Using Data in the Health Classroom

Health data is all around us, perhaps more so than at any other time in my teaching career. The never-ending stream of coronavirus data became addictive early in the pandemic but soon became a ghoulish fixation before I had to intentionally stop pouring over the numbers. However, with information on vaccination rates, plus news articles crunching data from the past 12 months, my news feed continues to be full of health data.

As someone who has spoken passionately about using YRBS data to inform my teaching and best serve my population, I can be guilty of geeking out on statistics. Data allows me to personalize my curriculum, and my message in the classroom. Instead of generic statements, I can specifically pin point health behaviors of my students and their peers, which in turn increases their buy-in to our content. Data also allows me to address perceptions of health behaviors versus reality, and to encourage powerful reflections about our classroom conversations.

One such way in which I have used data to promote deeper conversations and reflections is to share the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health 2020 survey of child health concerns which asked a national sample of parents to rate the top health concerns for US children and teens aged 0-18 years. When the results from this survey were shared on social media, many of my PLN immediately made astute comments, diving deeper into the findings and identifying great points that could be used in a health classroom discussion.

The first thing I shared with my students was this image of the 24 health issues listed by Mott and I asked them to answer the following questions:

  1. What do you think are the three most significant health issues in your community?
  2. What do you think are the three most significant health issues across the United States?

Some of my students decided to rank order all of the health issues, and some simply identified wether they thought each issue was a big problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem.

My students were then asked to explain how they decided upon their ‘Top 3’ before finally writing a compare and contrast statement explaining the differences between their two lists.

Because I conducted this activity early on in the semester, I learned a lot about my students and the pre-existing notions that they have of health. I was able to get an insight into the health concerns of my students, with some students writing at length about their beliefs and/or passions about the health of their peers and the local community. As a result, this identified those students who I would call upon in the future when I was looking for a deeper dive into a class discussion, as I knew that they were able to give me a different insight, or call upon a different set of experiences.

Responses to the ‘compare and contrast’ question were varied, but again identified those students who were able to see beyond our community, or who were regular consumers of the news and received their health news feed from a variety of sources. In this writing some of the students shared that they had advocated for a health cause, or had reflected upon societal inequity in their writing for another teacher or in their private life.

After grading and commenting on my student writing I took this activity yet further by sharing the ‘official’ results, using the images shared by Mott on their infographics page.

Sharing these slides in turn, or side-by-side on my screen allowed students to consider what they saw, they thought, and wondered about the statistics.

Some students identified that the ‘top 3’ concerns among all parents were fairly similar and perhaps a by-product of the pandemic and the increased use of technology in all areas of students lives. Some students looked deeper, and saw differences between the all/white parents list, and that of Black parents. That inspired a conversation about disparities between communities, again identifying which of my students were more socially aware.

When I asked the question “Who is missing from this data”, one of my Korean students said “People like me”. You could have heard a pin drop as that statement sunk in. Data can raise the awareness of some….and it can erase the existence of others.

If you are looking for a classroom activity that promotes deeper thinking, encourages open discussion, and allows you to identify where your students stand in terms of health knowledge and understanding, then I highly recommend you use the Mott Poll data. Think of it almost as a pre-test, an opportunity to find your starting point, and an excellent way to start building relationships with your students.

If you liked this post, you’ll also appreciate the following classroom activities that build community and help you build relationships.

I’ve Seen the Future, an activity that asks students to identify their goals in life, allowing you to ask if their current behaviors are in alignment with those goals.

Haiku in Health & PE: Mindfulness in Motion by Allisha Blanchette. Allisha uses poetry and movement in her classroom to engage her students.

3 thoughts on “Using Data in the Health Classroom

  1. Joe H

    I have spent Summer 2021 doing a 360 degree on my teaching. Alotting hours at a time to just wonder the internet finding resources, comparing discussions on topics, etc. This Motts Poll will definitely be part of my Intro Week Activities. Thank you Andy and all the contributors to #slowchathealth.


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