The Two Keys to Keeping Content Relevant in Health Ed

The Internet grants us access to other health teachers around the globe, allowing us to share news, lessons, and projects in a subject where we’re often left to figure things out on our own.

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I began teaching health 15 years ago at a public high school in Southern California. I was keenly aware of the student population and their health concerns, as I was only 24 years old and had graduated from that same school just six years before.

Now, I’m at an international school in Shanghai, China, teaching middle school students who come from all over the world.

Needless to say, my curriculum has changed. But it’s not just because of the demographic (though that certainly plays a role). The health concerns for all of our students have shifted, and it’s important that we’re willing to shift with them.

1. Know when it’s time to address new topics.

If you want to get buy-in from your students, they have to feel that the curriculum applies to them. That’s why the one-size-fits-all textbook approach stopped working a long time ago.

Recently, my subject partner and I hosted a workshop for health and wellness teachers from other international schools in our region. The participants taught in several different countries, but as we began to discuss the health concerns of our students, some universal topics emerged: sleep, mindful technology use, stress, anxiety, sexual health, and relationships.

While some of these topics have always been embedded in our curricula, some of them are relatively new. When I first started teaching, I never would have imagined that sexting would become a thing, or that I'd have to teach seventh graders about sleep deprivation. But these are key issues that we now must address in our classes.

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, which means that it’s no longer enough to cover it as a stand-alone issue. If we don’t teach students the skills needed to find balance and use technology to enhance their lives, they’ll be left to struggle through their formative years, and even more so when they’re out on their own.

Health teachers tend to have a hard time fitting all of their subject matter into one year. So how can you add lessons about technology to your curriculum while still addressing the topics you’ve always covered? The simple answer is, you can’t—which leads to my next point.

2. Know when it’s time to throw things away.

A few weeks ago, my classroom was flooded by a typhoon and I was temporarily relocated to a spare room. “Moving out” helped me appreciate all that I had. But moving back in this week helped me realize how little I actually need.

My students and I spent some time pulling everything off the shelves, and I got a good look at the resources I’ve been holding onto for the last seven years. We all laughed as we looked at the dated fashion in the old pamphlets and posters, and I was reminded how quickly health class materials can become obsolete.

Some content gets rendered useless because of changes to the health information itself, like a food pyramid board game or a digital citizenship DVD about MySpace.com. Other content becomes out-modeled simply because our approach to health education has changed. Take, for example, the jar of fake oil I had to hide from my students that said, “Vat of Fat: Ever wonder what happens to those extra calories you consume every day? You’re looking at it.”

When my class asked why I had held onto this stuff for so long, I tried to defend myself by telling them how expensive it all was. And then one student said, “And now you’re lucky, because the Internet is free.”

She’s right. I am lucky. We all are.

Gone are the days of having to spend a fortune on quickly outdated textbooks and materials. The Internet offers us a seemingly endless supply of new health information and resources that aren’t just free, but also up-to-date, easily spread, and relevant to the needs of today’s teens.

For a bank of free online resources that can help keep your health class relevant, check out this brand new list of 33 Choices-approved websites.