Rainy Day Thoughts: Ballet Dancers, Textbooks, and Student Health

Posted by Whitney Meagher on July 18, 2013

Last week, on a rainy Friday afternoon, I made a trip to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  As I wandered in to the room of Impressionists, I found myself standing in front of a large Edgar Degas painting of ballet dancers.  As I stared at the painting, I was reminded of my high school French class and the oral and written reports I did on Edgar Degas my senior year.  In fact, as I looked around the room, I realized that I could identify many of the artists and remember stories about them because of my classmates’ presentations. 

In creating the unit on French impressionists, my high school French teacher had recognized an opportunity to integrate content about culture and history in to the lessons she was teaching us about grammar and vocabulary.   She is the same teacher that sometimes made us play a board game that taught us how to navigate the Paris Metro system…but that’s a story for another day.

Realizing how her creative lesson plans stuck with me into adulthood made me even more proud of a recent project that the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) launched, in partnership with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and the newly merged Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Association of Educational Publishers (AEP).  We have created a set of voluntary guidelines that textbook publishers have pledged to use when creating new print and online materials.  These guidelines will help integrate health messages in to school materials, from the pictures used in textbooks to the lesson plans created for educators.  Word problems will use apples instead of ice cream cones and history lessons will involve students marching in place next to their desks on a “virtual tour” of Civil War battlefields. 

Both in and out of classrooms, students spend a lot of time reading textbooks and interacting with online materials.  In so many ways, we demonstrate what we value as a society through the things that we teach at school.  We should ensure that all aspects of those lessons are aligned with what is best for students.  Why shouldn’t a science textbook talk about the chemistry behind nutrition?  And if an online lesson is meant to strengthen reading comprehension, why not make those passages about the ways that exercising can improve brain function and health?

Please take a look at the Guidelines hereWe know that many textbook publishers are already implementing them, and you are likely to see changes to classroom materials soon.  In the meantime, the guidelines can serve as a great resource for educators that would like to integrate health into other aspects of their classroom in an accurate way.  As part of the education community, we have an opportunity to teach students about healthy behaviors that will hopefully stick with them through adulthood.  Let’s work together to ensure all students can live healthy lives that allow them the luxury of spending their rainy afternoons any way that they please.

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