Middle School Curriculum

Middle School Curriculum Overview

The middle school curriculum consists of two units which focus on the concept of gene-environment interactions and natural selection through two phenomena relevant to students, Type 2 diabetes (“What controls my health?") and Substance Use Disorder (“How can looking for thrills make me miserable?”). The units can be taught within the same year or different years in any middle school grade.

Unit 1: Diabetes

What Controls My Health? is the first unit of Health in Our Hands (HiOH).  In this 8 -12 week unit for middle school, students meet Monique by video, a girl diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, like many common diseases, is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Students investigate how lifestyle options for healthy foods and exercise help prevent or reduce diabetes. 

Learning Sets:

  • Learning Set 1: How does Monique describe her diabetes? (4 days) - The first learning set introduces the unit’s driving question, “What controls my health?”, which students investigate through the case of Monique, a teenager who is experiencing Type 2 diabetes.


  • Learning Set 2: How does Diabetes Affect Monique’s Body Systems? (4 days) - Students learn strategies to obtain information from text, use these strategies to learn how environmental and genetic factors can lead to diabetes, and begin to develop a model to describe Monique’s diabetes.


  • Learning Set 3: How Does Monique’s Family Affect her Diabetes? (4 days) - Students investigate the genetic mechanism that underlies the inheritance of traits and apply this learning to enhance their models regarding Monique’s diabetes.


  • Learning Set 4: How Does where Monique Lives and What she Does Affect her Diabetes? (3 days) - Students use simulations to plan and carry out investigations to explore the effect of environmental factors on Monique’s diabetes.


  • Learning Set 5: How do Monique's Characteristics and Environment Affect her Diabetes? (6 days) - Students use simulations to plan and carry out investigations of sand rats to explore how environment and genetic information affect the growth of organisms.


  • Learning Set 6: What can Monique do to Make Her Environment Healthier? (4 days) - Students investigate food as an environmental factor that can affect their body. Students calculate how much sugar is in the food they eat and discuss how individuals can make changes in their environment.


  • Learning Set 7: How Can We Work Together to Make our Community Healthier? (2 - 3 weeks) - Students plan and conduct community action projects, discuss data they have gathered, develop ways to improve their neighborhood, and gain an understanding that they can make their community healthier. The focus is to understand the importance of changes on family and community health  


Unit 1 Citation: Adler, I., Morales, C.J., Bayer, R., Peek-Brown, D., Lee, J., Krajcik, J., (2017). Health in Our Hands: What controls my health? [Curriculum]. Michigan State University: CREATE for STEM Institute.


Unit 2: Substance Use Disorder

How can looking for thrills make me miserable? is an 8 - 10 week unit for middle school guides students through a journey to figure out thrill seeking, and how thrill seeking evolved as a survival mechanism.  The purpose of the unit is to introduce students to modern concepts in genetics and natural selection that are highly applicable to their everyday life, and specifically to their health. Because of environmental changes and modern lifestyle, thrill seeking can sometimes lead to addiction, misery and even death. Throughout the unit, students investigate several sub-driving questions to support them to gradually answer the big driving question: “How can looking for thrills make me miserable,” which encompasses these scientific ideas.

Learning Sets:

  • Learning Set 1: What do you do for thrills? (3 days) - Students generate questions and initial models regarding the search for thrills. They will revisit their generated questions and models throughout the unit and refine them as they build understanding about how gene-environment interaction affects people’s health.


  • Learning Set 2: Why do thrills make us feel excited and happy? (7 days) - Students will focus on the questions about the biology of thrill seeking and discuss the relation of the reward pathway to the feeling of excitement when looking for thrills. This unit picks up from the previous learning set where the students generated a Driving Question Board (DQB) which includes questions that examine thrill seeking. 


  • Learning Set 3: Why do we all look for thrills? (4 days) - Students investigate the sub-driving question to the importance of thrill seeking to our survival and how the reward pathway evolved through the process of natural selection.


  • Learning Set 4: How can looking for thrills hijack our brain? (8 days) - Students investigate the sub-driving question to learn how our modern lifestyle alters thrills seeking: from a means of survival to a goal of having fun. At extremes, thrill seeking can lead to addictive behaviors and affect survival.


  • Learning Set 5: (Part 1: 4 days) and Learning Set 6: (Part 2: 4 days) - What puts us at risk for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Behavioral Addictions? - Students investigate the sub-driving question to understand that risk for SUD is caused by gene-environment interaction (interaction of our genetic makeup with our environment), a concept in modern genetics that is highly applicable to our everyday life, and specifically to our health. 


  • Learning Set 7: What can we do to reduce the risk for substance use disorders (SUD) for ourselves and our community? (Community Action Projects: 2 - 4 weeks) - Students address the sub-driving question to figure out what they can do to reduce the risk of SUD by designing and conducting a community action project focused on making a change in their environment. 


Unit 2 Citation: Adler, I., Bayer, R., Morales, C.J., Lee, J., Krajcik, J., (2020). Health in Our Hands: How Can Looking for Thrills Make Me Miserable? [Curriculum]. Michigan State University: CREATE for STEM Institute.

The curriculum is under development and being tested in classrooms but can be used with appropriate citations and recognizing that revised versions will be distributed in the future. To realize the full potential of the curriculum, professional development and support for teachers in the classroom is highly recommended.

License: CC-BY-SA 4.0 Modifications YES, commercial use YES, sharing required YES (CC-BY-SA-4.0) This resource is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons license linked below. You may remix, tweak, and build upon this resource for non-commercial and commercial purposes, as long as you provide credit to CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University and license your new creations under identical terms.

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