Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kids Get Off Their Butts,
Join the “Movement”

The research abounds. But most educators don’t even need to see the research. They know that physical activity helps improve a kid’s ability to focus and learn. So why do we insist on having kids sit still for an hour or more at a time? And why on Earth are some schools eliminating recess? Those things defy logic. We ought to be getting our “couch potato” kids up and moving.

 The connection between movement and learning has been getting a lot of press lately. Earlier this month, a study out of the University of Illinois confirmed that physical activity has a positive impact on student attention and academic achievement.

 According to a New York Times article, standing desks “help give children the flexibility they need to expend energy and, at the same time, focus better on their work rather than focusing on how to keep still.” (Read Students Stand When Called Upon, and When Not.)

 Claire Henderson, a fifth-grade teacher outside Chicago, gets her kids up and out of their seats and “circling” the classroom at least a few times a day. “It might be for less than two minutes, but it helps them redirect their focus and gives them more energy,” she told the Chicago Tribune. (See School Programs Keep Students on the Move.)

 In Pflugerville, Texas, second graders are releasing energy and focusing more because their teacher, Jennifer Drum, has replaced their chairs with bright yellow stability balls. While the balls have not been scientifically proven to improve learning, Drum says, “It helps with sensory motor issues and kids with ADHD.” (See a KVUE-TV video report.)

 Heck, it might not be true physical activity, but some schools are even beginning to see the academic benefits of gum chewing. A recent study conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine indicates that kids who chew gum in school perform better on tests and get higher grades. Teachers involved in the study say kids who chew gum require fewer breaks, pay better attention, and stay quiet longer. “Chewing gum is an easy tool students can use for potential academic edge,” one of the researchers said. (Read Chew On This: Gum May Be Good for Body, Mind.)

So what gives? Why aren’t more classroom teachers doing more to encourage kids to expend energy in simple ways that can improve classroom discipline and academic performance?


Bring this up at your next school-wide staff meeting. Share some of the stories and studies in the news. Encourage teachers to try a few different ways to work movement into their classroom lessons, routines, and transitions. Then have them bring the ideas that worked best to the next staff meeting. Pull together the teachers’ “ideas that work” into a booklet and put a copy of this useful resource in every staff member’s mailbox.


Movement Activities for Elementary Classrooms
Many teachers wisely initiate movement activities intermittently throughout the day, especially during classroom transitions. Included: More than ten activities.

Classroom Movement Activity Ideas
This teacher-created page includes some short ideas to get the blood flowing during classroom transitions.

Brain Gains
This powerful video shows how exercise can bring about improved academic performance.


In your school, how are you using the research that abounds about the relationship between movement and student performance? What, if any, results have you seen? Click the pencil below to share a comment so others might benefit from your experience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Did Your Students
Recognize Earth Day?

Perhaps you planted a tree today? Or maybe your students took a field trip to the local landfill where they learned firsthand about the waste issue in your community or region? Did you hold an assembly? Work on a school-wide project?

On this Earth Day, I’m thinking about the green efforts of students at two schools with appropriately earthy names: The Park School in Brookline, Massachusetts, and The Garden School in New York City.

The Park School

When fourth-grade teacher Ted Wells noticed that more than 50 catalogs arrived at his school each day, a project was born. He and his colleagues at the school went about canceling those catalogs. There was so much work involved, that they got their students in on the act too. That led to a 30-day challenge and the ultimate cancellation of more than 4,000 catalogs. Consider the future catalogs un-mailed as a result of those cancellations, and I think you’ll agree that those students made quite an impact.

To learn more about this and other programs at The Park School, check out these resources:
  • Read an article about The Park School’s green projects, No Fuss ”Green” Projects.
  • View a YouTube video about the kids and the project.
  • Read about the catalog project on Ted Wells’ Catalog Canceling Challenge blog.

    The Garden School

    According to Dr. Richard Marotta, the headmaster of the Garden School in Jackson Heights, Queens (New York City), the key is “starting early to make green habits stick.” This year, Marotta tells us that students at the Garden School are participating in four Earth-focused programs:

  • They’ve started a “See Ya” Styrofoam program. They have rid their school of all Styrofoam, and students are now encouraged to bring their lunches in reusable items: lunch boxes instead of paper bags, thermoses instead of paper cups, and reusable containers instead of paper plates.
  • The Pulling the Plug program encourages students to be mindful about not wasting electricity by turning off lights, computers, and TVs when not in use.
  • The school’s third graders are planting flower bulbs and other growing things as part of the Plant -- Rather Than Screw In -- a Bulb program.
  • Finally, the school’s Read Green program encourages students to sign up to receive environmentally friendly news and information, preferably by email.

    What fun or educational “green” things are you doing this Earth Day (or all year long)? Please post a comment below to share ideas you’ve used or heard about so others might benefit from your experience.
  • Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Every-Day Practice Pays:
    The Proof Is in the Test Scores

    I’ve always been a firm believer that skills reinforced regularly are skills that stick.

