Sunday, January 31, 2010

Digital Wish: Flip Video Cameras, Two for One!

FYI: I am in no way affiliated with the Digital Wish organization. I just came upon a great opportunity I wanted to share!

About two weeks ago, the technology specialist at school sent out an e-mail with an absolutely can't miss offer. This link explains everything, but here's the short version: Thanks to this promotion, I obtained two 120-minute Flip Video Cameras for $150 bucks! It's a two-for-one deal, and I'm very excited about it. If you are a K-12 teacher in a non-profit school in the United States, you're eligible (as far as I know) for this promotion! The cameras technically become a property of your school, but they're for your classroom. After seeing these in action as used by the aforementioned technology specialist, these cameras are easy to use, hook right up to your computer's USB port, and require no memory sticks. I'll be able to use these in my classroom by recording student role plays and presentations, as well as possibly being able to allow some students to use them for projects (after a strict sign out procedure...I might not let the students touch them for a while). I can upload their work and place them in a drop folder the students can access through their school accounts. This will be a big help when students are creating their electronic portfolios for the end of the year that showcase their accomplishments in various exploratory classes (health, physical education, computers, technology education, C.A.D., band, chorus, music technology, drama/public speaking, and art).

There are a few accessories that were recommended to me for using the camera as well, such as rechargeable battery packs and USB extender cables. Luckily, there are some grant opportunities in my district that can pay for these extra accessories, as I paid for the cameras out of my own pocket. To me, it is an easily justifiable expense! I'm not sure how long this offer lasts, so check it out! If you are part of a nonprofit organization that is not a school, this link has some great information on using Flip cameras as part of your mission.

Shoot me an e-mail with any questions, comments, or concerns. I'll have a project relating to sun exposure/melanoma I'm using in class right now posted sometime this week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

NY Times Article: Making Healthy Lunch, and Making It a Cause

Short post today.

A few days ago an article appeared in The New York Times highlighting a company in California called Revolution Foods.

Revolution Foods seek to switch the paradigm of school lunches into healthy, bountiful servings of quality food (and fuel) for students. The company entered the market at the right time around 2005; in recent years, attempts to revamp school lunch have gained support from Arnold Schwarzenegger (locally in California, where Revolution Foods is based) and Michelle Obama.

Revolution Foods has partnered with the chain Whole Foods, and their lunches contain no high fructose corn syrup. They also make foods available for those who brown bag their lunches. I'd continue on, but the article has all the information you'll need. For more information on Revolution Foods, check out the article here.

Now that companies are entering this market, will the government step up its support of changing school lunches for the better? Time will tell.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New England (Journal of Medicine) and New York City Agree on Salt

Big news hit headlines this week as the result of a study published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Big news, yes. Surprising? Not really.

The study, available for personal use on the NEJM website, found that, "Modest reductions in dietary salt could substantially reduce cardiovascular events and medical costs and should be a public health target." There is no doubt that excessive salt in one's diet can lead to a host of medical problems. The study also highlighted the drastic cost savings of $10-$24 BILLION dollars annually, which are sure to gain attention in this economy.

I will admit that I have not yet read the full article, but I plan to as it fits right into what I'm reading about in my current research class. The big thing that sticks out to me is the "modest reduction" of salt intake. It's nothing drastic and certainly doable; this small reduction adds up to big benefits over the course of a lifetime. An editorial in the same issue of the NEJM by Appel and Anderson does mention that this still would not place people within the recommended zone for sodium intake:

"The findings by Bibbins-Domingo and colleagues support a population-wide reduction in salt intake, but is such a reduction achievable? To answer this question, one first needs to understand currentlevels of intake. Mean salt intake in the United States is extremely high in most age groups, including children, and is well above the current daily recommended upper limit of 5.8 g (2300 mg of sodium) (Figure 1).6 In several age groups, reducing salt intake by 3 g per day would not achieve the recommended upper limit of intake for U.S. adults, much less the goal of 3.8 g (1500 mg of sodium) per day, which applies to 69% of U.S. adults.7"

Interestingly, earlier this month New York City announced that it was leading an initiative to assist with companies voluntarily reducing salt levels in both packaged foods and restaurant foods by 25% over five years. Although not finalized yet, similar programs have had success in other countries, notably the United Kingdom. Appel and Anderson also mention similar programs in Ireland and Finland.

