At a time when many school districts are paring back physical education programs, some others are realizing the true value of physical activity and beefing up PE. Including physical activity as a vital part of the curriculum and the school day has led to improved morale and increased student achievement, they say.
‘HIGH’ ON EXERCISE
At Naperville (Illinois) Central High School, the first class of the students’ day is gym class. That scheduling decision was made five years ago as part of an effort to “jumpstart students’ brains,” according to Paul Zientarski, chairman of the school’s PE department.
And the results have been astounding. Students are now reading 1-1/2 years above grade level, and math scores have shot up exponentially.
Those results don’t surprise Dr. Charles Hillman of the University of Illinois. His research shows that after 30 minutes on the treadmill, students actually do as much as 10 percent better at problem solving.
“Exercise is good for attention, it’s good for how fast individuals process information and how they perform on cognitive tasks,” Hillman recently told ABC News [read the article and view a video].
When students exercise first thing, “all their brain cells are working,” added John Ratey, an associate clinical professor at Harvard University. “And when their brain cells work, they pour out neuro transmitters, and they also pour out these brain growth factors which help our brain cells knit together.”
FITNESS CENTERS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS?
At Sunray (Florida) Elementary School, Principal Lee-Anne Yerkey and PE coach Scott Carlson thought a fitness room might generate student interest in exercise.
By all measures, it has done that and more.
With careful instruction from Carlson and plenty of pictures showing proper use of the equipment, kindergarten through second graders exercise their upper and lower bodies and their cores while listening to music. Third- to fifth-graders do circuit training, work out with weights, and do 20 minutes of cardio exercises. All students keep fitness logs to record their progress.
Students can see the benefits, says Carlson. And that could be the key to providing students with activities and skills they will use to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives, he added.
“They [students] are so enthusiastic. They get off the bus and say, ‘I have fitness lab today!’ -- and that makes my day!” Carlson told Education World [read the article, Students Pumped Up Over Fitness Rooms].
MOVEMENT GETS BRAINS MOVING
Physical activity isn't just for PE teachers. It's a tool that any teacher can use to help focus students and boost achievement, says Martha Swirzinski, a movement educator whose company, Movement Plus+, trains educators how to incorporate activity into their classrooms.
“Eighty-five percent of students are kinesthetic learners, which means they learn better when things are hands-on,” Swirzinski told the Newport News Daily Press [read the article].
“When children sit for longer than 10 minutes, oxygen and glucose are pulled from the brain," added Swirzinski. "When that happens, after a certain amount of time the brain gets sleepy and basically turns off. By incorporating movement into classroom lessons, you can help those students who may have a harder time focusing.”
Incorporating movement increases students’ abilities to function at a higher level and retain more information, she added.
The biggest challenge that Swirzinski and many other movement educators face is convincing district leaders and teachers that increasing the amount of time students spend in motion will benefit them academically too. Bigger than any other barrier is the belief that movement is just for fun and isn’t as important as other instruction.
“Changing attitudes is the most challenging part,” says Swirzinski. “Movement isn’t just a way to get energy out and have fun. The body helps train the brain how to learn, and it helps keep our kids healthy.”
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