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Health Science | Middle School

REVIEW: Project Lead the Way’s Middle School Health Science Lessons

November 2nd, 2022 | 7 min. read

Bri Stauffer

Bri Stauffer

For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the AES curriculum system.

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CTE health science courses are quickly moving into middle schools. As a result, there’s a growing need for middle school health science instructional materials.

Project Lead the Way is one of the few organizations that offers middle school health science lessons.

This option can be a great fit for some classes, but poor for others.

In this article, we’ll review the lessons to help you decide if they’re right for you and your students.

But before we dive into the specifics of the health science lessons, let’s take a look at the big picture -- what is Project Lead the Way?

What Is Project Lead the Way?

pltw logo-1

Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a non-profit organization that develops curriculum and instructional materials for a variety of STEM-related subjects in grades PreK-12.

All of the content is developed and revised by a team of former educators and industry professionals, so you know it’s been thoroughly reviewed by subject matter experts.

In addition, PLTW maps their curriculum content to Next Generation Science Standards, plus numerous Common Core State Standards.

Overall, PLTW is dedicated to providing a relevant resource to help teachers prepare their students for futures in many different career paths.

So now that you’ve got some background on PLTW, let’s dig into the specifics of the middle school health science lessons!

What Are Project Lead the Way’s Middle School Health Science Lessons?


PLTW‘s middle school curriculum is called PLTW Gateway. This curriculum is made up of 10 units, each focused on introducing students to different career pathways.

The unit dedicated to health science is “Medical Detectives.”

In the Medical Detectives 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 unit is made up of three lessons:

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

In Disease Detectives, students learn how medical professionals identify, treat, and prevent illness. They’ll interpret vital signs, explore infectious diseases, and conduct experiments with antibiotics and bacteria.

The lesson also includes a project in which students collect and analyze data to diagnose a patient with a mystery illness.

In Mysteries of the Human Body, students learn about the body systems with a specific focus on the nervous system.

As part of this, they perform hands-on work, including performing a sheep brain dissection.

After learning about the nervous system, students apply their knowledge to explore symptoms related to dysfunctions in the nervous system and analyze causes.

The end-of-lesson project involves students creating a resource to help a “patient” understand their medical condition.

In Outbreak!, students encounter a scenario where a dangerous toxin has been released into the community. Students analyze symptoms and perform lab analyses to identify how the toxin is spreading.

The unit wraps up with students locating the source of the toxin by using problem solving skills to review information presented through lab data, patient histories, and more.

Now that you know the basics of how the Medical Detectives lessons are laid out, let’s get into the pros and cons to help you decide if it’s the right resource for your classroom.

Pros of the PLTW Medical Detectives Lessons


One of the biggest pros of Medical Detectives is the variety of teaching strategies within the unit.

Students learn new concepts and then apply their knowledge to hands-on work that helps to reinforce and cement those concepts. This is key for students in middle school who often learn better in a blended learning environment.

In addition, PLTW provides helpful resources for educators such as a unit outline and standards alignments to help you plan your syllabus.

Cons of the PLTW Medical Detectives Lessons


The biggest downside of implementing PLTW in your classroom is the amount of time it takes to get up and running once you purchase.

First, you need to get your school and/or district registered with PLTW.

If your district is already registered, it’s easy to add your school. But if not, you’ll have to do some background work to get registered.

Then, you’ll need to add yourself as a teacher to your school’s PLTW account, which includes completing professional development training.

This training starts with prerequisite courses to introduce you to PLTW. Additional training sessions are either completed in person or online.

Last, it’s time to order your equipment and supplies to get your classroom ready.

PLTW makes the ordering process easy, but it will take you some time to decide what resources you need and how much of each one to order. Then it’s time to wait for the shipment to arrive!

Each of those steps will add up to quite a bit of time before you can start using the content in your classroom, and other people may need to be roped in to get everything accomplished.

However, the PLTW Medical Detectives lessons could still be worth it if it’s the right fit for you!

So, how can you know for sure if it is?

Who Should Use the PLTW Middle School Health Science Lessons?


There are three specific points to consider when deciding if these lessons are right for you and your students:

  1. Grade level
  2. Course type
  3. Budget

1. Grade Level

While the PLTW Gateway curriculum is designed for students in grades 6-8, it’s important to look at the Medical Detectives unit on its own. Most of the content would work well for students in those grade levels.

The only thing to consider is some of the more hands-on lab work such as the sheep brain dissection. If you’re teaching sixth graders, that might be a bit too “yucky” for your students.

2. Course Type

The PLTW Medical Detectives unit is part of an overarching curriculum that gives students a chance to explore many different pathways such as automation, architecture, and computer science in addition to health science.

Because of this, PLTW’s Gateway program and Medical Detectives unit are a great fit for a general middle school career exploration class.

If you teach a full-on middle school health science course, PLTW is not the best fit. You could certainly choose to purchase the lessons to use as a supplement, but you’ll need another curriculum resource to carry your syllabus from start to finish.

3. Budget

Even if the first two points match up with the needs and goals of your classroom, this last part could make or break your decision.

Depending on the way you want to go, the cost of the PLTW Medical Detectives unit could widely vary.

Things that affect the price include:

  • If you want to use multiple units of the PLTW Gateway curriculum
  • The number of students and classes who will use the curriculum
  • Annual program participation fee
  • Professional development fee
  • Equipment and supplies

PLTW has an interactive tool to help you determine what the cost may be to implement the program in your school.

Now that you’ve gotten the gist of what the PLTW middle school health science lessons are and where they fit best, what’s next?

Need More Options than PLTW to Teach Middle School Health Science?

You have two options of what to do next.

If the Medical Detectives seems like the right fit, go for it! Start talking to your coworkers and administrator about a potential implementation.

If it’s missing the mark, another option to consider is HealthCenter21.

HealthCenter21 is a digital curriculum system built to give you and your students flexibility both in and out of the classroom. It includes digital student lessons, hands-on classroom activities, ready-made lesson plans, assessments, and more!

Most importantly, HealthCenter21 is specifically designed for health science courses. That means you’ll have enough resources to fill your syllabus from start to finish.

If HealthCenter21 sounds like it could be a good fit for you, then check out this article comparing PLTW and HealthCenter21 for teaching middle school health science. This article compares the topics, formats, and intended audiences of each curriculum. 

Is PLTW or HealthCenter21 Better for Your Middle Schoolers?