Top 4 Considerations When Starting a Middle School Health Science Program
A middle school health science program is a great way to spark interest in younger students and increase enrollment in your CTE health science courses.
However, starting a middle school program takes more than offering a high school health science course at a lower grade.
As a health science curriculum developer, we’ve heard both struggles and successes from dozens of CTE administrators and health science coordinators investing in middle school programs.
In my experience, the most successful middle school health science programs we’ve worked with are built based on answering these four questions:
- What is the goal of your middle school program?
- How will the middle school classes fit into your existing sequence?
- Who will teach the middle school health science classes?
- What curriculum resources will you implement?
In this article, we’ll dive into why it’s important to consider each question and how it will impact the growth of your CTE health science program.
1. What’s the Goal of Your Middle School Health Science Program?
The first key step to starting a middle school health science program is setting a goal that you can measure and reflect upon.
After all, how do you know whether your program is a success without a clear goal or purpose in mind?
You may have a general idea of what a successful program looks like. However, it can be difficult to articulate.
Based on conversations I’ve had with administrators like you, there are three common goals found across most middle school health science programs:
- Expanding CTE enrollment and partnership opportunities
- Growing high school offerings and dual enrollment opportunities
- Keeping up with neighboring districts in your state
No matter which of these goals is most important to you, be sure to have conversations with all of the stakeholders involved in the program.
By having a clear goal in mind, you’ll ensure everyone is on the same page and be able to make more focused decisions throughout the process.
2. How Will Middle School Classes Fit Into Your Existing Sequence?
Once you’ve considered what success looks like for your program, it’s time to dig into how it will work in your district.
You have several decisions to make regarding the middle school health science classes you implement, which can vary depending on your state.
Other states are just starting with middle school health science courses.
No matter how structured your state’s plans are, you’ll need to consider these questions about adding middle school classes to your course sequence:
- Will the classes count towards high school credit?
- Will they be considered a CTE or STEM requirement?
- Will it be a prerequisite for high school courses or an optional introduction?
- Do you have clear standards to follow or do you need to decide what topics to teach?
As you reflect on these questions, get your high school health science teachers involved. Their perspective and input are an important piece - especially concerning the topics that will be taught at the middle school level. They’ll be thankful to offer input and have students start the high school sequence more prepared.
3. Who Will Teach the Middle School Classes?
After determining what middle school classes to include and how they’ll fit into your health science program, you need to decide who will teach them.
I’ve come across two common scenarios that each have pros and cons:
- Having an existing teacher split time between middle and high school classes
- Hiring a new instructor to teach the middle school classes
Option 1: Have a Current Teacher Split Time Between Middle and High School
If you task a current high school instructor with splitting their time between the middle and high school, you could be off to a great start.
This teacher is already familiar with your district and how your program is designed. That means you won’t spend too much time training them to teach the new middle school classes.
However, the additional planning and assessment required may spread that teacher too thin.
Additionally, you may need to make other adjustments to cover the high school classes that person may no longer be able to teach.
Option 2: Hire a New Middle School Health Science Teacher
If you don’t have flexibility with your current staff, hiring a new teacher is a great choice.
With a new teacher starting just as you begin the middle school program, they’ll come into it with fresh ideas and a new perspective.
However, there will be a lot more work required on your end in terms of recruiting, hiring, and training for the new teacher.
Either way, you’ll need to have conversations with everyone impacted by this decision. By weighing the pros and cons of each option, you’ll be able to make the right decision for your program.
4. What Curriculum Resources Will You Implement?
The final consideration for your middle school health science program is perhaps the most important: the instructional materials your teachers will use.
Middle school health science classes are designed to introduce students to healthcare careers, keep their interest, and encourage them to enroll in your high school program.
Because of this, the curriculum you choose can greatly impact the likelihood that students will continue to your high school health science program.
Three common curriculum options that middle school health science programs use are:
- Project-based learning solutions
- Homemade curriculum
- Digital curriculum
Each type of instructional resource could work for your program, depending on your goals and the needs of your teachers and students.
Middle School Health Science Textbooks
One of the most common choices is a health science textbook. Textbooks are a go-to resource for health science instructors building a new curriculum because many teachers learned from textbooks themselves.
Textbooks are straightforward with a physical book segmented into units and chapters focused on specific topics and skills. This makes it easy to jump in and start using a textbook very quickly.
There are a ton of health science textbooks on the market, however, there aren’t many options out there for middle schoolers.
Additionally, textbooks aren’t the most engaging way to teach students. This can be a huge issue when student engagement of younger students is crucial to the success of your program.
If you use a textbook, your teacher will likely need to do a lot of additional prep to create activities and hands-on lessons to keep students engaged in the content.
Project-Based Learning Solutions for Health Science Courses
For health science programs focused on keeping middle school students engaged, a project-based learning solution could be a great option.
Project-based learning (PBL) heavily relies on hands-on activities and skills work to teach concepts and procedures.
Unfortunately, when reviewing PBL options, you’ll discover that most are designed for use in high school health science courses.
For the few that do provide middle school health science PBL options, the cost is often higher than many new programs can fund.
On top of that, there’s limited flexibility in how the solution is implemented, and in-depth training is often required for teachers.
Because of this, many schools find it to be more cost-effective to create their own instructional materials.
Homemade Middle School Health Science Curriculum
Many districts plan to have their health science teachers create their curriculum. When your teachers create a curriculum from scratch, you have total control over what’s in the lessons.
As a result, your students will have a custom-tailored learning experience developed specifically to help them hit your course objectives.
The only thing to keep in mind is that even though the dollar amount may lower, the time and energy spent creating and maintaining your curriculum will be significantly more!
If you already have a dedicated curriculum team in your district, this may not be too overwhelming to accomplish.
However, if your teachers have never created a curriculum before it could end up being a bigger project than you anticipate.
Digital Curriculum for Middle School Health Science
Digital curriculum is an online instructional tool designed to empower teachers and help students learn more effectively. Digital curriculum can achieve these goals because it features two main parts.
The first piece is the curriculum content, which includes the instructional materials needed to teach classes and assess student learning.
The second part is the back-end system that contains classroom management tools, student data reporting, and a variety of helpful features to support your teachers.
The flexibility available with a digital curriculum makes it easy to pair with hands-on activities, speakers in the classroom, and other additional learning experiences.
Can Digital Curriculum Help Your Health Science Program Grow?
At AES, our digital health science curriculum (HealthCenter21) is developed according to a four-phase learning plan. These four phases are designed to increase student engagement and improve long-term retention of concepts and skills.
Because of this, health science programs across the country have implemented the AES digital curriculum as their main instructional material in both middle and high school courses.
Wondering if a digital curriculum can help you grow your health science program?
Discover how HealthCenter21 can set your program up for success by downloading the free guide: