By Neal Starkman
Problem 1: You're a sixth-grade health teacher, and this morning you found out that three students-one of them your own-were caught smoking behind the gym. You want to capitalize on this "teachable moment" by presenting a lesson on smoking, but you have only 30 minutes before class.
Problem 2: You're an 11th-grade language arts teacher, and you've seen entirely too much posturing and near-violent outbreaks among your students. You'd like to facilitate some activities that would get them to think about the consequences of their actions, but you're mandated to teach language arts, not violence prevention.
Problem 3: You're a third-grade teacher, and after observing what your students typically bring to school in their lunchboxes, you feel that it's important for them to discuss some key concepts of nutrition with their families. The trouble is that you've never taught nutrition before, and you have no handouts or anything else for students to share at home.
Problem 4: You're new to the district, and you've been asked to teach a drug education course-one that's based on accepted research, relatively easy to implement, appealing to your students, and shown to be effective. However, you haven't been advised which curriculum to choose and you have a minimum budget to work with.
These are big problems; fortunately, they are solvable ones. That's because an astonishing array of health education Web sites are now accessible to teachers (and others) at fairly reasonable prices-some of them even free. These Web sites offer lessons; downloadable handouts; lists of resources; surveys; quizzes; and, in at least one case, streaming videos. It's "pick and click" at these sites: You can choose among grade levels, topic areas and types of information in a matter of seconds. The information is real, in most cases the quality is high, and all that's left to do is teach.
The Cadillac of health education Web sites may belong to Discovery Health Connection. That's because its Web site contains not only health lessons, not only comprehensive curricula, not only video and audio clips ready to download or stream, but also activities that meet state and national literacy standards. Virtually everything a teacher needs to facilitate an activity is accessible: background information, lesson plans, handouts, resources, various media. And it's accessible whenever a teacher wants it.
Let's take the four examples I opened this article with. First, you're a sixth-grade teacher with 30 minutes to present a lesson on smoking. You go to the Web site (www.discoveryhealthconnection.com), log in, then decide whether you want to search by key word, health topic, grade level or your state's curriculum standards. You type in "smoking" for the key word, click and immediately you're taken to a list of lessons, videos and other resources focusing on smoking. After a minute or two, you choose a video called "Chains of Smoke" that is grade-appropriate, check out the summary and determine that this is the right one for you. You download it, print the accompanying lesson plan and you're ready to teach.
Next, you're an 11th-grade teacher mandated to teach language arts. You log in, type "smoking" and this time narrow the search to "literacy lessons." Up comes a list of smoking lessons that feature literacy strategies such as "using context clues." These lessons have been developed by literacy professionals specifically to meet standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening. Again, within minutes, you choose an age-appropriate lesson that meets the requirements of your class.
When you're a third-grade teacher looking for nutrition activities for your students to take home, you glance at the Web site's topical home pages:
- Alcohol and Other Drugs
- The Body
- Mental Health
- Growth and Development
- Physical Activity
You choose the "Nutrition" home page. There you find "Family Connection" lessons for each grade level from K-12. Each Family Connection is a lesson that focuses on students
interacting with family members on a specific topic related to nutrition. You also see "School Connections" and "Community Connections"-lessons that focus on students interacting with their school and community on a specific topic related to nutrition. Every home page has Family Connections, School Connections and Community Connections.
Finally, when you're faced with teaching an entire drug education curriculum, you choose the "Alcohol and Other Drugs" home page. There you find "Here's Looking at You," a comprehensive, research-based, successfully evaluated K-12 drug education curriculum filled with lessons, videos, work sheets and a ton of other resources.
You can also create your own lessons, build your own quizzes, as well as copy lessons and videos into a Curriculum Planner. Coordinators can even track who's using which parts of the site, when and for how long-a good way to maximize efficiency among teachers. But the feature that makes Discovery Health Connection stand out is undoubtedly its cache of hundreds of videos, which you can either stream, so you and your students can see the video in real time, or download onto a disk or CD, so you and your students can see it later. The videos are indexed, too, in case you want to use only a part of a specific video-perhaps a scene or two. And compatibility isn't a problem either: Discovery Health Connection is based on applications developed for unitedstreaming, which can be found in more than 25,000 schools across the country. unitedstreaming has received numerous awards, including Technology & Learning magazine's 2004 Award of Excellence and Learning magazine's 2004 Teachers' Choice Award.
Jim McColl, vice president of health/research and evaluation at Discovery Education, offers the perspective of a teacher: "I'm buying a curriculum or videos by topic, so I need to find what I'm looking for in one place. And I need to find it when I want it. I'm not having to track down a kit, reserve a kit. … It's not just about good content; it's implementation. Every teacher now has this incredible amount of content-videos, lessons, extension activities-available on demand. We're able to do this in a more cost-effective manner."
