Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vision in Classrooms

Last week at the School Health Symposium, Michael touched on some of the health issues his students face.  The first two being vision and oral health.  During my observations, I've noticed some students who are squinting to look at the projector screen. Seeing this in Michael’s class hit home for me. I thought of this one time during the 2nd grade, I was sitting in the back of the classroom and the lights were off because my teacher was using the overhead projector.  She called on me to read something she had written on the overhead, and I remember I sat there in silence as she waited for me to answer.  Well at eight years old, I had no idea why I couldn’t read what she had written, and it was incredibly frustrating.  I was able to read what was on the paper in front of me, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t read what was on the board.  Little did I know, it was because of my eyesight.  I remember I turned to my friend and whispered to him to help me answer the question.  I think it was a few weeks before I felt comfortable in telling my parents that something was wrong—something that wasn’t in my control.  I think kids don't often realize that something is wrong with their eyes, and instead think that something may be wrong with them as a person (and are too embarrassed to tell someone about it).  It is interesting to think about the mental health impact something like this can have, even when the issue (in this case, vision) is fixable. Two areas where preventive efforts can be made are in schools with 1) having annual vision screenings to identify the problem, and 2) raising students' awareness about the problem, and letting them know that it can be fixed.  Of course, the next component of this is access to an eye doctor, and affordability of eyeglasses.

TFA corps members-- which of your schools have annual vision screenings? How is vision a health issue in your classroom? What resources/health education regarding vision are available for students in your school?

- Sahar Salek, Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Emory University

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Moment

I’ve been observing Grayce Seelig’s 11th grade chemistry class for about six weeks now. Her students are so great and always asking questions. However, chemistry is a tough topic, and it does not come as easily to everyone. Grayce does a great job of making it easy to understand and as fun as possible. This week her kids were learning how to name different compounds. She warned her class that although the rules sounded easy, it was harder than it seemed. I don’t think everyone believed her at first, until they started doing their worksheets. 

I was walking around assisting students as much as I could, when one student stopped me to ask for help. He normally does not work on his class worksheets, so I was surprised to see he had started. He asked me to help him match the names of the compound, and I asked him a few questions to get him to realize the answer on his own. He found the right answer, and continued on to the rest of the questions. I was going to go help another student, but he tried to get me to stay. I told him, “You got this. You don’t need my help.” His eyes light up, and he turned to Grayce as she was walking towards us and he said, “Ms. Seelig, I got this.” Seeing the moment when a student begins to understand a concept is awesome. We've talked a lot about the different teaching styles, but we have yet to mention how rewarding it is to see your students learning. This week I got to witness it, and I can see how moments like these inspire teachers.

- Kristi Webster

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Indoor Air Quality and Student Performance

When we think of ways to help a student achieve academic success, we often think of serving healthier school lunches, free breakfast programs, outdoor recess, and of course, encouraging studying and homework.  While those are all promising ways to improve academic performance, recent research suggests that a school’s physical environment may play an equally important role in academic performance.   Issues with poor ventilation, leaky roofs, mold, built-up dust, and the excessive usage of cleaning chemicals all contribute to poor indoor air quality, which undoubtedly affects student health and performance. 
                In many schools today, particularly older schools, indoor air ventilation rates are far below the recommended levels.  Evidence suggests that improving the outdoor air ventilation rates can improve student (and teacher!) performance, increase test scores, and reduce airborne transmission of infection.  One study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compared the standardized test scores of students in a classroom with higher outdoor air ventilation rates (implying less ‘stuffy’/ lower CO2 air) to the scores of students with lower outdoor air ventilation rates; students learning and testing in classrooms with higher ventilation rates scored 14 to 15 percent higher on their standardized tests. 
                Simple changes can improve indoor air quality and thereby improve student productivity and retention.  Many programs exist to encourage maintenance staff, teachers, and students to take small steps to produce big changes in the indoor environment.  The nation’s most recognized program, the EPA’s Tools for Schools program, suggests taking simple steps such as: making sure vents in the classrooms are clear of clutter, reducing the amount of chemicals used in cleaning, and replacing ceiling tiles to reduce mold growth and dust build-up. 
                So next time you are brainstorming ways to help your students succeed, consider their physical environment! Also check out: and encourage your school’s staff to help maintain the indoor air quality. 
-Erika Rees

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fish is Fish

What stood out to me the most was the concept of pre-existing knowledge and constructivism“Constructivists assume that all knowledge is constructed from previous knowledge, irrespective of how one is taught….However, teachers still need to pay attention to students’ interpretations and provide guidance when necessary.” 

