CSTA Classroom Science

Applying NGSS Practices and Crosscutting Concepts to Student-Developed Health Education Projects in High School

By Edward Colación

As a Health science teacher at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles Unified School District,  I saw that as my students learned Health content there was an opportunity for them to simultaneously make sense of and apply some NGSS Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. With this in mind, I guided and prompted my students to explicitly link the Overarching Health Content Standards with NGSS Science Practices and Crosscutting Concepts in their final student team projects and Wellness posters. Students were challenged to create six informative, educational Google slide presentations and complimentary Wellness posters to improve their own health and promote healthy habits of their teen peers in high school.

The student-generated Google Slide presentations were shared amongst peers in the class, and the Wellness posters were displayed throughout the school hallways. These presentations and Wellness posters became a focal point in students' conversations. Health promotion messages became part of the social media lexicon and posts, helping to promote positive health messages school-wide.

Student projects were assessed on the ability of students to demonstrate mastery of the eight California Health Education Standards and work toward fluency of becoming health-literate individuals as outlined in the Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA Dept. of Education, 2009)

The eight California Health Education Standards include: Essential Health Concepts,  Analyzing Health Influences, Accessing Valid Health Information, Interpersonal Communication, Decision Making, Goal Setting, Practicing Health-Enhancing Behaviors, and Health Promotion.

Central to the project's success was giving students choice, highlighting and prioritizing their current health interest. Teams of students selected their MOST essential health concept for each unit of study.  These were:  Mental, Emotional, and Social Health, Injury Prevention and Safety, Nutrition and Physical Activity, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs, Growth, Development, and Sexual Health, and Personal and Community Health. Some topics included depression, coping with stress, suicide prevention, eating disorders, vaping, and drug and alcohol addiction.

This experience provided opportunities for my students to teach about and connect to many schools and community-based health services. Many students learned for the first time about our on-site Mental Health Counselors, School Nurse, Social Workers, School Psychologists, and other health allies.

During project development, students worked in teams as Health scientists using the NGSS Science Practice of Asking Questions and Defining Problems to explore the topic they had chosen. Students learned about the relationship between having critical foundational health information and making  informed decisions about their own health. Students engaged in the opportunity to reflect and focus on their health, health-related behaviors, and their responsibility as teens to advocate, access, and analyze appropriate health products and services.  

Students applied the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect during their investigations. For example, students applied their cause and effect learning during the Injury Prevention unit.  They were particularly interested in studying gun safety and active shooter preparedness in our school.  Staying safe while walking to and from school, on public transportation, and general vehicle safety were also studied. During the unit on Nutrition and Physical Activity, students examined how cause and effect are illustrated in adolescent obesity and long term health-related illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Students also applied the concept of Cause and Effect when communicating how youths' access to healthcare and self-advocacy will help them maintain good health as they transition into adulthood.

Throughout project development, students engaged in the NGSS Practices of Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information. Students reviewed and analyzed health behavior data and made health behavior recommendations to address vaping, binge drinking, and teen access to marijuana products and prescription drugs. Students used health data to highlight both sides of current debates about mandatory vaccines, the explosion of sexually transmitted infections in Los Angeles County, and implications of PREP and PEP for exposure and treatment of HIV.   They used many forms of data, such as charts, statistics, and graphs, to highlight their educational presentation messages and included these in their Wellness posters. Their analysis of health data provided them the opportunity to learn about the causation and correlation of factors contributing to disease.

Students explained to their peers how to read, interpret, and analyze charts to help their peers make informed health decisions. Students also analyzed marketing practices to highlight how products such as vaping devices deliberately target teens as the next generation of consumers.   

Student teams worked together to identify and recognize, analyze, and evaluate how internal and external influences may influence their health decisions. This was highlighted when students investigated the data related to the effectiveness of various pregnancy prevention options and access to abortion in Los Angeles and nationally.  

Students' projects also provided them the opportunity to learn and apply the NGSS Science Practice of Engaging in Argument from Evidence. Their projects highlighted well-framed, constructive, and convincing arguments and counter arguments that showcased their confidence and intellectual abilities to make healthy, informed decisions. Student projects demonstrated how decision-making skills and teens’ values and choices influence and enhance health or harm health. Students modeled how to identify risk behaviors and recommended ways students can reduce risks. They presented the most current health information while making an explicit effort to keep their biases and emotions in check, and they practiced and modeled refusal skills and conflict mediation.   

Students kept a journal during the course that included personal goal statements and identified the behavior changes they would need to make to meet these goals. These personal goals and actions became part of their own on-going wellness plan. They also reflected on their daily progress during the project. It was very gratifying to see students put their goal-setting ideas into action and make healthy behavior changes during the semester.

I learned that expanding opportunities for students to share their wisdom and to craft salient health messages promotes change in teen health behaviors. The growth in my students' abilities to link teen behaviors that reduce risk to improve overall health, and to broadcast these messages and provoke conversations among themselves and their peers was clearly evident. I am most proud of how my students have begun to promote and support personal, family, and community health in our school. My hope is that some of these messages will influence how students might use new health knowledge to reduce high-risk health behaviors.

I encourage health teachers to use project-based learning as a way to engage students in learning and applying the NGSS Science Practices and Crosscutting Concepts in Health Education.

Edward Colación is a Health Educator at Eagle Rock High School in the Los Angelesa Unified School District.



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