Speaking of cost-effectiveness, the prelaunch (the site will officially open in January 2005, with the topics of violence, tobacco and nutrition; the others will follow within the year) price of www.discoveryhealthconnection.com is $500 per year per school, renewable at the same price each year. That's about the cost of a single curriculum kit. Discovery Education plans to raise that price after the launch, but McColl doesn't expect it to go much past $1,000 in the foreseeable future. For more information about Discovery Health Connection, e-mail McColl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Discovery Education at 800-323-9084.
Another health education Web site is HealthTeacher.com (www.healthteacher.com). It covers nine core topic areas:
Within these areas you can find subtopics and sample lessons for grades K-1, 2-3, 4-6, middle school and high school. In all, the site contains 278 lessons. Individuals pay $49.95 a year and schools pay anywhere from $100 to $225 a year. A similar, if smaller, site is TeacherVision.com (www.teachervision.com), which charges $29.95 a year-extra for tools such as a quiz library.
There are also free sites such as The Lesson Plans Page (www.lessonplanspage.com), Education World (www.educationworld.com) and PE Central (www.pecentral.org). Typical lessons at these sites include summaries, objectives, key words used in the lessons, materials needed, lesson plans, and downloadable handouts. The search functions on these sites are usually pretty intuitive. For example, on The Lesson Plans Page, first you choose your subject: math, science, music, P.E. and health, and half a dozen others. Then you choose one of five grade levels. Then you're presented with a list of subtopics and brief descriptions of the lessons. For instance, under the subtopic "Music," you would find the description: "This is an idea for a Music version of 'tag' to help learn instruments and their types." Likewise, under the subtopic "Health and Fitness," you would find the description: "By mixing chemicals with random classmates (or abstaining), students see how quickly a disease, like AIDS, can spread." Finally, you choose your lesson. The lesson "To Smoke or Not to Smoke" designates the level (grade 7 or 8), the time needed (about 45 minutes), the previous lesson (strategies used in advertising), the concept (advertising may influence the use of tobacco), the objectives, and the lesson itself.
The Lesson Plans Page, which was launched in October 1996, contains more than 2,500 lesson plans, many of which were developed by Kyle Yamnitz, students, and faculty at the University of Missouri. However, some of the lesson plans are continually developed and submitted by users of the Web site. According to its Web site, The Lesson Plans Page reaches out to a variety of educators: "Elementary school teachers get lesson plans that are ready to use in their classrooms. College students get great example lesson plans or ideas to base their own lesson plans on. Homeschoolers can get lesson plans to use at home, and parents can get ideas for educational activities to use with their children."
Education World has a busy Web site that addresses all kinds of educational needs, e.g.:
- Lesson planning-lessons, Q & A, puzzles, work sheets, games, topical issues
- Professional development-resources, tips on classroom management, competitions
- "Administrator's Desk"-essays, grant opportunities, profiles, events
- Technology integration-reviews of hardware, teacher templates, other Web sites
- School issues-news, surveys, commentary
- Resources-financial tips, careers, fundraising
PE Central was started by Dr. George Graham and doctoral students in Virginia Tech's Health and Physical Education Program in 1995. The following year, Mark Manross, currently PE Central's executive editor, built the site's first Web pages. As with The Lesson Plans Page, users of PE Central can also submit ideas for lessons. For example, Matt Carter, who teaches at Mitchell High School in Spruce Pine, N.C., submitted "Tobacco Math," which shows high school students how much money they can save by not smoking. PE Central's Web site also features links to assessment ideas, quizzes, tips on class management, state standards, job centers, as well as health- and P.E.-related product information.
Health education isn't what it used to be, of course. Although incidences of a lot of high-risk behaviors have been going down the last several years (due, no doubt in part, to health education), the statistics still point to a need for more than just lectures on the human body. In 2003, for instance, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 12% of eighth-graders, 22% of 10th-graders and 28% of 12th-graders had consumed five or more drinks in a row at least once in the last two weeks. Also in 2003, 5% of eighth-graders, 9% of 10th-graders and 16%of 12th-graders reported that they had smoked cigarettes daily in the last 30 days. Regarding violence, according to the Domestic Violence Resources site (www.dvresources.org), more than a quarter of students report experiencing violence in dating relationships.
So there's a need for comprehensive health education, there's a need for multimedia presentations to reach as many students-and their attendant learning styles-as possible, and there's a need for a quick and flexible delivery system to meet the requirements of having too much to teach and not enough time to do it. Discovery Health Connection and the other on-demand sites are revolutionizing the way that teachers access vital pedagogy. These sites are easy to use, they can be updated continuously, they're inexpensive, and they offer high-quality content. Most important, in these days of placing an increasing focus on the three R's, these Web sites offer a way of seamlessly integrating health education into the general curriculum.
Many people think that this is exactly how technology should be used.