New York City seems to be spearheading quite the effort for improving overall health! It first eliminated trans fats from all city restaurants and also implemented a high tax on cigarettes in recent years. They even require calorie information on chain-restaurant menus! Their recent salt effort to reduce is a substantial effort that has gained support from numerous organizations, a full list of which can be found here. The newly published study in the NEJM serves as further evidence to the importance of their initiative.

Also of note is how sodium reduction fits into both Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020, both of which are major health initiatives. For Healthy People 2010, focus area 19-10 was aimed at decreasing total sodium intake. The following was found:

"For the objective aimed at decreasing total sodium intake (19-10), 1999–2000 data suggested that average intake by persons 2 years of age and older remains well above the Dietary Guidelines' recommendation to consume less than 2,300 milligrams daily.2 Most of Americans' sodium intake comes from salt added by manufacturers to processed and prepackaged foods rather than from the natural salt content of foods or salt shakers used at the table or in cooking.2 With respect to objectives 19-8, 19-9, and 19-10, consumers need access to information about the fat (including saturated fat and trans fat) and sodium content of the foods they eat, both at home and away from home."

Based on this information for Healthy People 2020, objective NWS HP2020-10 is to "reduce consumption of sodium in the population aged 2 years and older." It is a retained, yet modified, version of objective 19-10 from Healthy People 2010.

It's clear that with the original objective, not enough was being done to help accomplish the goal of decreasing total sodium intake. I believe that initiatives such as the one in New York City (aimed at packaged food and restaurant foods, which data found is where most Americans get their sodium) are taking a huge step in the right direction. Access to information is not enough to change behavior. By actually changing the sodium content of foods, we get somewhere. Most people will not want or be able to eat all fresh, natural foods due to convenience or cost, so changing processed foods that the majority of the population consumes makes total sense. The editorial mentioned above notes that:

"In broad terms, there are two complementary strategies that could be used to lower salt intake: a public health approach, in which food manufacturers reduce levels of salt in processed and prepared foods, and an individual approach, which relies on each person to select and prepare foods with little or no salt. Given that approximately 75% of dietary salt comes from processed foods, the individual approach is probably impractical."

I couldn't agree more!

It will be interesting to follow this over the next few months and years. Can people change on a large scale? Will companies comply? If major medical organizations and large corporations can work together, everyone can benefit!

As Appel and Anderson concluded in their editorial:

"As we deliberate health care reform, let us not neglect this inexpensive, yet highly effective public health intervention for the prevention of disease."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Interactive Activities: ATOD Unit (Part Two)

Today I'm going to post a link to the lesson plan that may be my favorite classroom activity. This activity was partly developed by one of my outstanding professors at Springfield, Dr. Shannon Whalen. The activity, "Alcohol Simulation Stations" is located in a book she co-wrote with Dominick Splendorio and Sal Chiarello entitled, Tools for Teaching Health. I used this book during undergrad and I've used different lessons from it in my job, too. It's located at for purchase; if you would like a preview of the book Google Books has a few pages scanned in. I really hope that she writes another book in the future. She has so many great ideas!!

When talking about alcohol, it's easy to list, lecture, or show videos demonstrating the short-term effects alcohol has on the body. With such a captivating topic, who wants to sit and lecture to students?! (Lectures do have their place, sometimes) Wouldn't it be better if they could actually experience those effects in a safe, controlled manner? The simulation stations combine activities from many sources in order for students to see how alcohol can effect them in the short term. Some of these activities I have seen in Tom Jackson's books, one of which I mentioned in my last post. Others, I'm sure the Dr. Whalen and her colleagues came up with themselves.

This activity requires extensive preparation, and I highly recommend that you try out the activities yourself beforehand. This lesson definitely deserves a test run before you teach it. If you're short on classroom time, simply select a number of activities that will fit your schedule. You may need to adapt it in other ways, too: I would never bring in sewing needle into my classroom, so for the station needing a needle I just have students thread a button with string sans-needle.

