Sunday, August 29, 2010

HIV/AIDS: Using "Dispatch: Zimbabwe" in HIV/AIDS Unit

One of my favorite units to teach is the HIV/AIDS and other STDs unit that is in our eighth grade health curriculum. I often supplement material contained in our curriculum with material from outside sources, because I find it a fascinating topic with so many things to bring to the classroom and add to the experiences of my students. I could spend the whole trimester on this one topic! The transmission simulation activity is perhaps the favorite in the eyes of my students, but I enjoy trying to get my students to see the big (global) picture with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Last year I used two video resources during this unit, one from PBS Frontline which I use to show short clips about the beginning of HIV/AIDS.

The second resource comes from one of my favorite bands, Dispatch. Although the three members no longer play together, the band's impact is still felt throughout the way in which they reach out, globally, to help those less fortunate than them. Dispatch is huge on advocacy work, and the members frequently travel to other countries in order to help others.

In 2007, Dispatch reunited for a three performance stint at Madison Square Garden, and sold out each night. The benefit concerts, entitled "Dispatch: Zimbabwe" were designed to raise money to fight famine, disease, and charities in Zimbabwe. During the concert (and on the DVD of the concert) Dispatch created small vignettes about a variety of topics. One is entitled, "Health."

The "Health" vignette focuses on HIV/AIDS and its impact on a man named Eria. The five minute clip provides a nice introduction to the global issues of HIV/AIDS, although it does focus on how it is affecting Zimbabwe. I use it as an introduction to a class discussion on the global impact of the disease, in which I use some maps from organizations that are trying to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I've embedded the video below.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Staying Updated, Part Two

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm a firm believer in staying up-to-date on topics that I teach about in my classroom. I owe it to my students to provide them with information that is recent, accurate, and reliable. I frequently find myself taking a short minute or two out of class to discuss something in the news. Examples over my first two years teaching include the bullying legislation in Massachusetts, voting on the decriminalization of possession of marijuana, sexual harassment cases at a local school, and articles relating to nutrition.

I find out about these stories through many ways: watching the news (although not as much during the school year), by seeing headlines on websites (while checking e-mail or visiting other websites, etc), from my mother (who e-mails me news articles at least once a week...although, I've usually seen them by the time she gets to them!) and through my Google Reader account.

So, what sources do I skim and read for information? Check out the lists below of some sources I use for education and health news, both locally and across the country. This is not an all inclusive list, as I have eleven feeds total relating to education and a few other sections unrelated to work with about 30 different feeds of blogs, news websites, etc. I'm also pretty sure that people won't care that I follow a Bruins blog or two as well as a few running/exercise science blogs.

My (Personal) Top Resources for Education:
1. The U.S. Department of Education. I use this website to stay on top of various topics relating to education policy and research. There's not too much information I share with my students here, but as a teacher I think it's important to try to stay on top of what's going on nationally as far as education is concerned.

2. Billed as "your daily cheat sheet for education news," focuses on stories that will probably make you simultaneously angry and amused. Sample stories, which are posted from other news outlets, involve students bringing guns to school and a teacher ordering their class to plan a terrorist attack. The authors note, "We mock the public school system because we love the idea of quality, free, public education." This is, according to the authors, done because they want to promote a solution. Regardless of their motives, it's an entertaining read.

3. Education news. Teaching about thirty minutes north of Boston means I need to stay up on education issues going on within the local area as well as statewide. Information here is from the Boston Globe, and covers a myriad of topics: MCAS scores, athletics, budgets, community news, etc. National news is featured here as well.

4. Class Struggle: by Jay Mathews. To me, the best part of Jay Mathews' education blog is the commentary provided by readers. Mathews often weighs in on these comments, engaging in conversation with his readers and even admitting his mistake. Mathews writes about a variety of issues, focusing on education policy and education reform.

5. Free Technology for Teachers. Richard Byrne does a fantastic job posting free resources for teachers to use in implementing technology in their classroom. I've posted about his blog every now and then, and have successfully used many resources he posts in my classroom or for personal use. This should be required reading for all teachers!

My (Personal) Top Choices for Health News

1. Fed Up With School Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Mrs. Q, the anonymous author of this fantastic blog (which I've linked here many times) has set out to eat school lunch during every school day during this calendar year. Her blog has been mentioned on the national news and has been instrumental in creating a dialogue about changing the food our children eat in schools. Now that school is starting up again, be prepared to see pictures of the foods our children consume at school. You might be surprised! Mrs. Q has linked up with many other passionate individuals to help bring attention to this important issue. After all, our children all our future; we should feed them well!

