Genius Teacher Idea

Using Traditions To Teach Teens About MyPlate

Editor's Note: In the November/December issue of Choices, our story "What's For Dinner?" offers teens some delicious and healthy recipes that they can easily make for themselves. Here, Lauren DeViney, who is a Project Manager for the New Balance Foundation Billion Mile Race and former high school health teacher in Waltham, MA, shares her lesson plan that will gets students interested in cooking nutritious meals.

Part 1
Cultural traditions play an important role in our daily lives, especially when it comes to food. Get kids thinking about how their meals reflect their families or community by having them answer the following questions:

1. What foods does your family eat on holidays or at celebrations?
2. What foods does your family eat on a regular basis?
3. How are your answers to #1 and #2 different? Why might that be?

Then, have the students read "What's For Dinner?" in the November/December issue of Choices. After, they should partner up and share their answers. Together, they should spend about 10 minutes brainstorming answers to the following questions.

4. Why is it important to learn to cook for yourself?
5. What kind of food would you want to serve to the people you love? Why?
6. Why should you follow the MyPlate guidelines at mealtime?
7. Is it easy or challenging to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains? Why?

If time allows, you can call on volunteers to share the results of the brainstorm questions.

Part 2
Once you've got the class thinking about the importance of eating healthy, hand out the Choices MyPlate Meal Planner worksheet. Students will choose one of the meal styles from our story (bowl, pitza, or stir-fry) and customize it to reflect their own traditions or favorites. The worksheet will help them make sure they cover all the necessary food groups. Bonus points to anyone who actually goes home and makes the meal!


Help High School Seniors Deal With Stress

Amy Lauren Smith

This past weekend, our seniors came to school on Saturday for a full day retreat, where they attended workshops designed to help them navigate the growing list of requirements for their college applications.

Knowing the stress that often appears this time of year, their counselors asked us to offer some workshops on stress management and healthy coping skills. Between applications, essays, portfolios, classes, sports, and social commitments, high school seniors need to be reminded to unwind in healthy ways so they can enjoy their last year of high school.

Here’s the agenda we followed, as well as links and resources for further learning. Feel free to use any or all of these with your students, as these are valuable tools for teens (and adults!) of any age.

Healthy Coping Skill #1: Journaling

Activity: Give students a slip of paper or a small notebook and have them reflect on the following:

  • How are you feeling about all that’s needed for your college applications?
  • What are some concerns you have going into your senior year?

Learn More: 7 Reasons to Use Journaling in Your Classroom

Healthy Coping Skill #2: Practicing Gratitude

Activity: Have students quickly jot down five things they’re grateful for. Doing this simple activity just once a week has been proven to increase happiness in college students.

Learn more: 10 Reasons Why Gratitude is Healthy

Healthy Coping Skill #3: Effective Time-Management

Activity: Have students read the Choices article Why Can't I Stop Procrastinating? and figure out what type of procrastinator they are. Then, have them form groups with people who have each of the different procrastination styles, and then read and discuss How Can I Get It All Done? You can also have them watch this video on how to deal.

Learn More: 20 Quick Tips For Better Time Management

Healthy Coping Skill #4: Mindfulness and Meditation

If there’s time, show the TED Talk Andy Puddicombe, All It Takes is Ten Mindful Minutes. (If you don't have enough time, the animation intro from Headspace will work as well!)

Activity: Try the guided meditation, Smiling Mind, Level 1.

It might be tempting to skip this part, as it can be tricky getting buy-in from the kids. It’s just five minutes though, and after the workshop was over, my teaching partner and I got an email from a very thankful senior who appreciated the the meditation most of all. She said she would be using the program we shared on her own, so it was definitely worth the time.

Learn More: Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress

Healthy Coping Skill #5: Talk it Out

Remember, reaching out to others is a great way to prevent stress. Students need to realize that they’re not going through this alone!

Activity: Stand Up - Hand Up - Pair Up

This is a great discussion protocol, and also a nice way to end a lesson. Give students a list with the following questions (or something similar). They need to find someone to talk to about the first question. When they’re done discussing, they put their hand up and find someone else who needs a new partner. They high five their new partner, talk about question two, and then put their hand up again when they’re ready to move on. They cycle through five different partners, and avoid that whole awkward thing that can happen when they wait for the teacher to tell them to rotate.

Possible questions:

  • What are you most nervous or apprehensive about this year?
  • Are you and your parents seeing eye to eye for your plan after high school?
  • Is there anything you don’t have time for that you would like to do?
  • ​What can you take off your plate so you can find time to do this?
  • What are you most excited about going into your senior year?

