Author Archives: Holly Alperin

#KidsDeserveHealthEd – Building a Movement Together

Anytime you go to a conference, it is easy to get excited about what you learned or maybe you even vow to do something different to improve your practice once you return. Then, life happens…we dive right back into family, work, other commitments, and suddenly our excitement for our new learning fades and even our best intentions can’t pull us back on course.

Since we returned from the 2018 SHAPE America National Convention, however, we have been a buzz with excitement for the great work going on in the field of health education. We feel the momentum just keep getting stronger and stronger to make our health ed classrooms a place where students increase their self-efficacy, become more health literate, and recognize their role in crafting a healthy future. What started as assessment workshops for teachers back in the early 2000’s has turned into this exciting shift in how we teach health education.


In fact, in her address to the convention body, SHAPE America President, Judy Lobianco challenged us to make this the year of the health educator… and we couldn’t agree more.


For us, the convention also provided an opportunity to share new resources and connect with many health educators. Those connections and that energy is what prompted us to consider the WHY? of teaching health education. 


Why do you do this everyday? Why do we teach students and train future educators? Why does this all matter?


For us, the reason is fairly straightforward – kids deserve it. They deserve educators who are willing to challenge them to think critically, to help them work through discomfort in order to gain confidence and competence to make health-enhancing choices, and who understand that health is complex and ever changing.

We all have our own WHY. The momentum that health education is gaining is real, and it’s contagious (thankfully in a good way) and we challenge you this week to share your WHY.

Tell at least two other people your reason for working to ensure that kids receive quality health education. 

Share on social media and use #KidsDeserveHealthEd


There are lots of #healthedheroes out there – let’s share our stories and create a groundswell – one that benefits our students and their future. Let’s tell everyone WHY our students deserve high quality health education. One could even argue – their lives depend on it.




The “How” Part 2: Assessment and Learning Activities


At this point, you are feeling pretty solid on what you want your students to know and be able to do by the end of your course. You have even determined what you unit objectives are going to be and paired the performance indicators with the topic to provide a context for student learning. Now you are ready to plan your assessments and learning activities. Let’s take a look at how to do that.


Step 5 – Designing Authentic, Performance-Based Assessments.

I know, that seems really specific, and in a way, it is. If we want students to leave our classes not only knowing new information and being able to apply skills, but also having the ability to transfer that new learning outside of the classroom and in a variety of settings we must assess them in ways that have students show us they have the ability to do so. The best way to do this is through summative, performance assessments that have students perform the action we want them to do in their real life, in situations that are similar to what they will face in their real lives. In other words, demonstrate successful application of the skill. This is an important distinction because a test or quiz will show you what a student knows, but not necessarily their ability to apply their learning.

Here are some examples of performance-based assessments for different skills:

  • Students identify a health service in your community and evaluate this product or service using the ACCESS skill cues and then describe whether the source or product is a credible and reliable and justify their reasoning. Skill = accessing information, products and services
  • Have each student complete a personal wellness assessment and identify one are to improve. Once identified, set a goal and work through a goal setting process to improve the behavior. Students need to have time to work on their goal and reflect on their experience working toward the goal. Skill = goal setting
  • Evaluate and review local risk behavior data. Identify an unhealthy behavior students are engaging in and create commercials or advocacy campaigns that promotes the positive health behavior. Skill = advocacy
  • Have students create an infographic that provides tips and strategies for reducing stress for a target audience of their choosing. Skill = advocacy

You will notice that the emphasis here is on the skill. You could include any topic into any of the sample assessments. This is one of the great things about a skills-based approach – you can easily include a variety of topics but you also have opportunities for student choice! Your focus is on the skill so whether they advocate for healthier eating, crossing guards near the school, more open park space or stress management – you can skill evaluate their ability to perform the skill of advocacy and you can let me choose an area/topic they are interested in. It’s a “win-win”!

The opportunities for meaningful, engaging and relevant assessments are endless. Here are some tips to remember as you consider developing your performance tasks:

  1. One assessment for the skill – Ensure that the assessment measures ALL performance indicators being used within the unit. You want one final assessment that has students demonstrate their ability to apply the skill.
  2. Promote critical thinking – Go beyond memorizing new information. Have students get creative and apply their learning. Whether it is through a dialogue, infographic, comic strip, role play or  performance have students demonstrate the skill in action.
  3. Get personal – Write your assessments so they require students to apply the skill and their learning in ways that are meaningful or applicable to their world. Let’s get away from having students tell us how someone else should handle a decision and have them work through a decision that is meaningful to them.
  4. Get practical – There are so many aspects to health and we never have enough time to cover everything. Design assessments that make a difference. For example, while knowing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions helps to raise awareness, instead consider focusing on ways to reduce stigma of mental illness, promote strategies to support a friend, or identify local resources for help and support.


Step 6 – Lessons & Activities

Now, you can think about all of those great activities and classroom experiences that will help prepare students to meet the identified objectives, prepare them to successfully apply the skill, help students develop the knowledge and skills they need to successfully complete the assessment and see the connection of the skill to their real life outside of the classroom.