2. Well: New York Times Blog. Well contains commentary on stories that are published in the New York Times relating to exercise, nutrition, fitness, science, etc. Frequently, these stories also come up in my RSS feed for the Health section of the Times, but I subscribe to the blog for the commentary provide by the author and the readers who post comments.

3. Health Section. I subscribe to this for the same reason I do's education section: it's the best source for local news relating to health, with stories from the Boston Globe. It also covers national headlines as well, and the local aspect makes it easy to make connections with students about what's going on a few miles down the road for them.

4. CNN Health. CNN covers a substantial amount of information and often includes interactive images and videos within their news stories. If the story is making news nationally, CNN will cover it and often will have follow-ups or commentary from multiple sources. If I can, I try to use video from Anderson Cooper 360 because he always seems to have both sides represented, with the occasional fireworks from commentators!

For both education and health news, I do see a lot of headlines that pop up in more than one feed. If the story is not an AP story, it's interesting to see the opinions of each writer and the similarities or differences in their reporting. More often than not, AP stories dominate so I'll just read whatever feed I see first. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

MyPyramid Blast Off! Review Game

MyPyramid is the current food pyramid that is used in our sixth grade nutrition unit. I do try to incorporate other food pyramids if we have time (the Healthy Eating Pyramid and the Mediterranean Food Pyramid are two) for comparison purposes, but time is usually not a luxury afforded to a sixth grade classroom!

The USDA created MyPyramid in 2005 as an update to the old food guide pyramid that I learned about in middle school. When it was created there was a fair amount of criticism which led to the creation of other food pyramids. My sixth graders come into class with basic knowledge of MyPyramid from their fifth grade health class in elementary school. So, I go into more detail about how they can individualize their eating habits using MyPyramid, among other topics relating to nutrition. I usually begin with a review so I can make adjustments in case some students have more knowledge than others.

The MyPyramid Blast Off! game is a great review for students relating to the food groups, serving sizes, and incorporating moderation and variety into their diet. Students must fuel their rocket ship with food from all food groups and physical activity to reach Planet Power. I make this activity interactive by allowing students to come up and use the Smart Board to help play the game. When I use it this year I'm going to try to have some sort of companion activity so students don't become bored or overly excited. You do need Flash 7 or greater to play the game. Click here to launch the game and try it out!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Staying Updated: Google Reader & Google Fast Flip

NOTE: I am not affiliated with Google or the blog Free Technology for Teachers in any way, shape, or form. I simply use a lot of Google Products and read Free Technology for Teachers for great information.

I strive to remain up-to-date on health topics that are making headlines in the news. I often incorporate current events into my health classes whenever I can, in order to bring a little "real world" information into my classroom. I use Google Reader as an RSS aggregator to keep myself informed of information that is being published from a variety of resources: newspapers, blogs, government websites, etc. I have multiple sections, including one for "education" and another for "health" related information. I browse through the feeds as soon as I get into my classroom each morning to see if there is anything I can use during the day.

For those who don't know (Hi, Mom!) an RSS aggregator is basically one-stop shopping for customizable news information. News from a variety of sources (websites, blogs, etc) is easily categorized based on how I want to view it. I have thirteen different feeds for education and health, which is definitely enough information for what I am trying to do. The one downfall of not including more feeds is that there is in increased possibility that I will miss a story I might be able to use in class. However, adding additional feeds from all over the country becomes quite cumbersome and there would simply be too many stories for me to sort through. I don't read each and every one now; I scan and read if I am interested. My point is that there becomes a point where there would be an information overload and where time starts being wasted.

Enter Google Fast Flip. I found out about Google Fast Flip (and a lot of other things!) by reading the excellent blog Free Technology for Teachers by Richard Byrne. Google Fast Flip provides news articles in a visual display that the user can scroll through for a quick scan of what's popular in the news. You can select different categories, such as Sports or Health. Fast Flip shows news stories from all over the country, covering local and national news, which allows me to have a greater depth of information without cluttering my RSS feeds. Fast Flip gives me the opportunity to read news from sources I would otherwise not read.