    When I taught third grade, my students entered the classroom every a.m., hung up their coats, then grabbed their “Daily Numbers” worksheets and put their pencils to work. The Daily Numbers sheets presented ten math problems -- word problems, calculations, greater than or less than equations, telling time, making change, place value… The sheets were corrected on the spot so students got immediate feedback (and second chances to earn a perfect score). In the course of a week, the kids practiced every skill they’d been taught at least twice; many skills were practiced daily. That every-day reinforcement was quick, fun, and painless. Every student started the day on a successful note.

    Another of my students’ daily stops was at the Reading Skills Center. There they took from the wall a laminated card and practiced a skill they’d been taught. The cards were colorful and handmade. Other than that, there was nothing special about them. They weren't all that different from a standard workbook page. Just a different format. One more way to push practice their way.

    And I knew the daily-practice approach was paying off.
    I saw it in their work.
    I saw it in their writing.
    And I saw the feelings of pride and success in their faces.

    Test Success

    Each year, my students took a battery of tests. One test established their abilities; the others measured skill mastery. I knew the daily practice would help my students do well on their tests, but that was confirmed the day the superintendent stopped by to tell me that my class was the only class in town (nine elementary schools) in which every third grader was working at or above his or her ability.

    I can’t say that I was surprised.

    I knew the kids would score well because they frequently practiced every single skill they might face on those tests.

    Hammer the Grammar

    I was reminded of my experiences with every-day practice today as I read about a great program that teachers in one North Carolina middle school created. The program, “Hammer the Grammar,” was a school-wide effort to take the pain out of grammar instruction. Colorful grammar posters were displayed around the school. Weekly lessons were planned and taught -- and reinforced in every class. Kids were stopped in hallways and between classes and in the lunch line... and offered quick opportunities to respond to grammar challenges -- and win prizes! “Hammer the Grammar” T-shirts were proudly worn by students and staff alike. Everybody particpated!

    With some effort and lots of reinforcement and even more fun -- teachers hammered (ever so gently and with a smile) all year long at the grammar demons that plagued their students’ oral and written language.

    And guess what?

    The students in this rural district scored third best on North Carolina’s statewide writing test.

    I’m not surprised.

    Read More
    Read more about the Hammer the Grammar effort:
    Making Grammar Improvement Enjoyable

    Every-Day Resources from Education World
    Education World has created a variety of resources to help you lead a Do It Daily effort in your school. If you want to raise test scores, that is.

    Morning Math
    Developed by Principal Larry Davis (Oakleaf K-8 School in Middleburg, Florida), these daily questions are a fun element of his school’s a.m. announcement routine.

    Every-Day Edits
    Use Every-Day Edits to build language skills and cultural literacy (and test scores) with students in grades 4 and above. Or use our weekly Animals A to Z editing activities at the primary level.

    Every Day Activities Across the Curriculum
    Classroom teachers can use these resources to develop their own every-day activities:
    Every-Day Activities: Language
    Every-Day Activities: Today in History
    More Every-Day Activities

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    A Tough Act to Follow:
    Colin Powell Addresses NAESP Convention

    Few people could follow an opening act like Sheldon Dudley’s. The third grader from Louisiana opened the second general session of the 2009 NAESP convention in New Orleans. Dudley brought the house down -- and the audience to its feet -- with his inspiring rendition of our national anthem.

    Then it was up to Colin Powell to follow that opening act.

    Powell chatted a bit about his transition from public life to private citizen. He shared funny and humbling anecdotes about flying commercial again after years of private charters or Air Force One and about life after the Secret Service.

    Today, Powell spreads his time over a handful of causes. One of those pet causes is dropout prevention. That also happens to be a primary focus of the America’s Promise Alliance, which Powell chaired at its founding and his wife, Alma, chairs today.

    “Dropout rates are morally wrong and economically foolish,” Powell told the assembled school leaders. “A student drops out every 29 seconds. That’s more than a million students a year.”

    To address the dropout issue, the America’s Promise Alliance is holding more than 100 Dropout Prevention Summits across the United States.

    “Kids might drop out of high school, but they start dropping out in kindergarten, first, and second grade,” said Powell.

    “It even starts before that -- with parents,” he said, adding, “Kids need more laptop time: I mean time sitting on a lap, parents reading to their kids.”

    That led Powell to reminisce about his own childhood in New York City, where he couldn’t get away with anything because he had an aunt living on every other block. “You think the Internet is fast,” Powell laughed. Information never traveled faster, he said, than when one of his aunts caught him doing something wrong.

    It was an appropriate coincidence that Powell was speaking on the 41st anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Appropriate all the more because another of Powell’s pet projects is bringing to reality the dream of a Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. In addition, Powell is honorary chair of the effort to build an Education Center at the Vietnam Wall. The center will house photos and artifacts that will put faces to the names on the wall.

    Powell didn’t mind at all being upstaged by Sheldon Dudley’s “National Anthem.” He’s used to being one-upped by kids, it seems. While he takes great pride in the fact that seven elementary or middle schools have been named after him, Powell said with a chuckle that “nothing means more to me than to know that for generations to come youngsters will look up at the name of their school and ask Who was he?”