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Health Science | Middle School

Best Middle School Health Science Curriculum: Project Lead the Way vs. HealthCenter21

August 17th, 2022 | 7 min. read

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Middle school health science classes are becoming an integral part of CTE health science programs. However, there aren’t many middle school health science curriculum options out there.

As a health science curriculum developer who works with middle schools, teachers often ask how HealthCenter21 compares to other options, such as Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

To help you decide which is right for you, we’ll answer the most common questions about Project Lead the Way and HealthCenter21, including:

  1. What topics are covered?
  2. What is the instructional format?
  3. Who is the intended audience and age level?

You’ll also have the opportunity to watch a free demo of HealthCenter21 to determine if it’s right for you and your students.

Project Lead the Way vs. HealthCenter21: What Topics are Covered?


When choosing a middle school health science curriculum, one of the most important considerations is whether it meets your standards and aligns with the topics you need to teach.

In this section, you’ll learn what healthcare concepts and skills you can teach with PLTW and HealthCenter21.

Healthcare Topics You Can Teach with Project Lead the Way

For middle school students, Project Lead the Way provides a curriculum called PLTW Gateway. The curriculum contains 10 units, each designed to help students to explore the different career pathways available to them.

The PLTW unit that focuses on health science careers is called Medical Detectives.

In this unit, students “apply experimental design, creative thinking, and problem-solving to investigate the inner-workings of the human body, diagnose disease, and improve human health.”

The PLTW Medical Detectives unit has three lessons:

  1. Disease Detectives
  2. Mysteries of the Human Body
  3. Outbreak!

In Disease Detectives, students explore how medical professionals identify, treat, and prevent illness. This unit requires them to interpret vital signs, recognize infectious diseases, and carry out experiments with antibiotics and bacteria.

Students are also required to complete a project, in which they collect and analyze data to diagnose a patient with a mystery illness.

In Mysteries of the Human Body, students explore the body systems with a specific emphasis on the nervous system. After learning about the nervous system, students will examine dysfunctions in the nervous system and analyze causes.

As part of this lesson, students will perform in-class experiments, including a sheep brain dissection.

The lesson will culminate with students creating a resource to help a “patient” understand their medical condition.

Outbreak! involves a mock scenario in which students analyze symptoms and perform lab tests to identify how a dangerous toxin is spreading in the community.

The unit explores the students’ problem-solving skills as they review information presented via lab data, patient histories, and more to determine the toxin source.

Overall, PLTW’s Gateway program and Medical Detectives unit is an excellent fit for a general middle school career exploration class.

Healthcare Topics You Can Teach with HealthCenter21

HealthCenter21 includes more than 1,000 hours of learning content that you can use to build your customized health science curriculum. You can mix and match the learning modules based on the specific skills and concepts you need to cover, without restrictions.

These include topics under nine overarching areas:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Healthcare Foundations
  • Health Career Readiness
  • Patient Care Technician
  • Medical Office Assistant
  • Nursing Assistant
  • Medical Assistant
  • Emergency Medical Responder
  • Emergency Medical Technician

The wide range of topics available means teachers from many states can use HealthCenter21 to hit their standards and teach their classes.

For specific recommendations of learning modules for middle school classes, read our guide: How to Use HealthCenter21 in Middle School Health Science

Additionally, HealthCenter21 can help start your students off on the right foot in preparing for industry certifications.

Overall, HealthCenter21 is an excellent choice if you are looking for a health science curriculum that aligns with your standards and can prepare your students for various certifications later in your program.

Project Lead the Way vs. HealthCenter21: What is the Instructional Format?


The way that PLTW and HealthCenter21 are developed and delivered to students vastly differs.

Depending on your teaching preferences, classroom setup, and how your students learn best, you may find one works better than the other in your classroom.

Project Lead the Way’s Instructional Format

PLTW uses a blended learning approach in which students learn new concepts and then apply their knowledge to hands-on tasks that help to consolidate those concepts.

The Medical Detectives unit is heavily focused on in-class demonstrations and projects, so to successfully deliver the program, you will need to purchase specific lab equipment from PLTW.

HealthCenter21’s Instructional Format

HealthCenter21 is developed using a blended learning approach, with a mixture of teacher- and student-led learning. This helps to maximize student understanding and information retention while saving teachers time with planning.

Each module within HealthCenter21 is designed around our four-phase learning plan.

The four phases of the AES curriculum are:aes-course-framework-four-phase-curriculum

  1. Explore
  2. Learn & Practice
  3. Reflect
  4. Reinforce

The Explore phase consists of teacher-led class activities, classroom discussions, and teacher presentations.

In the Learn & Practice phase, students work through eLearning lessons, which include videos, inline questions, drag-and-drop activities, decision-making scenarios, and other interactive learning experiences.

This phase also includes worksheets and guided notes to help students retain information.

The Reflect phase is teacher-led, with activities designed to help your students review and discuss the module’s concepts.

In the Reinforce phase, your students will work through self-directed activities and projects, allowing them to enhance their understanding of the concepts and skills in the module and consolidate learning.

Overall, HealthCenter21’s instructional format is a great fit if you wish to implement a blended learning environment that facilitates better understanding and retention of information.

Project Lead the Way vs. HealthCenter21: Who is the Intended Audience and Age Level?


When choosing a middle school health science curriculum, it’s crucial that the materials align with the age of your students.

If a curriculum isn’t relevant and appropriate for middle schoolers, it won’t keep them engaged and help them hit their learning objectives.

Project Lead the Way’s Intended Audience and Age Level

The PLTW Gateway curriculum is designed for students in grades 6-8. However, it’s important to look at the PLTW Medical Detectives unit in isolation to understand how it truly aligns with your students' learning level.

While most of the content within the Medical Detectives unit is suitable for grades 6-8, it’s worth noting that some of the hands-on lab work, such as the sheep brain dissection, may be too intense for some of your younger students.

This will be at your discretion as a teacher.

Overall, PLTW is a great option for middle school students in grades 6-8. However, some of the hands-on activities may not be suitable for younger middle school grades.

HealthCenter21’s Intended Audience and Age Level

HealthCenter21 is specifically created for CTE middle and high school health science courses.

For middle school courses, introductory topics such as health career exploration, wellness and nutrition, communications, and client status would work best.

If you decide to implement HealthCenter21, the team at AES can help you determine which modules would best align with your students’ needs.

Overall, HealthCenter21 is a great option for middle school health science curriculum, and we can help you decide which modules would suit your students’ needs best.

Which Middle School Health Science Curriculum Is Right for You?

Deciding between Project Lead the Way and HealthCenter21 will ultimately come down to your middle school students’ needs and your program’s goals.

If you teach a general middle school career exploration class, then the PLTW Medical Detectives unit would provide a great introduction to healthcare for your students.

If you teach a full middle school health science course, then HealthCenter21 will provide a more comprehensive curriculum and better align with your needs.

If you think that HealthCenter21 could be a good fit for your middle school classes, watch the demo to learn more about how the system works:

Watch Your Demo Video >>