Some of the activities you have been using in the classroom will not work when you transition to a skills-based approach. I repeat, some of the activities you are using – maybe even some of the ones that you love – will need to be modified or removed. I know this is a challenge – Sarah and I have found this to be one of the hardest parts for teachers and we get it! But we promise that you will find new activities that you will love equally as much – or more – and that you will not regret your decision to make the shift!

Here are some things to consider as you are planning your lessons and activities:


  • Participatory methods – focus on student-centered approaches where students are active participants, constructing their own learning and take ownership of what is happening in the classroom. Here is a link to a great blog post from Education Rickshaw about “changing the direction” of learning in the classroom: Time to Throw Out the Playbook
  • Purposeful planning – one of the benefits of a backward design approach is that you can maximize the limited time you have with students by planning activities that are aligned with your unit objectives and that help students work toward being able to successfully complete the unit assessment and to achieve the stated outcomes.
  • Make connections to other learning – as more and more schools move to a competency-based system, use your lessons as an opportunity to reinforce previous learning. We are making connections and helping students to transfer their learning.

You may also be able to provide a second (or third) opportunity for students to demonstrate a previously assessed competency. Note: only use this approach when students have already been assessed a first time. We don’t want to try to teach or assess two skills at once. 

  • Time is limited – even with thoughtful planning, time can get away from us and we can be forced to make important decisions about what to keep and what to pass up. Consider this when planning your lessons. When we know ahead of time what is the most important we can be sure to spend the most time there and in ways that will help our students to demonstrate the desired outcomes.



Until next time…remember,


The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

-Jean Piaget

18 School Shootings are 18 too many – Support for Parkland, FL

Today, we planned to post a blog about curriculum development. Now, after the tragic events in Parkland, FL, it just doesn’t seem right.

Our hearts are breaking for the parents, families, and friends of those affected.

We must engage in the hard conversations because our kids deserve better. No student should be in fear of going to school. No parent should have to wonder if their child is going to make it home safe. No teacher should have to constantly be on high alert and scan the exits not knowing if/when they have to secure a room for their students.

Our children deserve schools that push them to their potential and are safe places of growth and learning. Parents deserve to know that their children are receiving a high quality education and that the whole child is being considered as a part of that education, teachers deserve to feel that they work in a school where they can meet the needs of students and help them to be academically successful without questioning their safety.

We must work together. We must do better. We can do better.

We cannot accept that this is how things will continue to be.

18 school shootings since the beginning of 2018 are far too many.


Values in Health Education – The Role of the Health Educator

It is often said that our job as health educators should be values neutral. We shouldn’t let our personal values and beliefs sway our teaching or be used to get students to see it “our” way.

Is this accurate though? Should we really be values neutral? Should we avoid talking about how values and beliefs influence behavior because we don’t want to run the risk of appearing to impart our personal beliefs and values onto our students?  I’m not so sure…

Saying this, I realize, may raise some eyebrows. You may be thinking – “of course it is our job to keep our values out of it. As educators, we cannot persuade our students to our way of thinking.”

I would agree with you.

In fact, I often tell my students that I am not here to tell you whether your beliefs and values are right or wrong. Rather, I will ask you to think critically about  how your values form a foundation for the choices you make concerning your health. I will have you reflect on whether or not your values and beliefs align with choosing health enhancing behaviors. I will ask you to determine if your health behaviors align with your values. If your values and beliefs do not align, I may ask you to consider whether you need to rethink your beliefs…but never require you to change them.

I will ask my students to open their minds and be willing to discuss health behaviors in ways that are honest and respectful recognizing that others make health choices for reasons that are very personal to them. I will also ask my students to consider health from multiple perspectives to better understand how values and beliefs do not fit into a box that looks the same in all situations. For example, take the value of safety. Would all of your students think about this in the same way? For some, it may mean physical safety, others it is emotional safety, while others still may think of safety in terms of social settings.

Where I ask you to stretch your thinking is in how we use/teach the concept of values and beliefs in our curriculum. I do believe it is our job as health educators to have our students think critically about the behaviors they engage in, the beliefs and values that guide those behaviors and whether or not those behaviors are a true reflection of how they see themselves (or want to see themselves).

What does this look like in the classroom?

I recently asked my students to complete an assignment to identify their top values. Once the top 5 were identified we discussed how those values shaped their behavior – health and otherwise in various dimensions. They had to identify indicators that demonstrate they are acting in accordance with their values. Finally, students were asked to identify a current health behavior that is out of alignment with their values. This was the hard part for many of them.

Many students initially defaulted to “my behaviors align with my values”, until I had them dig a little further and consider what it means to act in a way that aligns with your personal values. I had them consider the following questions:

  1. If you were to ask your family or friends, would they know these values are important to you?
  2. Is there a behavior that you recently engaged in that an outsider might not consider aligned with your values? Would you agree or disagree with their view?
  3. Think of a health behavior you would like to change or improve, how could your beliefs and values support improving this behavior to enhance your health?
  4. Are their any health beliefs you need to reconsider in order to live a healthier life?