I've taught this lesson to colleagues at the MAHPERD Conference and to college freshmen as a senior during undergrad, as well as an adapted lesson to eighth grade students in middle school. I find this activity ideal for high school age students. Each time, it was well received.

As a side note, the formatting on the PDF might be off. As always, personalize the document! Revamp the accompanying worksheet to make it yours. I always reformat documents with my own unique style. Lastly, I feel okay posting this for many reasons. One, Dr. Whalen always said the best teachers were the best stealers. Two, we passed out lesson plans for this lesson at MAHPERD in 2007.

Also, for me the post-activity discussion was when the light bulbs went off. It's so important to debrief the activity and emphasize the dangers of what could happen if students consume alcohol (or, for a college crowd of of-age drinkers, if they consume it irresponsibly). Connecting the effects with their resulting dangers is a main point of this lesson.

So, here it is! Click here for a PDF of "Alcohol Simulation Stations." If you use this in your classroom of want any pointers, let me know!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Interactive Activities: ATOD Unit (Part One)

The ATOD (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs) Unit is my favorite to teach. I could easily spend an entire course just on this, but unfortunately I am not able to do so! Today's post deals with tobacco education in my classroom.

Tobacco education may be the first thing (besides sex ed) that comes to mind when someone hears the term, "health class." There are many substance-abuse programs out there. Perhaps the most famous, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), is surrounded by controversy. A meta-analysis by Ennett et al. generally found that the short term effectiveness of DARE was less than other, interactive prevention programs. However, I only skimmed the well-known article and they do find some positives for the program as well.

Our school district uses a curriculum component from The Michigan Model for Health entitled, "The Power is Your to Be Tobacco Free" in seventh grade. The curriculum focuses on teaching students the skills they need to stay away from tobacco, make decisions to protect themselves and others from tobacco, and how tobacco can harm their bodies. It doesn't come with a lot of the "facts," so we supplement.

Below I've outlined two sample activities that I've used in my classroom during parts of our tobacco unit. I'll have another post later this week with a second set. I adapted a lot of these from other sources. After all, the best teachers are sometimes the best stealers! As an aside, I make sure that I never say smoking is "stupid" or anything along those lines in order to remain sensitive to students who have family members who smoke. One main objective of my job is to give the students the tools they need to make healthy, positive decisions. Ideally, it helps promote behavior change too. If adults want to smoke, then that is their educated choice (presumably).

During my lesson on smoking's effect on the body, each student has a worksheet with fill ins, charts, and blank sections. They write in information I have on a PowerPoint as I go through each effect.

Is Your Money Up in Smoke? (Homework Activity) Click here for a PDF of the assignment.
The cost of a smoking habit is expensive. As a homework assignment, I have the students research the local price of one pack of cigarettes. Students may ask an adult, use the internet, or look for prices at local stores/gas stations. After they find the price, they do some math to determine how much a person who smokes one pack a day spends on cigarettes for a year and ten years.

Students then "go shopping." They find out what they could spend all that money on. Some students make the argument that all of the money spent on cigarettes could be spend on issues such as education or world hunger. A post-homework reflection could be added, but I choose to use a discussion instead. Some students will mention that for people who smoke more than one pack a day, the cost would be far more expensive.

Extension: Compare the cost of a pack of cigarettes in different regions of the country, such as in New York City where tobacco taxes are very high. We could then discuss that in NYC's situation, smoking has decreased dramatically (a blog entry on this last link will be forthcoming if I can find more up-to-date data, especially after their controversial ad from last year; I used that in class last year). You could also have students graph differences based on location, which ties in cross-curricula activities with geography and math. However, in my opinion this is spending too much time on a very small aspect of the tobacco curriculum. The Michigan Model has this as an in-class, teacher-led activity. I choose to do it differently.

