Teaching Health And Wellness

For every article that appears on Interdigitized, there are probably 4 or 5 that never get published. This happens for a number of reasons: I’ll start writing and become distracted or need to do something else then never return to them, I’ll get stuck on a particular sentence or paragraph that isn’t working, or maybe I’m simply at a loss to find an appropriate picture to accompany the post.

I’d like to better this year about posting more regularly and to help me do this, I’ve dug through some writing that I’ve passed over. I think this one was because I couldn’t find a picture.

I teach First Year Experience (FYE) at Three Rivers Community College. I love the independence of the course, as it can cover any number of topics, and I enjoy having the freedom to change elements from year to year and adapt the class to the students I have in it.

My last regular FYE class, before group presentations and the final exam, focuses on health and wellness. I always save it for the last topic because I think it ties everything covered in the course together.

I refrain from teaching directly out of the book for most of the class. I consider it more of a reference and I assign online quizzes to have them practice test-taking in a digital format and to form the habit of regularly reading and being tested on material. I find that a helpful approach because I remember saving reading on occasion until a test and then scrambling the day before its arrival.

With the book decentralized, I try to creatively approach subjects. The past two years that I’ve taught the health and wellness class, I’ve presented the history of the United States Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guides, going chronologically from its first pamphlet publications to renderings of the food pyramid to its current incarnation, MyPlate. We discuss reasons for changes and potential problems with the way information is presented. For example, dairy is emphasized over water in MyPlate, despite the body requiring far more water than milk. This is likely due to industry lobbying. I also bring up how the size of plates has increased, making measuring appropriate portions more difficult, especially with the graphics used in MyPlate.

Finally, I tie this into what food guidelines look like in other countries, thinking about the shapes and designs they use to encourage healthy eating. Personally, I’m a fan of Japan’s spinning top. I love that the stem of the top represents water and tea while exercise powers the top into motion. These discussions of international food guidelines also leads to a consideration of available food and resources around the world. I try to begin lessons like this close to home and then expand the scope.

Japanese Spinning Top Food Guide

I enjoy teaching this lesson in particular, and it’s important, but I felt it was a little too much information at this point last year. The end of the semester exhaustion felt like it was setting in early on both myself and the class so I decided to change my plans to address stress.

Earlier in the semester I show my students segments of EXAMINED LIFE (Canada, 2008) as we discuss higher-level thinking. It’s a documentary that features philosophers discussing ethics, cosmopolitanism, politics, disability, and other issues. The film usually elicits strong reactions and it’s great for class discussion. It was especially useful this semester as I had two vocal students holding differing opinions on the ethics of money that lead us to think about income inequality. It allowed the class a chance to explore the topics that they related to their own experiences, sharing their backgrounds, employment, and social lives. I always feel good about that lesson.

I decided to traverse a similar path, using video, with health and wellness and avail myself of a few Ted Talks. It also seemed an opportune moment to laud science in this post-truth era.

There were a number to choose from that would have been appropriate but I went with these three:

“How to Make Stress Your Friend” Kelly McGonigal

“Why Some People Find Exercise Harder Than Others” Emily Balcetis

“What Makes a Good Life?: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness” Robert Waldinger

Food for thought.

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