you heard it here first! 

Now, about that grading…

Skills Based Health Education & Bloom’s Taxonomy

I still need to write my final SHAPE Boston reflection, but I remembered something that came up in our presentation and wanted to share it. Implementing a skills based curriculum and following a set of steps to teach the skills in health education involves higher order thinking. It’s important for health educators to be able to articulate this using eduspeak that administrators or their evaluators, many of whom are unfamiliar with health education, will understand.

One characteristic of an effective health education curriculum, as defined by the CDC, is the following: 

An effective curriculum builds essential skills — including communication, refusal, assessing accuracy of information, decision-making, planning and goal-setting, self-control, and self-management — that enable students to build their personal confidence, deal with social pressures, and avoid or reduce risk behaviors.

For each skill, students are guided through a series of developmental steps:

    1. Discussing the importance of the skill, its relevance, and relationship to other learned skills.
    2. Presenting steps for developing the skill.
    3. Modeling the skill.
    4. Practicing and rehearsing the skill using real–life scenarios.
    5. Providing feedback and reinforcement.

These developmental steps directly mirror action verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy. All educators are aware of Bloom’s; it’s a commonality shared among all subject areas, including health education.

The screenshot below indicates which portions of the NHES Skills Sequence are included in an example skills-based unit, as well as where each lesson (the “#” column) falls under Bloom’s Taxonomy. The number of lessons may differ based on your own schedule, so if you were to make this chart it may look a little different. Action verbs, based on what students will be doing during the lesson, are also included. Feel free to use this image in your own evaluation binders, blogs, or presentations to school committees. For my Massachusetts folks: Standard 1-A-1 on the teacher evaluation rubric.

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The progression from general information to specific information, and from simple to complex on Bloom’s Taxonomy, demonstrates a progression of learning experiences that allow students to, “acquire complex knowledge and skills.”

Most educators are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and administrators would certainly be looking for students to demonstrate higher level thinking during class. This chart can be used to justify the shift towards a skills based health curriculum, or as evidence of the higher level thinking that takes place during the teaching of skills and performance indicators from the National Health Education Standards. Health education IS academic, even when the focus is on teaching skills over content.

Now, about that grading…


New Trimester; New Student Created Expectations

I still have to write my final SHAPE Boston reflection, but one of the ideas I took from SHAPE Boston to implement immediately in my classroom was the “R.O.P.E.S.” acronym explained by Andy Milne in his session on participatory activities in health education. Today we began a new trimester, and I had all new 7th and 8th grade classes (I dropped my 6th grade today). What better time to try a new activity?!

A lot of teachers go over the same song and dance on the first day of a class. It’s a “here’s the course information sheet, yawn, tell me your name, blah blah blah, here are the rules, is your butt numb yet?!” routine. Today we did our usual “turn in your cool card” dance lesson, and then I moved into the “R.O.P.E.S.” activity. As explained by Andy & Andy:

R.O.P.E.S. is an acronym that we use to set a tone in the classroom. We have students come up with words that pertain to classroom environment that start with these five letters. Students are encouraged to provide an example (“what would that look like in our classroom?”) for the word they choose. It has been an effective way to get students to participate in creating classroom expectations. Usually we hang a copy of the ROPES list on the wall so that students are reminded throughout the year of the expectations.

I did this with four classes, giving each group a piece of paper to brainstorm words letter by letter, and then we discussed each letter and word one at a time and created a visual on the white board. After we had a completed list, I had the students individually reflect on what they could do to make these words a reality in our health class. I snapped a picture of each list after it was finished. Tonight, I quickly typed up all of the words from my four classes and put them into a Wordle

Some classes had words that were more reflective than others, and some words might leave you scratching your head, like “pancakes” (the student who came up with that said to make sure to flip your viewpoint to another side…like a pancake. That’s outside the box thinking!). Here’s an example of what one individual class (the 1st one I did this with) came up with, complete with a plethora of lost & found books missing their owners because #middleschool:


Below you’ll see four different layouts of the completed Wordles. I plan on printing these out in color to post around my classroom. I’ll post them in Google Classroom, and may even adjust the dimensions to use as a header for each Google Classroom page, too. Overall, I liked the interactive element of this activity and the opportunity for students to have a voice in what they wanted health class to look like. I’m glad Andy shared this activity that him and his colleague (another Andy) use in their health classrooms.  This is an activity I’ll be repeating and one that you could implement in your classroom tomorrow. Click the link at the start of this post or just click here to access the R.O.P.E.S. document from Andy & Andy.

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Now, about that grading…