Cilia "Volleyball!"
Adapted from "Cilia Volleyball" in Activities That Teach by Tom Jackson
Cigarette smoke greatly affects the cilia in a smoker's lungs. Cilia are tiny, hair-like structures who have the job of sweeping foreign material such as mucus, dirt, and other harmful material out of the lungs. Cigarette smoke damages the cilia, and as a result there's often a buildup of mucus in the lungs. This results in the body's next method of removing gunk from the lungs of a smoker: smoker's hack.

This activity involves blowing up balloons before class. Because of my classroom setup, I blow up about eight. I label each one "Mucus" with Sharpie beforehand. After I talk about what I just mentioned and smoker's hack, I take out my balloons. I divide my class into thirds (I have three sections of two columns, with a space between sections), and have them demonstrate being cilia. I usually do this first by waving my arms and hands like in the "wave" seen at numerous sporting events. I get into it; it's more fun that way!

After the students get the hang of this, I have one third of the room do the wave. The front of the room acts as deep in the lungs, and I have a student stand behind the last row to represent the mouth (complete with hacking sound effect). Then, I drop the balloons, and as a result of the wave motion, the balloons find their way through the rows and out the mouth. I explain that this is a normal, healthy lung; when there is mucus and other gunk the cilia are able to expel it.

Next, I go to the middle of the room. I do the same thing this time around, but now I select a small number (maybe three out of nine or ten in the section) to sit on their hands. They're not allowed to touch the balloons in any way. This group tries to expel all the "mucus" and is usually pretty successful, but not fully. Then, I go to the last group. This time, I make sure that all the students except one in the front and one in the back sit on their hands. Usually, none of the "mucus" goes anywhere.

After this demonstration I explain that the last group represents the lungs of a habitual smoker. After they were able to experience being cilia in the lungs, having a discussion about the activity is very important. Some students don't make the connection right away, so I use images of cilia in the lungs to further explain their role in the body.

NOTE: Tom Jackson, who created this activity, has the balloons represent particles of smoke/tar that pass into the lungs. His activity is slightly different; mine was adapted to fit the space of my small classroom.

I was planning on documenting some more activities in this post, but I feel that I have rambled on long enough! As always, please feel free to comment or e-mail with questions, comments, or concerns.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Good Food in the City"--Baltimore Public Schools

After opening the most recent issue of Educational Leadership, I took a look at the article, "Good Food in the City" by Anthony Geraci, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Baltimore City Schools, Baltimore, Maryland. Instead of reviewing the entire article with citations and all that "official" stuff, here are some thoughts as I read through the article.

The best part about this program? They get the most out of it. A farm provides fresh fruit and vegetables and so much more, as I mention in more detail below. I think that this program in Baltimore should be a model used in other cities across the country. The other big plus from my end is that this program is aiming to change the perception of students in their school district while providing them with the tools, skills, and information needed to make healthy decisions. They don't just serve fresh food. At the risk of sounding cheesy, this isn't simply a food program: it's a movement!

