Thursday, June 24, 2010

Condoms in Provincetown

I'm sure my few constant readers (and perhaps those of you who find me through search engines) are expecting a post on the condom issue in Provincetown that Massachusetts Governor Patrick isn't happy about. Eventually, I will post about it; I need to dig up some research articles first. It's too fresh for me to post about, because the information is already changing.

I will say this: I'm hoping to have mandatory, comprehensive sexuality education in all Massachusetts public schools by 2020. It's something I'm hoping to start getting involved in as I begin graduate school. There are plenty of organizations that already exist devoted to this, and I plan on joining the action. I'd also like to collaborate with some of my professors from Springfield as well.

Expect a post about the condom issue next week. School's out, and a have a week off before my summer job starts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brainstorming Tool:

A new unit in our eighth grade curriculum this year focuses on gambling addiction. Based on our version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, we know that a lot of our middle school students do not gamble; it is still an important topic to discuss as the potential to get into a lot of trouble (financially, socially, legally etc) is great. I also use it as a segue into the addiction information they will talk about next year at the high school.

To begin the unit this time around, I conducted a brainstorming activity with my eighth grade classes. Using a website I just found out about, the students brainstormed everything they know about gambling, based on specific categories I provided.

The website is called, and I found out about it through a post on the excellent blog Free Technology for Teachers. (If you are a teacher, you NEED to follow this blog!) On, you can noodle around before you actually register to see if the site is something you could use. Be sure to check out the features example provided on the homepage for additional information. You'll learn a lot just by using the interface, and can embed and export files created on If you have Smartboard capabilities, you could have students type using the on-screen keyboard (or do so yourself); although I have a Smartboard in my classroom, I decided to key stuff in from the computer my first time using this lesson.

I'm certain that this website could be greatly used in some of our other units, such as our sexual harassment unit. Creating information in a visual way is a handy way for students who think that way, and the chart is something we can refer back to throughout our unit. I could also use this as an informal pre-test/post-test of student knowledge or as another form of formative assessment (link). In this case, this tool allowed me to gauge the classroom knowledge about this topic. In the future, I plan on printing these brainstorms out to refer back to over the course of a unit. I might also try an ongoing segment where our classes link each unit together, noting similarities and common themes.

Here is an example from my first period, eighth grade class; you can browse around:

As always, feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Website to Use: The New Science of Addiction

When I was student teaching during my senior year, I had to develop a few lessons around addiction. In collaborating with my supervising practitioner, I found out about a fantastic website I have since used in middle school.

The New Science of Addiction: Genetics and The Brain is run by the Genetics Learning Center at the University of Utah. The website is very detailed, containing information on a wide variety of topics relating to addiction. Most of the information is for high school or college aged students, but I find that I can select certain pieces of information to present to my middle school students that they are able to comprehend.

According to the website, "Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by changes in the brain which result in a compulsive desire to use a drug. A combination of many factors including genetics, environment, and behavior influence a person's addiction risk, making it an incredibly complicated disease. The new science of addiction considers all of these factors--from biology to family--to unravel the complexities of the addicted brain." By covering all of these factors, the website remains a comprehensive resource on everything relating to addiction.

The website focuses on the following topics:
  • Natural Reward Pathways Exist in The Brain
  • Drugs Alter the Brain's Reward Pathway
  • Genetics Is An Important Factor in Addiction
  • Timing and Circumstances Influence Addiction
  • Challenges and Issues In Addiction
Each section contains interactive activities (e.g. making a neuron, "cerebral commando," "mouse house" party, etc) that present information on varying topics: drugs of abuse, how neurons work, the different parts of the brain, etc. These interactive, visually stimulating activities are great for breaking down concepts that may come across as complex to students. I've used the Drugs of Abuse link when discussing basic information about certain drugs during our ATOD unit, and in the past have also used the Mouse Party link.

Extra information about each topic is also included, and is great for expanding upon basic information you may have already covered. Combining visuals with text explanations, these pages are well worth a look! The one on drug delivery methods has served as a great in-class review during my health classes. 

Please explore this valuable website! I do not go into too much detail about addiction because students will learn more about the topic in high school, but this website allows me to introduce students to this important topic without stepping on the toes of the high school teachers.

