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K-12 Cross-Curricular Teaching in Health and Science, Yes You Can!

Collaborations aren’t always easy – they require clear communication, negotiation, shared vision, resources, and time. But the investment can pay off big, especially in the classroom. Over the years educators have learned that cross-curricular collaboration can lead to deeper learning providing the student with understanding, as well as knowledge and skills.

K-12 cross-curricular collaboration in the health and science content areas might seem daunting, if not impossible, but the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has created a wealth of resources to help teachers and school librarians accomplish this.  NLM learned from focus groups, discussions with teachers at conferences, and those who have collaborated with NLM that time is a premium and that any resources should meet the needs of students.

Teachers articulated a need for reliable and safe places to go for content, plain language text to meet the varying student reading levels, and lesson plans that relate to concepts within their curriculum. In order to address these needs, NLM identified subject matter experts to create lesson plans, curricula, and activities rich with the right types of materials, in the right format, and at the right readability level.

NLM K-12 Resources

Educators from the disciplines of health education, history, literature, science, social studies, and technology collaborate with NLM to develop content and standards-aligned content. The free resources created from these collaborations address learning outcomes, as well as help students expand knowledge, cross-curricular literacy, and higher ordering thinking skills outlined in the K-12 Common Core Standards.

Lesson plans promote critical thinking and problem solving skills. Teachers can adapt all or parts of the lesson plans. Online activities engage students in problem solving and discovery-oriented tasks. Other resources assist in expanding a student’s understanding of the content. Many of the resources and databases can be used by students to further research in health and science topics. All come together to create an authentic learning opportunity in a project-based learning environment.

During a presentation of NLM exhibit resources at the 2017 Colorado Science Teacher’s Conference I asked participants to indicate which content areas they felt would align for collaboration based on the learning about the following five exhibits. Overwhelmingly, they saw potential to connect with exhibit with a majority of the content areas.


Every Necessary Care and Attention: George Washington and Medicine For All the People: A Century of Action in Health Care Reform Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature From DNA to Beer: Harnessing Nature in Medicine and Industry Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War
Arts x x x x
Comprehensive Health x x x x
Mathematics x x
Physical Education x x
Reading, Writing, and Communicating x x x x x
Science x x x x x
Social Studies x x x x x
World Languages
Personal Finance Literacy


Cross-Curricular Teaching in Action

In 2015, the MCR covered a story about high school librarian Peggy Cummings, and her successful cross-collaboration with nearly every content area teacher at the school using the NLM “Every Necessary Care and Attention: George Washington and Medicine” exhibit. The exhibit explores the health and safety issues Washington faced in his personal, political, and military life.

Teachers embraced Cummings’ enthusiasm and many took on the challenge to integrate the rich history of the exhibit into their curriculum, and together developed “Essential Questions” for various academic areas. Students were also enthusiastic about the collaboration finding ways to creatively recreate a colonial experience through food, music, literature, and art.

Cummings pulled together resources for teachers to tie the exhibit into their class curriculum, for example comparing the modern day Ebola epidemic to Smallpox. Reflecting on elements that helped her program’s success, Cummings came up with a few tips:

  • Have the backing of who’s in charge
  • Have authority, there are a lot of nitty-gritty decisions you need to make
  • Plan ahead
  • Publicize ahead
  • Learn as you go
  • Ask for help and cooperation
  • Pace yourself, it will take extra time
  • Smile and enjoy
Exhibit photo banners photo food photo
“Every Necessary Care and Attention” Exhibit Panels on display in the library. Art students researched colonial towns and created signage to hang in the library to mimic the streets Washington might have walked. Culinary students researched colonial cooking and prepared refreshments for the exhibit open house.


The NLM online exhibit program has a wealth of resources for cross-curricular collaboration. In addition, there are many other resources NLM has developed specifically for the health and science classroom that include great videos, games, activities and experiments for all ages.


Environmental Health Student Portal (https://kidsenvirohealth.nlm.nih.gov/). Safe and useful resource for students and teachers in grades 6-8 to learn how the environment can impact our health. Explore topics such as water pollution, climate change, air pollution, and chemicals. VIDEOS, GAMES, EXPERIMENTS

K-12 Science and Health Education Resources (https://sis.nlm.nih.gov/outreach/k12.html). Free reliable resources to help introduce, reinforce, and supplement education programs.

K-12 Web Resources for Your Science Classroom PDF (https://sis.nlm.nih.gov/outreach/teachersflyer.pdf). Handy flier with resources for biology, chemistry, forensic science and medical technology, genetics, environmental health science, health careers, and how to evaluate health information tutorials.

NLM Exhibition Program Online Resources (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/about/exhibition/education-resources-all.html). Find a variety of resources appropriate for elementary, middle and high school. Lesson plans and online activities make it easy to supplement and enhance the classroom experience as well as explore cross-curricular collaboration.

NLM K12 Science Education Twitter Feed (https://twitter.com/nlm_k12?lang=en). Follow @NLM_K12 for the latest news and information on authoritative, free resources to use in the classroom.

NLM’s Online Playground: K-12 Science and Health Education Resources Webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMFXqp8y1tU). This one-hour instructional webinar will introduce free K-12 resources from the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Resources span a variety of subjects including biology, health professions careers, environmental health, general health, and genetics. NLM’s new interdisciplinary online exhibitions will also be featured.

Further Reading:

“Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential” – https://www.edutopia.org/blog/cross-curricular-teaching-deeper-learning-ben-johnson

“Making Time for Cross-Curricular Collaboration” – http://blog.thinkcerca.com/making-time-for-cross-curricular-collaboration

“What are the benefits for teaching and learning of cross-curricular work using thinking skills, techniques and language?” – http://www.ntrp.org.uk/sites/all/documents/A.%20Price%20FINAL.pdf

-Dana Abbey, Colorado/Community Engagement Coordinator



The MidContinental Messenger is published quarterly by the Network of the National Library of Medicine MidContinental Region

Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library
University of Utah
10 North 1900 East, Building 589
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-5890

Editor: Suzanne Sawyer, Project Coordinator
(801) 587-3487

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library.

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