  • This program guarantees that every school lunch served in Baltimore city schools will come with at least one piece of fresh fruit. This is only the beginning.
  • "Today, 'peach' more often refers to a flavor for candies and frozen desserts than to the actual food. That's what we need to change for kids in Baltimore and all over the United States." Don't get me started on high-fructose corn syrup. Yes, I do consume foods with HFCS, but not intentionally. My consumption is far lower than most people my age.
  • Geraci explains that in the 1970s, many school districts felt the need to operate in a similar fashion to the McDonald's corporation; not in the food they provide but in the way they operate their business and individual franchises. Scares about contaminated food led to frozen, ready-to-eat meals that also reduced labor costs. However, as he explains, "But with every level of convenience comes a level of the process that dilutes food to something unrecognizable." I'm sure we can all remember our first mystery meat experience. What exactly was that anyway?!
  • A major problem today has to do with the kitchen facilities in schools. The school I work in was renovated about five years ago. It's a stunning building, serving as the unofficial flagship school for our district. When the kitchens were designed, they set them for small prep work (for sandwiches, etc) and mainly for reheating and serving food from the freezer. So, how is a school without the facilities supposed to create fresh meals? Baltimore's schools faced this problem, with only 20 out of 200 schools with fully operational kitchens. Due to budget issues and the size of a lot of schools, simply renovating was out of the question. Their eventual goal for Baltimore is to create a central kitchen and many subkitchens that can create fresh made meals that can be delivered to schools without facilities. The example Geraci gives is the central kitchen making chicken the sub-kitchens can put into burritos or the beef for a stew, etc. More school districts should consider kitchen space when they design plans for a new school. Adequate meal preparation space and a wellness center for student/staff use would be great additions to any school!
  • As I mentioned in my last post, companies and organizations that decide to help public schools promote health and wellness are extremely important for districts without a lot of money. Baltimore was lucky enough to receive gifts worth a staggering $1.3 million from the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association: nine refrigerated trucks, milk coolers for all 200 schools, and a technology grant to help keep track of everything. Further proof that companies or organizations can, and will, help out their communities.
  • The Baltimore City Schools now contracts to obtain all of its fruits and vegetables locally.
  • A local supply program has numerous benefits! Less fuel for delivery and fewer man hours for manning those deliveries create cost savings. Because less fuel is used, fewer greenhouse emissions are created. Supporting local farmers contributes to the local economy. In Baltimore, a contract to supply only locally grown fruits and vegetables means over half a million dollars stays in state. I could go on and on!
  • Geraci and his colleagues knew that changing the perception of fruits and vegetables among students was not going to be easy, especially in urban areas filled with easily accessible fast food restaurants and convenience stores. So, he set out to see what the kids liked with a "No Thank You Bite" program in the elementary schools. This is based on an old mom's trick! Students were given a small cup (about a bite and a half of food) of different ingredients to try out. If they liked it, they could have more. If they didn't like it, they tried something else. Kids tracked what they liked and the more they tried, the better chances they had at winning prizes. A reward system works well for younger kids, especially when they are stepping out of their comfort zone in trying something new.
  • Geraci even combined forces with the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles for a separate breakfast program. A reward for participation was a breakfast with stars of either team; this also created a perfect opportunity for role-models to speak about the importance of good nutrition. Purchases of breakfast boxes ("containing 100% fruit juice; a carton of milk; and a whole-grain, high protein snack with no artificial colors or preservatives") increased from 8,500 to 35,000 in less than two months!
  • Baltimore also created the Great Kids Farm. This farm is 33 acres of organic farmland that is owned and operated entirely by the Baltimore Public Schools! This farm provides HUGE benefits for the community: selling produce to the community (restaurants, farmers' markets, etc), thereby serving as another source of income for the district; providing vocational training for students; service-learning opportunities, etc. It was also the site of an eight week summer internship program!
  • At one point, Geraci explains the well-known phenomenon that people living in urban areas are disproportionally affected by diseases that are diet related. Baltimore itself finds approximately 37% of their high school students are obese; higher than the state and national average. Because these rates also fall in line with the city's poverty rates, he writes, "It only makes sense that doing right by children's health can help them perform better in the classroom."
I clearly have difficulty being terse, but there's so much going on here! The Baltimore City Schools has a great thing going with this program. If you teach health or anything related to nutrition, I urge you to check out this article!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Opiate Abuse: Massachusetts Suburbs

I'm taking a break from writing about the Educational Leadership articles to show you a series of newspaper articles from The Enterprise of Brockton, Massachusetts. The TV show Chronicle (of the local ABC affiliate WCVB) aired an episode tonight on the epidemic of oxycontin and heroin addictions (opiate abuse) currently ravaging the suburbs.

This news certainly isn't new. Locally in the north shore of Massachusetts, opiate abuse came to the forefront in the early 2000s as many pharmacies reported thefts of prescription drugs such as oxycontin. Once pills on the street became too expensive, addicts turned to cheaper heroin; a downward spiral ensued. The addiction of high school pitching ace Jeff Allison added media attention to the issue, and the District Attorney of Essex County even created a curriculum for area high schools about oxycontin.

The original articles from The Enterprise appeared a few years ago. The newspaper put them online with additional information about opiate addictions and where to go for help. The newspaper has continually reported on this problem, and below are the links to check out.