As always, please feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Teaching Toolbox: Tom Jackson's Books

The following post applies to anyone who works with youth: teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, parents, etc. All can benefit from these activities! :)

I'm considering adding a category called "Teaching Toolbox." This would combine a few of the other tags I already have, making things less cluttered and more efficient. I'd have to go back and change quite a few entries, so we'll see what happens. So, there's the reasoning behind the post title.

In many of my undergraduate classes at Springfield, my health education professors would teach us using pedagogy methods we could actually use in our own classes when we began student teaching. By experiencing these activities from the perspective of a student, we were better able to grasp each activity and make notes for when we would actually be teaching. It was through this that I first began to hear, read about, and experience the many active learning activities created by Tom Jackson. NOTE: I am not affiliated with Tom Jackson in any way, shape, or form; I'm just a big supporter of his books after using them in my classroom.

Two of my undergraduate professors were big proponents of Tom Jackson. I too became a proponent, and borrowed their copies of his books during my student teaching experiences. Eventually purchasing my own, I now try to use Jackson's activities in each unit that I teach. Jackson's activities are at times deceptively simple. In today's digital age, they serve as reminders that teachers don't need flash and dash to hook students or for students to learn. Most require minimal set-up, although a few will require some preparation work so things run smoothly.

I found great success using Jackon's activities during my first year of teaching, when our health curriculum was pretty bland and needed to be spiced up in order to supplement factual information. Even though our revamped curriculum is better now, I still find myself using Jackson's activities whenever I can. In fact, the alcohol simulation stations lesson (designed by a professor of mine) incorporated many of Jackson's activities rolled into one. I've used his activities in a multitude of units: ATOD, bullying, media literacy, goal setting, gambling addiction, etc.

Tom has four books out; I own three and consider them to be valuable tools in my teaching toolbox. His activities can be used as activators, summarizers, or entire lessons in themselves. If a class is ahead of another one and we have a rare class period to explore outside the curriculum, Jackon's activities fit the bill too. I find that his activities are perfect to emphasize certain points in class, and the post-activity discussions are often the most valuable parts of my classes. The post-activity discussion is critical, because without it, the activity will be meaningless. I have witnessed, on multiple occasions, the awe of absolute silence as students sit in anticipation of the discussion in order to figure out what exactly each activity meant. The activities keep students engaged while they enjoy learning. They can be used in large classes or small ones; counseling groups and peer mediation sessions; anytime youth are learning.

Jackson's first book, Activities That Teach, was what started it all. According to Tom's website, these hands on activities cover topics such as "alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention, and which teach skills related to communication, values, working together, problem solving, stress management, goal setting, self-esteem, decision making, and more."

Jackson's second book, More Activities That Teach include different activities that cover topics like, "alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention, and which teach skills related to anger management, resisting peer pressure, diversity, violence and gang prevention, communication, values, working together, problem solving, stress management, goal setting, self-esteem, decision making, and more."

I also have a third book by Jackson, entitled Activities That Teach Family Values. While designed for parents, this book also has some great activities for classroom use. A fourth book is entitled, Still More Activities That Teach.

Each book contains valuable information on conducting discussions with youth, as well as the importance of active learning and tips for success. I highly suggest that any teacher considers using these activities in the classroom as soon as possible. They can add a lot to any class!

A sample activity from two of the books can be found here or here. Again, trust me: you will not be disappointed if you purchase these books!

As always, please feel free to e-mail me with any additional questions, comments, or concerns.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Brochure: Active Kids and Academic Performance

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recently released a brochure educating the public about the positive impact school-based physical education and physical activity has in academic performance. In reviewing fifty studies, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control tested 251 associations between academic performance and physical activity. Slightly over half tested to be positive associations, with only four (4) testing negative. Common associations include attentiveness, achievement test scores, and on task behavior.

The "bottom line," according to the brochure, is this: "Substantial evidence suggests that physical activity can be associated with improved academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores. Increasing or maintaining time dedicated to physical education can help--and does not adversely affect--academic performance."

Click here for a copy of the pamphlet, which I received through the June 2010 NASPE "Academy Scoops" e-mail. Please pass along to anyone interested! Eventually, I hope to write a monster, well-researched post on how a well developed coordinated school health program can help schools increase student attentiveness, improve classroom behavior, and increase academic performance as well. I might try to get to get that published elsewhere, though. I realize this has been done before, so I need to find a different angle to take.

As always, feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or concerns.
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