Several years ago, I started noticing an alarming trend: students nodding off in class. Now, this wouldn’t be as surprising of an issue if I was still teaching high school, but these were only seventh graders.
I asked the students what was going on—but of course I already knew that technology was keeping them awake. Sensing that time management and distraction were becoming bigger problems and that parents weren’t stepping in to intervene, I created a project for the students instead.
Over the course of the last few years, this project has changed and morphed, as is often the case with project-based learning. Feel free to adapt it to fit your class! Use the instructions and PDF below to try out this quick and effective project with students in grades 6 to 12.
Step 1: Journal Topic
Have students reflect on the writing prompt, "Younger teens often brag about a lack of sleep, but that usually stops when they get older. Why do you think that is?"
Step 2: Research
I usually begin this section of the unit by showing the students a TED Talk by Russell Foster, "Why Do We Sleep?"
After that, I set them free to do some additional research on the benefits of rest. Depending on the age of your students, you can set them free on their devices or give them some articles and links to help guide the way. Personally, I provide some links on the different benefits—improved academics, athletics, and creativity, along with the impact on physical appearance—to get them started. You want every student to be able to find a benefit that most resonates with them.
This year, I plan on having the kids read the cover story from our September issue, Generation Zzzzzzzz, as it’s jam-packed with all sorts of stats and information. If you’re working at a school without many tech resources, this will provide your students with more than enough information to advocate for their cause.
Step 3: Advocacy
Then it’s time for a class discussion about young teens thinking it’s cool to miss out on sleep, circling back to the journal topic from Step 1. At this point, the students have done their research and have solid information as to why this isn’t good. We then begin the process of advocating for a good night’s sleep for their classmates.
This component of the project can change—I’ve done both posters and songs, and sometimes I’ve let students pick their own medium. This year, we used Canva, a free online design software, where the kids each picked a template for a social media platform of their choice. They were then able to design a meme or a post that they thought would appeal to middle school students. After, they printed and cut out their work, and we pieced them all together on a used canvas to create a collage.
The end product was colorful, eye-catching, and full of great information. Plus, it was fun seeing some of my students who struggle the most with technology and sleep jumping in to take control of the placement of everything on the canvas. That’s one of the most important reasons to do activism projects in health class: often, students end up advocating for themselves the most.
Sleep Advocacy PDF: