Friday, October 28, 2016

Polygons of Wellness

       I was looking through my old English papers and discovered a persuasive essay I wrote in seventh grade. I had gotten sick of health class with Mr. B (how lucky I was to have him for two years) right around the same time we got this assignment (which was supposed to be specific to problems at school), so I essentially wrote a blog post a year before starting my blog. I never got any feedback on this essay, nor did the decision-making lessons we had to suffer through change, which greatly disappointed me. Anyway, I'm submitting it exactly as I wrote it in seventh grade, with the exception of the school name.

                Seventh-Grade Health: Decision Making
    In seventh-grade health class at [School], several of the lessons, particularly those in the decision-making unit, are presented in a rather manipulative manner. Seventh-graders learn about the “health triangle”, which represents the three aspects of health: physical health, mental/emotional health, and social health. When these categories are listed out loud, it sounds like four different categories (mental and emotional being separate rather then blended into one as intended), so I think it would be more logical to present a “health quadrangle”. However, the geometric shape used to represent “overall wellness” is not a very pressing concern; the lessons in the decision-making unit take up significantly more time in the early stages of the quarter of health than the polygon of wellness.
    Students are given an acronym, H.E.L.P., to use as a guide when making decisions. H.E.L.P. stands for “healthful, ethical, legal, and parental approval”, all of which were to be taken into consideration when making a decision. To exercise the use of this acronym, the class was divided into groups and given scenarios in which they wrote out their decision after listing each step of H.E.L.P., but the scenarios themselves were manipulative. In one, students had to decide whether to let a friend copy answers for a test, and the scenario specified that if their friend failed the test, their parents would not permit them to go on the class trip. I believe the purpose of this was to make the decision harder, so the students would have something else influencing their decision, but it seemed a rather feeble attempt. Kindergartners through second-graders might be swayed by the possibility of their friend not attending the class trip, but middle-schoolers would be able to see right away what they were meant to choose. The scenario clearly gives away what the “best decision” is in advance. Anyone can see what they are meant to choose, and so they will choose that one and then go through the steps of H.E.L.P., rather than using the guide to help them make the decision. And it is possible that some students would, if it came to such a thing in reality, cheat to help their friends, but they certainly would not reveal that in front of their teacher and classmates; rather, they would keep it a secret and just go along with the intended answer. Each of the scenarios followed this pattern of having what is generally accepted as “the best decision” made clear right off the bat. It does not exercise the students’ decision-making skills so much as their skills in doing what they are told is right.
    Since neither the teachers nor the students will really get anything out of such a clearly manipulated exercise, it is a waste of time and energy on both parts. And forty-five wasted minutes a day is a lot of time that could be used more beneficially.
    A similar situation was one of the warm-ups in the health packet about an unfortunate girl named Victoria who is having trouble in math, roughly copied below:
    Victoria is having trouble in math. When her teacher announces a pop quiz, Victoria begins to panic but her friend says, “Don’t worry. You can copy off my test.” Put a check next to the things that will help Victoria make a good decision, and an X by the ones that will not.

Victoria should consider whether her parents would approve of cheating.
Victoria should consider whether it is ethical to cheat on a quiz.
Victoria should focus on the fact that a bad grade on the quiz will lower her score in class.

    The one Victoria was not supposed to think about was the one about her class average. This seems rather one-sided - yes, H.E.L.P. does make some good points when it comes to “evaluating a decision”, but it is not the sole basis of good decisions. After all, everyone has been making thousands of decisions by the time they enter seventh grade, and they haven’t gotten killed or ended up in juvenile hall by then, because they have enough students to actually form multiple health classes, so we can safely assume that not all good decisions are made by H.E.L.P.
    A more efficient use of time and method of teaching would be to use less general scenarios, ones students will not have been prepared for and will not have a clear idea of how to answer. This might compel them to actually use the guide to help them decide, as it was meant to be used, rather than just using it to “justify their answer” (another common phrase). It would probably also be appropriate to emphasize that H.E.L.P. is just a guide in making decisions, nothing more, and students are still capable of making good decisions without it.
    If teachers wanted to continue using the originally prepared scenarios, they could specify that they are simply warm-ups where the decision is already clear so students can get a general idea of how H.E.L.P. is meant to work, and then move on to a couple of more original scenarios.
    In conclusion, I believe students are being underestimated and manipulated when it comes to the decision-making unit of seventh-grade health, and time should be used more appropriately and beneficially to solve this education problem at [School].

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