Even more on healthy coping skills

10 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Incredibly Happy

The 33 Best Online Resources for Teen Health


Use the Olympics to Teach Kids About Goals

Amy Lauren Smith

It’s just about the beginning of the school year, which means that many kids are starting to set goals about their academics, health, or even their social behaviors. Because of this, teachers often start out the year by talking about the goal-setting process—and this year, the Olympic games give us the perfect opportunity to help these lessons come alive.

Athletic goals are often easy for students to wrap their heads around, because they easily match up with the SMART descriptors of goal setting:

Specific: These athletes are getting ready for a specific race, match, or event.

Measurable: Athletic goals are almost always measurable with medals, times, victories, and losses.

Attainable: By virtue of the fact that they qualified, these athletes are all in the position to achieve victory.

Realistic: For these special athletes, winning a medal is a realistic goal.

Timely: Absolutely! That event is scheduled, set in stone, and not happening again for another four years.

I’ll have my students research a specific athlete or team and answer the following questions. (If time allows, I might have them share their findings with the class.)

1. Which Olympic athlete (or team) would you like to learn more about?
2. What made you want to pick them?
3. How is their goal a SMART goal?
4. Goals are rarely achieved without help. Who helped your athlete along the way, and what did they do?
5. What were some of the checkpoints along the way that the athlete experienced to know they were making progress?
6. What roadblocks or obstacles did your athlete face while working towards their goal?

You can always set the kids free to research individually, but for those who need some help, here are two suggestions to get them started.

The Olympic refugee team
For the first time in Olympic history, there is a team made up entirely of refugees. These are athletes without a country, a national anthem, or a permanent home. After the warm welcome they received during the opening ceremonies, it’s clear that they're inspiring people all over the world. For more info on this amazing team, watch this quick video from ABC News: Meet the Olympics’ First Refugee Team.

Dartanyon Crockett
One of the most popular videos in my seventh grade health class is an ESPN documentary called Carry On, about Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton, two disabled high school wrestlers who formed an unbreakable bond and achieved remarkable goals by working together. Dartanyon—who is legally blind—went on to compete in London with the Paralympic judo team and ended up winning a bronze medal. He’s ready for this year’s games, and after being so inspired by him in the past, my students can’t wait to see what he’ll do in Rio. To get the project started, have your students watch Part 2 of Carry On, which focuses on Dartanyon’s road to the Paralympic games in 2012.

Finally, for more ideas on goal-setting: 5 Tips for Teaching Kids How to Set Goals

Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

5 Tips for Making the Most of Professional Development Days

Amy Lauren Smith

Summer is winding down, which means teachers are gearing up to head back to school. Before the first bell rings, most of us have a few days of professional development, or in-service days, to attend first. In addition to classroom prep, these days are often filled with meetings meant to get everyone back on the same page.

I’ve sat on both sides of these meetings over the course of my career, and have found that when done right, they are a great way to kick off the year. Whether you’re a department chair, an administrator, or a consultant, here are four tips that will help your school’s professional development days go smoothly.

Encourage collaboration.

Having been the new kid at more than a couple schools, I’ve learned from personal experience that letting people collaborate on something is a good way to ease nerves and get them in the mood for learning. When possible, give teachers time to work on a project with their departments and teams—but also switch up the groups occasionally, so people can get fresh ideas from colleagues they might not normally work with.

Learn more: 4 Essential Ingredients for Successful Teacher Collaboration

Get people moving.

After being away from school for some time, it’s hard to get back into work-mode—and nothing will make teachers (or students!) tune out faster than sitting in the same spot for too long. Keep your teachers engaged by scheduling regular program changes and breaks. (Bonus points if you plan activities they can use with their students at the start of the year!)

Learn more: 4 Starter Activities for the First Day of a New Semester

Give teachers something to be excited about.

I work at a school that is all about initiatives, so we’re often overloaded with acronyms at the beginning of the year (SEL, SBG, PLC, and so on). Luckily, our passionate administrators make this work. When we see that they’re excited to kick off a new project, we’re more eager to get on board.

Let teachers prep.

One of the biggest complaints I hear during professional development days is that there isn’t enough time to just get settled. This is especially important in elementary schools, where teachers need to have an inviting environment ready to go on the first day. With so much important business to attend to, it’s easy to overschedule—but don’t forget do set aside a reasonable amount of time for teachers to work on their own.

Learn more: 3 Tips for Designing a Healthy, Inviting Classroom

Bring snacks!

It’s no secret that teachers love coffee, and meetings always go better when people are well fed. In fact, a principal once told me that this tip was the first thing he learned during his training. A full staff is a happy staff, so make sure there are some healthy options for us to munch on. (Just please… no more donuts!)