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October 2014

SPARK!

A bit more than a month ago I was privileged to co-moderate a TEDed twitter chat which focused on John Ratey’s TED talk: Run, Jump Learn – The importance of exercise in learning. You can review this chat by checking out the TEDed.com blog archive – http://goo.gl/LJTl9E

The chat was an amazing experience as a large number of passionate educators from across the globe joined to discuss the role of exercise in the learning process and the impact movement has on student wellbeing. The discussion was rich with ideas and stories about teachers from across the globe incorporating physical activity into their lessons. There are a few tweets that stand out but the one I liked the most was: “Never once had a time when physical activity in class didn’t make them all smile” I think that sums up my motivation to change the learning environment my students and I work in.

TEDed Chat pic

I chose to discuss this TED talk as John Ratey’s research has become my go-to resource when making the changes to my classroom and my teaching approach. It seems the impact physical activity has on student wellbeing is an area that school administrators working with busy and dedicated teachers often overlook when developing programs and learning plans aimed at improving student achievement. Wellbeing is the key to unlocking the learning potential of any student regardless of their academic ability.

I am hoping the TEDed chat and my blog posts help others consider the importance of physical activity in all classes. If you are in a similar position and have to convince an audience that increasing movement opportunities is a good thing for students, I suggest you grab the book SPARK. The research is so detailed with evidence of the benefits for student learning and wellbeing. Another advantage of SPARK is it provides a few case studies that outline how individuals have started programs that have lead to whole school approaches being developed. These approaches could be used as starting points for educators in many different learning environments.

After the TEDed chat was finished I began to reflect on my own experience. I focused on how far my students and I had come since seeking approval to make the changes to the learning environment. I began to think about the couple of days I spent during the term 2 holidays removing the chairs, bringing in a variety of fitness equipment and games, changing the desks and everything else that was involved. Reflecting on this was a moment of pride as I am able to say I am part of a learning community that is willing to explore all possibilities to improve student learning and wellbeing.

Teachers are learners too!

SOURCE: http://static.toondoo.com

After reflecting on the set up of the classroom I began to analyse the timing of everything. I realised I was lucky that during term 3 we had been working on traditional movement lessons where we spend most of our time outside developing an understanding of a range of movement contexts, interpersonal skills and evaluative measures. During these lessons the kinesthetic classroom had been used as a “warm-up” facility. This has been a fantastic advantage for a number of reasons I had not even considered when conducting my research.

THE UNEXPECTED ADVANTAGES:

The first advantage was the change in the class design solved the problem of time lost when students were changing. As the classroom had now become a “warm-up gym” students were getting changed quicker and coming into class keen to move and prepare for the lesson. It was a race to see who could get in first to play totem soccer. I was stoked about this as it was an unplanned success. Our warm-ups would consist of 3-5min of play followed by 3-5min of yoga or stretching. This is an area I will look at developing throughout next year when I review the overall process.

The second advantage I had not considered during my planning and research was that introducing the changes to the class during movement lessons provided me with the opportunity to ease the students into the changes. I feel the sudden change in learning environment would have challenged my students understanding of the classroom expectations. Although my expectations did not change, as the teacher I must acknowledge an environment that is focused on physical activity and play is not standard practice so unless time is taken to explain and work through the changes, you must expect your students may get a mixed message. During this time we explored safety, correct use of equipment, how to work in teams, how to work independently, change in classroom procedures, and most importantly, a system of networking for help.

The third unexpected advantage was there were a number of times where I would take a sub lesson for another subject area and the kids would ask to go to the ‘classroom with toys’. To me this was evidence the kids were keen to move and work at the same time. Although I was out of my comfort zone trying to get students to complete content outside of my expertise we were still able to get the work done and have fun moving throughout the lesson. This was not just a PE thing!

When reflecting on a reason to increase student movement opportunities, I will always come back to the thought that most secondary schools have a 6 period timetable so, if every teacher provided students with 10min of moderate physical activity in each lesson, kids would get their required amount of daily physical activity. Anything after this would be a bonus and imagine the effect that would have on the global obesity epidemic. Let me finish by providing you with my 3 take away points.

  1. Read SPARK by John Ratey
  2. Take time to transition and develop the change slowly
  3. Take advantage of the unexpected advantages

My proposal letter has been included below in case you feel this is a concept you would like to explore to benefit your students. I have removed the introduction and concluding paragraphs of the letter as they are specific to my school.
The classroom without chairs

I am hoping to have another reflective post next month and look over my journey to remove the chairs from my class. Good luck to anyone leading the way with change.

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