Posted by: Magistra | May 14, 2006

Your New Health Czar

I just finished writing up my final exam for my adolescent health class. The final question was an interesting hypothetical. What follows is a somewhat revised version of that question and my answer.

The Question

If you were the new Health Czar, how would you develop an interdisciplinary curriculum?

My Answer
If I were given the responsibility of revising secondary health education, the first thing I would do is get rid of Health classes. I do not mean eliminate the course content, but the name. I think students, parents, teachers, and administrators too often approach Health classes with the attitude that this is somehow bonus information, or not as important as “real” classes like math or English. Instead of an official health course, I would take the time ninth graders spend in health and add it to science, social science, and physical education courses. Sometimes a student would spend two periods in science, sometimes two in social studies, and sometimes two in physical education. A teacher need not necessarily use one period for science and the other for health (for example, perhaps a science teacher would rather give more time to running an experiment), but over the course of the semester a teacher would have time to incorporate health content into their curriculum.

This approach would work with a team teaching approach. The idea is that then the science teacher is talking about calories as an energy unit, the social studies teacher is talking about how marketing has changed food purchases towards high caloric foods, and the P.E. teacher is running a unit on aerobic exercise for life. Students would approach the lesson (in this case, about healthy diet and nutrition) from multiple perspectives. This way, if students are more receptive to one perspective over the others, they can learn the material. Simultaneously, students are being exposed to the breadth of the issue. I do not want to eliminate health teachers, but want to incorporate them into this team approach. In this example, the health teacher may join the science teacher in running an experiment to determine how many calories are in various food items, and then, during the P.E. class, talk about how much aerobic exercise it takes to “burn off” those calories. In this program, health teachers become a resource specialist, helping the “core” teachers gather material and complete joint planning, while also assisting in lesson presentations.

I can already anticipate some of the concerns teachers may have. Health teachers could easily get frustrated not having a classroom as a home base, both for material storage and display and for the opportunity to connect with students. All the teachers may get frustrated with the lack of autonomy that must come from having to work closely with three other colleagues. If I were to actually implement this plan, I would want to start with a pilot program at one or two self-selected schools. Self-selection is important because to work at the beginning will take a lot of compromise from the teachers involved, and compromise does not come from forced action. After working out some of the kinks, I would want to implement this plan in a few school districts, in a variety of urban and rural areas. Assuming all went well, I would then seek to implement this approach statewide.

More Commentary
Contrary to what I said above, I doubt something like this could ever take off at a state level. It relies too much on local conditions for success. Still, I think it’s an approach I’d be interested in. Okay, so teaching health doesn’t exactly light me on fire, but I’ve often wished that science and social science could be combined. History and English are always getting put together (and that can be a very good thing), but I think there should be room for science and math history too. I suppose good science and math teachers are already combining the two (I always thought this came through most clearly in calculus and nuclear chemistry), but I think it could be done more often. And I’d like to think it would help answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”

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