The 2016-2017 school year was the second in which we have systematically collected data about our lessons, events, and presentations to gauge how our constituents are receiving the information we are hoping to impart. This has been especially helpful for us in considering how to revise lessons we present to our students to ensure that they are engaged and are able to apply the content to their school lives in order to more successfully access their education.
We also felt inspired to fill in gaps in our data collection, and intend to ask for perception data in some of the areas in which we failed to do so this year.
Our 9th grade unit of lessons includes 6 lessons that we deliver throughout the semester in Health class, a required course for freshmen. These lessons focus on academic, self-care, and career value skills. We chose to measure outcome data related to attendance and academic success since these are the areas we hope to improve with these lessons. Our school schedule is set up so that we have naturally occurring control groups -- students take Health within a single semester, so we are able to compare groups of students taking health against those who are not as we examine data.
The first lesson we delivered was on Career Values. We discuss the meaning of “values” with the students, and link that to choosing jobs that are a good fit for their own individual values. Then we give students money and auction off particular work values, such as “earning a lot of money,” “being creative,” or “being a leader.” Students decide whether to bid highly on one very important value, or spread their money over several. This elicits a discussion around trade-offs and work/life balance, which ties directly to the Mindsets and Behaviors targeted in the lesson.
The second less is around Stress and Anxiety. We discuss the fight or flight response, stress management strategies (positive and negative), and the risks of long-term stress. Then we do a guided meditation with the students and gauge change in stress level from the beginning to the end of the class period.
We found that being enrolled in Health class in a given semester slightly increases student attendance rates, regardless of the semester. We believe this is tied to the lessons we deliver around values, stress management, time management, and depression, as students who have or are able to develop effective coping skills in these areas (perhaps drive by their values) are less likely to avoid school. We plan to continue to deliver these lessons in a similar way in the future, but hope to create more explicit links between the lessons. For example, how can one’s values help motivate them to make better time management choices or deal differently with stress? How can time management have an impact on stress levels? By more explicitly tying lesson content to each other, we hope to have a greater impact on student retention and application of taught skills, which in turn will, we hope, have a greater impact on the attendance rate.
Our third lesson is around learning styles and testing strategies, and we looked at academic outcomes, focusing specifically at student grades in History 9. We specifically chose this class because it is flexible and offers a great deal of student choice; the teacher creates a “menu” of options for completing a unit, and students are in charge of choosing the activities and keeping their own timeline. Because we specifically address time management and personal learning style, this class is appropriate for pulling outcome data. We found that in the first semester, students enrolled in Health did not see any advantage in their final grades in History. In the 2nd semester, however, students who had already completed Health class in the first semester did a third of a letter grade better than those who were taking Health concurrently with History, earning a B as opposed to a B-. This is another lesson we plan to continue to offer similarly, but we’d like to implement some tracking strategies for students, asking them to take note of specific choices they’ve made around homework/studying and the resulting grades, to explore the personal success with different strategies. We think that asking students to apply the information in a relevant way and report back will increase the effectiveness of the strategies we teach, resulting in higher academic achievement and better retention of study skills.