After asking these questions, many students reflected on the behavior they want to improve and noted that it was this behavior that was most out of alignment with their values. Many gave ideas or strategies they could employ to improve their health in a way that brought them into alignment with what they value most and some even noted that they needed to change their beliefs about what health looks like in that context to become healthier.

So, where do we, the health educators, come in?

Health educators provide the opportunity for this to happen. In order for this to be successful, I knew that I couldn’t jump in day one and ask students to do an activity like this. I needed to create the space and environment for my students to let this happen. I had to allow students to struggle with their personal feelings in order to determine their values. Most of all, I had to put aside my notion of what is important in terms of behavior change. At the end of the day, whether your top value is faith, life, integrity, humor, beauty, etc, a key component of behavior change is a personal desire to make a change…and often a change that aligns with personal beliefs and values.

I encourage you to create that space and be a safe zone for students to explore their values and beliefs. Allow students to consider how those values and beliefs align with their health behaviors and becoming the person they want to be. Encourage your students to share their values and beliefs with trusted adults in their life, help them to embrace what makes them who they are.

While I will still argue that it isn’t appropriate to impart our values on our students, we do have a role to play in supporting our students  becoming the best version of themselves – and part of that includes understanding what we value and why.


Do you talk about values or have students consider how values influence their health choices? Let us know and be part of the conversation below.

Functional Information – What do students REALLY need to know?

In a skills-based health ed program a lot of emphasis is placed on making sure that students are able to apply the skills of the National Health Education Standards (and rightly so!) but in order to do that, we also have to think about the context in which our students develop and apply the skill.

Functional information is defined as:

Information that is useable, applicable, and relevant. It is not arbitrary, traditional, or extensive. Functional information is the context in which the skills will be taught and the base for students’ developing functional knowledge. (Benes & Alperin, 2016)

In fact, making sure that students have the most appropriate information is so important that CDC included it in the Characteristics of Effective Health Education. Specifically, CDC states that health education curriculum should include “functional knowledge that is basic, accurate, and directly contributes to health-promoting decisions and behaviors”. Given this the above definition, it seems simple enough to determine functional information – right? I mean, if we teach students what they need to know and how to use that information while applying any of the skills, then it should be a fairly straight forward task of determining what is functional (or essential to know) and what is “nice to know”.

Unfortunately, things get muddled once we start thinking about what students really NEED to know in order to apply a skill in real-world situations. The reality is that the idea of “need to know” is subjective. For example, if you are a person who has been impacted by a sexually transmitted infection, has a severe food allergy, or has a loved one with diabetes you may believe that students need to know how to prevent contracting an infection, how to ensure you (or your loved one) doesn’t go into anaphylaxis, or how to eat healthy and exercise to ward off diabetes. You may be right – and the big question to ask is – What is the specific information to be taught and how will that information help my students to achieve skill proficiency?

Do students need to know all of the signs and symptoms of potential infections? How about the body’s response to anaphylaxis? What about target heart rate and portion sizes? Suddenly, the task becomes more challenging than originally thought…and these are just a few examples.

To bring this conversation into the real world, I have been talking with my undergrad students (who are mostly nutrition majors and health/PE majors) about this concept and how we need to include information as a frame and a context for learning, and at the same time be sure that it is the skill that we are keeping as our primary focus. They struggle. My students have had to work really hard to understand not only what each skill is and what is required of it in order to demonstrate proficiency, but also how to fit in enough (but not too much) information to ensure their students walk away with a good foundation.

Unfortunately, their struggle is a common struggle among educators – we all know far more than we can (or should) pass onto our students. So, what can you do about it? One thing I tell my students pre-service teachers is that there isn’t a perfect combination of information, rather it is the information that is relevant and most likely to help them their students effectively apply the skill that is most relevant that should be included. The information should be data driven and fill any gaps in knowledge that students may have. For example, when teaching students about goal-setting and specifically setting a goal to reduce their sugar intake, knowing about the sugar content in beverages or how sugars can be hidden on food labels may be important to know. Whereas if they are charged with analyzing the internal and external influences on their sugar intake they might not need to how to read a food label but will rather need to consider how their home environment impacts their food choices, how media ads play a role in our behavior, or alternatives when we are in a situation where we are feeling pressured.

I am happy to report, they are getting it. It will take some practice and we have set up a “quick check” for them to consider if the information they want to include is functional – they ask themselves:

  • Is it necessary for my students to learn?
  • Will the student be able to use this information to demonstrate skill application?
  • If I had to teach this topic in a shorter amount of time, would this information make the cut?

How about you? What strategies have you used to determine what functional information you include in your curriculum? Also, in a changing world, how often do you review the information you are teaching to ensure it remains current?

We would love to hear from you – feel free to post below!