An example of the importance of engaging a student’s prior knowledge of materials before introducing new materials, is the story of Fish Is Fish.  ( I have added the youtube video of it so you can all watch it. It is rather endearing, and wonderfully portrays this concept)  By identifying this preexisting knowledge and building upon it, students will be guided to see how their conception is different from reality.  If teachers don’t make an effort to do dig deep and not only discover, but address these developed beliefs and thoughts, students will inevitably relate what is taught to what is known, building upon what is already familiar to them (similar to Fish is Fish, where the cows had tails, and the birds and humans had fish scales and fins). This is definitely information that will be invaluable to me when teaching, especially when teaching healthy behaviors to my 2nd grade kids this up coming month! 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

February is National School-Based Health Care Month!

Many thanks to all the TFA corps members who brought in student work on health issues impacting education. Below are some pictures of the student work posted on the bridge between the two Rollins buildings. The student work is helping garner attention for the connection between health and learning for our School Health Symposium on Thursday this week!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whose Lesson Is It Anyway?

The truth is, my thoughts are often expressed through an inaudible mush of something vaguely similar to words.  Yet, though this happens to the best of us, it’s not ideal for the classroom.  In an attempt to mitigate the issue, Ariela and Audra held a “Find your Teacher Voice” workshop for the Rollins students this week.  Have it be known, this workshop was priceless.  And important.
We, as grad students, planned to spend the hour cycling through exercises and critiques.  Yet to our surprise and enjoyment these said exercises were actually improv.  Move Over, Drew Carey, because, let me tell you, the students of Classroom to Community are rib-shatteringly hilarious.  Fact.  But beyond belly laughs and discussing the importance of  “letting it all hang out” on recess, we learned many tangible skills of teaching.  We practiced: volume and projection, inflection, energy, movement, repair, autonomy, confidence, empowerment, progress, individualized examples, trust and awareness.  All in about 55 minutes. 
We all know that being yourself is where the magic happens, even at the head of a classroom.  But teaching is no easy or uniform task and fine-tuning your craft can bring vast and dynamic changes, regardless of your past experience.  Awareness of your environment, and the role you have in it, are poignant details we often lose.  But this presence might be a large part of what makes a great teacher and communicator.  Building off the energy of the moment is shockingly hard.  Picking yourself up after a stutter, adding a spontaneous 10 minutes to your 30-minute lesson, or inserting classy jokes into a discussion on free body diagrams all require brilliance.  But they also keep your kids in that room and in that moment, with you.  It seems that teaching is a lot like improv, only with lesson plans and ideally a well-versed background on the subject you’re discussing.  

--Erin McGrath Keyes

Monday, February 6, 2012

Have health. Have hope. Have everything.

This past week, we had a fantastic guest speaker in our class—Dr. Veda Johnson from Emory University School of Medicine.  Dr. Johnson gave a great talk on health, education, and the effectiveness and benefits of school based healthcenters (SBHCs).  By definition, SBHCs are comprehensive school based health clinics that provide a variety of medical, preventive, and mental health services.  SBHCs are located in schools and work with the school and community in order to become part of the school’s infrastructure.  SBHCs are critical as they offer students with health services they may not have access to otherwise. 

As a graduate student in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, I am always interested in the piece about community.  How can individuals make a collective effort to be involved in the health of their community?   When Dr. Johnson was discussing the planning and implementation of the SBHCs she’s been involved with, she emphasized the importance of listening—identifying the community you’re working with, prioritizing efforts based on the community’s needs, and getting the community involved.  She stressed that by listening, SBHCs can build on the strengths of what already exists in communities—there is value in that, she said.  SBHCs aren’t limited to just providing medical services, they also encourage parents to participate in the health of their child as the clinics are housed within the schools. 

During undergrad, I used to volunteer as a dental assistant in the UC-San Diego Student-Run Free Clinic Project, specifically in the dental clinic at Baker Elementary School in south San Diego (which also offered mental and medical care).  The clinic is run by pre-dental students under the supervision of licensed dentists (who volunteer their time and services), and it offers many of the same benefits as SBHCs. This particular clinic is in a permanent mobile right in the center of the school’s blacktop.  Students weren’t the only patients at the clinic, many other family and community members would come to the clinic, as well.  It was such an amazing effort from families within the community, the school, and the university.  

Back then, I didn’t always make the clear and direct link between health and academic success—it’s only been in the years since I’ve been in the public health program, and had opportunities like being involved in C2C, that I’ve learned more about the many social determinants of health and all of the impacts that it can have on children, students, families, and communities. 

Dr. Johnson’s talk emphasized that there are numerous links between health and academic success for students.  But one thing she shared that particularly resonated with me, and I would like to share with others outside of C2C, is that “students learn best when there is hope.”

- Sahar Salek, Behavioral Sciences and Health Education