In the past 100 years, chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, have become the most prevalent, most costly, and, ironically, most preventable health problems that Americans face. Surprisingly, 7 out of 10 Americans who die each year succumb to a chronic disease.6 The statistics, including the costs associated with chronic diseases, are staggering. Consider the following:
Although it may seem that chronic diseases are strictly an issue for adults, such a view is shortsighted. The health of adults is linked to the health of the young people they were, which in turn is linked to decisions made to choose and adopt healthy behaviors. Middle school students need to understand how decisions are made and that decisions made during adolescence can have both long-term and short-term health consequences. Understanding the influence of behavioral and social factors on health will inform students’ choices of health-promoting and disease-preventing behaviors.
The Science of Healthy Behaviors has several objectives. One is to introduce students to the scientific study of behavior. Through inquiry-based activities, students investigate what behavior is and how it can be studied. They investigate influences on behaviors and examine the health outcomes of behaviors. As behavioral therapists in role-playing activities, students develop their understanding of the module’s concepts and prepare to apply them in their own lives.
A second objective is to have students reach the understanding that behaviors have both short-term and long-term consequences to health and that behaviors are influenced in complex ways by a variety of factors. The lessons in this module help students sharpen their skills in observation, critical thinking, experimental design, and data analysis. They also make connections to other disciplines, including English, mathematics, and social science.
A third objective is to convey to students the purpose of scientific research. Ongoing research affects how we understand the world around us and gives us the foundation for improving choices about our personal health and the health of our community. In this module, students experience how science provides evidence that can be used to understand and treat human disease.
The lessons in this module encourage students to think about the relationships among knowledge, choice, behavior, and human health in this way:
Knowledge (what is known and not known) + Choice = Power
Power + Behavior = Enhanced Human Health
The final objective of this module is to encourage students to think in terms of these relationships now and as they grow older.
Middle school life science classes offer an ideal setting for integrating many areas of student interest. In this module, students participate in activities that integrate inquiry, science, human health, mathematics, and science-technology-society relationships. The real-life context of the module’s classroom lessons is engaging for students, and students can apply the knowledge they gain immediately to their lives.
“The adolescent survey was highly motivating for students. The inquiry-based activity about the survey was excellent. The simulation was excellent—it made students feel important, and they were more motivated to learn.” —Field-Test Teacher
“I liked analyzing things, not just being told them and memorizing them; it wasn’t boring. I liked working in a different area of science; it made it more interesting. I liked learning something that can actually apply to the outside world. It made the learning feel more purposeful.” —Field-Test Student
The Science of Healthy Behaviors meets many of the criteria by which teachers and their programs are assessed:
In addition, the module provides a means for professional development. Teachers can engage in new and different teaching practices like those described in this module without completely overhauling their entire program. In Designing Professional Development for Teachers of Science and Mathematics, Susan Loucks-Horsley et al.15 write that replacement modules such as this one can “offer a window through which teachers can get a glimpse of what new teaching strategies look like in action.” By experiencing a short-term unit like this one, teachers can “change how they think about teaching and embrace new approaches that stimulate students to problem solve, reason, investigate, and construct their own meaning for the content.” The use of supplements like this one can encourage reflection and discussion and stimulate teachers to improve their practices by focusing on student learning through inquiry.
The following table correlates topics often included in the middle school life science curriculum with the major concepts presented in this module. This information is presented to help teachers make decisions about incorporating this material into the curriculum.
|Topic||Lesson 1||Lesson 2||Lesson 3||Lesson 4||Lesson 5|
|Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models.|
|Evaluation includes reviewing the experimental procedures, examining the evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, pointing out statements that go beyond the evidence, and suggesting alternative explanations for the same observations.|
|Human health and medicine|
|Risk assessment and management|
|Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.|
|Relationships among science, technology, and society|
|Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.|
|Communicating procedures and evaluations|
|Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.|
Next: Implementing the Module