I selected the "Health" section and was immediately able to skim articles from major news outlets and websites. If an article interested me, I clicked on it to read it in depth. In a time where everyone seems to need more than twenty four hours in a day, Google Fast Flip is a great way for me to supplement the information I obtain through RSS. I can easily access this website in class and show my students how health is always in the news, and maybe select and article or two to talk about. I can have students use Fast Flip for their "Health in The News" assignments, and the variety of sources can expose them to different writing styles and opinions. Students could also compare and contrast assignments from different newspapers. Try it out for a quick visualization of what's popular in the news!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Infographics: Nutrition Related (From A Great Blog!)

Using infographics is a great way to present information or data in a unique, visual way. Instead of presenting information using many numbers or a block of text, an infograph can convey information in way that can be quickly understood and absorbed. They are also great in order to emphasize certain points from a lesson or to allow content to "hit home" when students see it visually. They're also great for visual learners.

While scrolling through my Google Reader account, I came upon an entry from one of my favorite blogs, Free Technology for Teachers. If you've read my posts before, I've linked this blog on a few occasions. You MUST visit this website!

Richard Byrne, who created the blog, posted a few links with infographics relating to obesity and eating out. I checked a few of them out and I'll definitely be using them during our nutrition units this school year. These graphics will allow me to expand upon content we're covering and I'll be tying in some critical thinking skills with them, too. There is no point in re-posting the links he created, so below is a link to his blog. Plus, I want you to check out his website! I have another post about something I'm using after I read about it on his blog, too.

Free Technology for Teachers: Infographics on Eating out and Obesity.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hartford Courant: YRBS Results Article

An article appeared in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday detailing the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that was administered to 3,000 middle and high school students throughout Connecticut in 2009. The article focuses on the results pertaining to sexual intercourse, specifically that 70% of high school seniors surveyed responded "yes" when asked if they had engaged in sexual intercourse in the last 12 months. The figure being most talked about, however, is that out of all students surveyed who are sexually active, only 60% used condoms in their most recent sexual intercourse experience.

Obviously this article (specifically, the statistic) is helpful for me in my quest to get comprehensive sexuality education into all of our schools. The reporter discusses this with various officials who work within the health and education fields, and realizes that this is a multi-faceted problem that requires an approach from a variety of angles. Sexuality education isn't just about sperm meeting egg, or penis and vagina. It covers the diverse angles within the topics: sex itself, relationships, sexual identity, STIs, methods of protection, media influence, etc. Hopefully articles like this will help start the dialogue about sexuality education that needs to take place within communities.

I'll be going back to my classroom late next week to start preparing things for the start of classes on September 8th. With the start of the school year, my intention is to post less about health issues in the news and more on what I'm doing in the classroom. I'd love to add more pictures and maybe even some video, too. With the school year approaching, I'm starting to brush up on my content knowledge as well. I have an outstanding resource I'll post about before school starts, and there are a few websites I've discovered that I hope to post about soon.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Association Between Health-Risk Behaviors and Academic Grades

I was checking my e-mail this afternoon and opened the latest message from NASPE. After scrolling through some P.E. news, the big link that caught my eye was entitled, "New Health and Academic Achievement Resources from DASH." I'm always interested in reading about how health education, physical education, etc. can help improve academic learning.

The information provided by the CDC is based on the just released 2009 results of the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. If you're unaware, the goal of the YRBS is to monitor priority risk-behaviors among adolescents across the country. The amount of information this provides health educators is incredible; in addition to a national breakdown, data can be broken down on the state and local level. This data has been used in my district to adapt our health curriculum to fit the needs of our students. One could argue that changes might be too late to have an impact by the time we see trends, and identifying future trends is something I would like to try to improve on by talking with the students, etc. But, when it comes down to it we are using the data in a way that can help create positive changes among the youth we serve.

I haven't yet looked at all the data (this frequently happens when I blog about something I just read about), but the Overview provided enough information for me to post here. When it comes down to it, after controlling for sex, race/ethnicity, and grade level, data showed "a negative association between health-risk behaviors and academic achievement among high school students."

Students with higher grades are less likely to engage in risk behaviors! Are there outliers? Of course there are. This data can't be applied in every situation. I'm sure that we can all think of someone we went to high school with that partied hard or engaged in some of the other risk behaviors and somehow managed to get decent grades, or vice versa. But, how much did they learn? That in itself, the reflection of grades on student learning, is another can of worms to open up. I'm getting off track here, but as you can see I try to see the whole picture behind the numbers. Learning disabilities, AP classes, and a host of other items are not taken into account.

