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Local teacher designs Oelwein Online Healthy Living class

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Oelwein teacher Karla Duff has designed a year-long health curriculum which Oelwein Online began offering this second semester.

The 10-unit skills-based curriculum focuses on “dimensions of health,” says Duff, who is certified in K-12 health. These dimensions make up the bulk of the units: physical, emotional and mental, social and relationships, spiritual values, purpose and passion, financial literacy, career exploration and occupational health, environmental health and boosting intellectual health, bookended by introductory and summary project units.

Additional choice units include nutrition, mindfulness and self-care, human development, and additional fitness opportunities.

The Police Department, whose officers taught DARE, temporarily suspended this fourth choice unit on substance use and abuse owing to the pandemic. Duff hopes those who missed it will get to take it next year.

“We will focus on many dimensions of health creating a wellness wheel that turns smoothly,” Duff says in a course letter to students and families.

Students learned all the dimensions of health need attention for balanced health. Per an illustration in the letter, someone who cared for their occupational, financial and social health at the peril of the physical, emotional and spiritual could have a lopsided wheel.

“Not all dimensions are going to be perfect but you have to look at overall,” one Oelwein Online student said in the unit assessment.

“Overall I have a roof over my head food on the table and my family,” wrote another. “To be thriving doesn’t mean to have everything you want, it means to overall be happy with your life.”

“Each part of health corresponds or affects each other,” said another. “For example if I did not have any friends (social health) then that would affect my mental health. I’m not sure why I find this concept so interesting.”

Although the course was developed for Oelwein Online, Duff hopes it will be implemented by the school district at-large. Using learning software, Duff created a class she says is easily accessible to secondary level students.

“We’re trying to build the online curriculum so it mirrors in-building,” Duff said.

Duff taught health in her character class at Oelwein Middle School pre-pandemic.

She says social-emotional and mindful learning tools are foundational to students learning online also. In this curriculum, she aims to share knowledge and enforce practice of skills so students grasp development of healthy behaviors, in line with a state requirement to teach behaviors that form healthy active lifestyles.

In a weekly research assignment, students reinforce these skills by taking a quiz on a topical health-related article they select and reflecting in writing: Do they agree or not with the information? How could it help or harm others? What more do they want to learn about it? Can they add the ideas to their life? Have they? This relates to a state rule that health courses foster critical thinking on wellness.

The first week topic was built around daily routines — “to help them with online learning,” Duff said.

The class completed the healthy habits topic. One student reflected: “Healthy habits ... benefit your physical and mental health,” listing adequate water intake and sleep, eating a healthy breakfast, and limiting sugar and sodium.

Students also have a weekday-daily reflection journal and a fitness activity log. Students log an average of 60 minutes of movement or fitness activity.

They can do the activities at home, such as filling a jug to create a free weight, participating in one of many free kids’ applications — such as GoNoodle for dance — or an online workout where they stretch like animated Pokemon characters.

Duff incorporates her yoga certification in online activities such as stretches, twists — plus “chair yoga” and “couch crunches” on Zoom.

The log can be brief. She prefers they move, over writing.

Students can classify activity as cardio, flexibility or strength. This lets them think creatively about helping their family. Shoveling snow, walking pets and playing outside with siblings are among activities Duff sees logged weekly.

In the health class live on Zoom weekly, students participate in the health topic lesson and socialize.

Videos, interactive activities, surveys and assignments are shared in online formats. Assignments are all submitted electronically. Feedback is given through email, texts, calls and Zoom.

Duff connects with her health students — and other grade 6-11 students — via Zoom up to thrice weekly. Students learn Tuesdays in homeroom to calm down with focused breathing, mindful sits, creative drawing and identifying emotions.

One student said they enjoyed learning about meditating. “That really does help your mental health (as does) meeting every week.”

Wednesday is the Healthy Living Zoom class for grades 6-9. Duff says they stretch three ways in every class: minds, bodies and hearts.

In five weeks, students finished unit one — introducing the eight health dimensions — and took a midterm. Along with a technology primer, it is the longest unit. She believes they will finish unit four by year-end.

After unit one, students reflected on interesting findings and thriving.

“I didn’t do the exercise I needed until I had to do 60 minutes of exercise a day, that really helped me reach the goal to lose weight,” a student wrote.

Another said socially thriving would require getting along with all family members and having self-love, plus one or two close friends to count on and having gratitude — in addition to the physical basic needs.

A student said they recycle for environmental health, do chores for allowance for financial and social health; and walk, stretch and drink water for physical health.

“It was learning about spiritual health,” another said.

Spiritual health focuses on core values and is separate from religion, Duff said.

“You are affected by each dimension of health in so many different kinds of ways,” a student said. “When you’re going through your day you don’t really stop and think about it that way.”


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