A Neuroscience-based Health Curriculum to Promote Academic Success

Students are expected to use their brain power to achieve academic, physical, and social success, although they receive no explicit instruction about how to care for and effectively use their brains. As neuroscientists and educators, we realize that recent advances in neuroscience about how the brain works have not yet been integrated into the curriculum that is currently being offered to students in public high schools. North Carolina’s mandatory public high school Healthful Living curriculum is an ideal venue in which to do this.

We plan to develop and test a new Healthful Living curriculum that will be brain oriented and will also be aligned with the National Health Education Standards. The unique focus of this curriculum is on the impact of behaviors on the brain, leading students to understand the importance of the brain, how to improve its functions, and the immediate benefits to academic, athletic, and life success.

The specific goals for this project are to:

1. Work with teachers and curriculum developers to develop the full curriculum for pilot testing, integrating it into the existing North Carolina Healthful Living course.

2. Develop companion materials for adults who are involved in the lives of students, such as their parents and the additional school faculty who are not directly engaged in Healthful Living curriculum instruction.

3. Pilot test the curriculum in all Healthful Living classes in a high school located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. Responses to the curriculum will be gathered from students, parents, faculty, and administrators and will be evaluated. Pre and post-tests will be conducted to assess knowledge, attitudes, and behavior of students. Responses from student, teacher, and administrator focus groups will be used to provide direct feedback about the effectiveness of the curriculum. Similarly, the response of the parents and school-wide faculty to the adult education materials will be evaluated. Results will then be compared to responses from a matched group of comparison classes that received the conventional curriculum.

4. Modify the curriculum in response to feedback provided during the high school pilot study and prepare the curriculum for dissemination. Full outcomes testing of the curriculum will include a random assignment to treatment design and an assessment of the impact on the students’ academic achievement.