6 Ways to Bring Authentic Learning to Your Health Class

Amy Lauren Smith 

When I was in eighth grade, I was assigned a project on career exploration. At the time, I was obsessed with music and wanted nothing more than to be a radio DJ.

My friend Gina and I researched everything we could about becoming a DJ, and even got to visit the local radio station. While sitting in as guests in the studio, we were asked to select a song. My friend asked for New Kids on the Block, but I said we should play something “new and fresh,” like Milli Vanilli.

It’s one of my favorite memories from middle school, and not just because of my ridiculous song choice. It was memorable because I felt like I was actually doing something for real, not just for a grade. The learning experience was so rich that I can still recall all of the details, even though I can’t remember if I got an A or a B.

That’s what learning should be: student-directed, inquiry based, collaborative, and full of “real-life” connections.

With a subject as universal as health, we’re granted with abundant opportunities to bring authentic learning to our students. Here are 6 ways to get started with your class: 

Give student work a public audience.

1. Have students organize a community wellness fair. Students can give presentations and cooking demonstrations, offer fitness classes, and ask local health and wellness professionals to get involved. Check out the resources at Action for Healthy Kids for tips, handouts, and ideas.

2. Join a campaign like Food Revolution Day by chef Jamie Oliver, which aims to bring food education into schools. Not only will students learn how to cook, but they can also share their work on social media and practice their advocacy skills.

Have your class create a school-wide advocacy campaign.

3. Inspire kids to advocate for healthier school lunches. After watching a documentary about a group of students from New Orleans who took on their cafeteria provider, have your students create their own campaign to get more fresh and tasty food available in your school.

4. Join a fitness challenge like the Billion Mile Race from the New Balance Foundation. Students rack up miles by running and walking during class and in their free time, and can check their school’s stats as they go. A little healthy competition is a great motivator to get up and moving.

Break down the classroom walls, and get out into the community.

5. Have students organize a healthy field trip. They can take a trip to the market, go to a yoga studio, or visit a chef for a cooking demo. When students contact community experts themselves, they’re much more likely to get offers for free lessons and services.

6. Visit a farm or vegetable garden. One of the best ways to get kids excited about fruits and veggies is to have them pick the produce themselves. If you don’t have the space or resources to plant a garden in your own school, find a local farm where kids can get their hands dirty for the day.

These are some ideas to get started, but the magic of authentic learning happens when it comes directly from the students. Ask yours what they feel passionately about, and guide them along as they create a project of their own.