I would be further interested to see how these numbers correlate to results of standardized test scores. We already know that physical activity can help increase scores on standardized tests (among other things, like improving classroom behavior) but do engagement in risk behaviors affect them too? It's easy to generalize, or make assumptions, about the potential result of this. I would love to look at some data from which I could draw conclusions. However, some people don't perform well on standardized test scores and some people ace them while maintaining below average grades. Too many controls for a study, I think!

The CDC themselves has said that these numbers require further research to determine what exactly leads to low grades, or to engaging in risk-behaviors, or what else could lead to either of the above. My excitement with this is that now we have the possibility for future research into this area. And, in an economic climate where health and physical education are placed on the chopping block quickly and often without justification, these numbers give those of us in the field concrete evidence of the importance of what we teach children. It also helps support the argument for incorporating a well developed, interactive, coordinated school health program in as many school districts as possible.

I'm going to use some of this new data during my brief presentation during back to school night. Actually, as part of our department's professional development before school begins, we are spending a day with our community prevention coalition discussing the new data from our own, district-wide version of the YRBS. So, I'll be able to apply even more specific data during back to school night.

I'll also use it when I finally get my chance to present in front of the School Committee, Governor, President (whoever!) when I argue my case for increasing the amount of sexuality education we teach in our middle school. But that, my friends, is another topic for another time!

Check out the actual reports and information here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

College Drinking: More Than Just a Problem (Infographic)

DegreeScout is a website geared towards students who are applying to colleges, with a goal of helping students make informed decisions about various challenges students may encounter during the search for the right school, especially when it comes to online learning.

I found this infographic while checking up on what is quickly becoming my favorite blog, Free Technology for Teachers. I've mentioned this before, but if you are a teacher you need to follow this blog! The amount of information can be a tad overwhelming, but it's easy to sift through what you know you can use in your classroom and what you can't based on your technology set up.

But, back to the topic: drinking in college. As a middle school health educator, I'm able to give students the facts/knowledge about the dangerous affects of alcohol abuse long before they enroll in college. Ideally, I also provide them with skills they choose to use to promote a healthy lifestyle as well.

When I was in undergrad, I was a resident assistant for a year and a half in a co-ed, all-freshman residence hall (we weren't allowed to call them "dorms"). Part of my job responsibility was to enforce college policies (especially alcohol policies) but another large component was to run "educationals" for my floor each month. We were never allowed to run one on safe alcohol consumption, because then we would technically be promoting an illegal activity. We could bring in campus police, or the awesome people from the Drug & Alcohol Education Center (I think that's what it was called) but these presentations were simply on the dangers of alcohol. All important information, for sure, but not always what college students wanted to hear.

I do not want to condone underage alcohol use or irresponsible alcohol use, but many kids have no idea what they're doing when it comes to consuming alcohol. The conversation about safe, responsible drinking needs to take place with every college student, and I would venture to say younger as well. Look, kids will drink. I wasn't into that scene in high school or college but plenty of friends of mine were. There's really no right answer to this issue, but I don't even see the conversation taking place in many schools, at any level.

The infographic was displayed with the following paragraph: .

"The team at was pretty shocked when these statistics surfaced about life at traditional colleges and universities. Even with the funny stick men, it is still unnerving. At first glance, it seems strange to draw the conclusion that attending a traditional college can dramatically up one’s chances of being assaulted, committing suicide, driving drunk or having a penchant for graffiti. It made us wonder: Do career colleges and online programs shield students from these unfortunate scenarios? Or is the spike in crime and drinking simply a product of youth, in which case, traditional colleges just house a large population of young (and arguably irresponsible) students? What do you think? Can these situations be avoided by enrolling in online education courses?"

Certainly food for thought, but I do think they are drawing hasty conclusions and that attending an online school is definitely not an answer to this problem. I wouldn't trade my college experience for anything in the world: I was a three season athlete, involved in many student activities and clubs on campus, presented with professors at conferences, and learned an incredible amount in and out of the classroom. I think ScoutDegree, while providing important and somewhat startling information, is making a blanket statement about traditional colleges. However, they are stimulating conversation in some way, so I can't complain about that.

The infograph is embedded below. I'm going to tie this into my classes and will also use it through a new initiative my district is undertaking with all the athletic teams at the high school. More posts on that as the fall season begins.

EDIT: I have tried to embed the infograph, but the link provided by the website doesn't seem to work. Check it out here.

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