There are no easy solutions to opiate addictions, or any addictions ravaging communities. Schools need to teach the consequences associated with drug use and students need to learn the skills to avoid becoming involved with drugs. Families, communities, and individuals all need to take proactive roles in helping prevent this problem from increasing. It is a multifaceted effort! How many lives are too many to lose?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Article: Obesity won't improve without reforming PE

I came upon an article today while checking out AAHPERD's Facebook page. The article, written by NASPE board member Bryan McCullick, is short, to the point, and effective. Although I do not teach PE, I'm obviously a big advocate for anything health/PE related in schools.

Click here for the article.
McCullick writes that,"PE is at the core of promoting healthy choices. A comprehensive school program includes PE, health education, healthy food options, recess for elementary school students, intramural sport programs and physical activity clubs, and interscholastic sports for high school students. Ideally, schools would also include physical activity breaks, walk/bike to school programs, appropriate physical activity in after-school child care programs, and staff wellness programs."

Many choices listed here tie into a coordinated school health program. Each unit operates in support of one other. Tennessee has made funding available statewide for development of a CSHP in each district. Will this set a precedent for other states? We'll find out (more on the Tennessee thing later this week).

I also like McCullick's point that, "The days of the ball-rolling, coffee-swilling, game-prepping PE “coach” have contributed to the current obesity rate increase." Today's physical education classes should focus on lifestyle activities and participation in physical activity, and are no longer for the "jocks" or athletes. Anyone is capable of moving their bodies and finding an activity they enjoy doing, and exposure to those activities in physical education classes is one way for students to find that out!

On a side note, a great example of an after school program is ING's Run For Something Better. Here a company is offering 50 $2,000 grants to either begin a school-based running program or to enhance one that already exists. Financial assistance from major corporations is a great way to fund programs for cash strapped districts.

"If schools are places where responsible citizenship is fostered, they should also have an obligation to help children develop the skills, knowledge and confidence necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle that can prevent or reduce costly future health care."I

Saturday, January 2, 2010


There are a lot of happenings going on right now with health and physical education in the news that I'll be writing about over the next week or two. The most recent issue of Educational Leadership is filled with articles about the coordinated school health program, school lunch programs, and other similar topics. I'm working on getting a copy of the journal, so for now here's something I use in my classroom. Also, check the comments on my last post for some additional info on the article by Jay Mathews.

Technology is rapidly changing the way teachers reach their students in the classroom. As younger teachers work their way into the working word, they bring with them podcasts, blogs, and numerous other interactive media and technology. Many students are knowledgeable about the world wide web, iPods, downloading, and basically any technology out there. For the most part, they grow up in a digital world. SMART boards have replaced black boards, and cell phones provide instant communication anywhere in the world.

I am lucky to be in a district where I can use technology in my classroom frequently. My most recent discovery, thanks to our technology specialist, is Jing. Jing is a free, downloadable screencasting software you may have seen used before without knowing what it is. Screencasting software is used anytime someone wants to record a video and narration of their computer screen. It's often used in tech tutorials and "how to" videos on sites like YouTube.

Jing is a free download available for Mac or PC. Teachers can record at school or at home and share the video as a download or through a URL. The free version provides 2GB of space users can use to upload their videos to an account on the site, Screencast. Users can always download their videos and burn them to CDs if the 2GB starts to run out. Videos on the free version are limited to five minutes in length.

There are countless ways to use Jing in the classroom. A world history teacher could record an animation found online showing the rise of the Roman Empire, all while providing narration emphasizing key points from class. An English teacher may go through a Power Point slide by slide, repeating the lecture from class that day. A librarian can record herself going through steps of the research process. The possibilities are endless!

Embedded below is a brief example of Jing that I made, so you can see how it works. For this, I simply put up a video on how to access the Blast Off Game, which my sixth graders enjoy for a review of the food groups, and embedded it into this blog entry. If this was for school, I would post a link to the online homework calendar set up by my district for students to access at home. I made this one on a whim, so I speak a little quickly. My apologies!
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