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December 2014

Take a breath!

Throughout this year I have made many adjustments to my teaching and learning environment in order to increase the movement opportunities for my students and during this post I will reflect on each change and outline the reasons for making the changes.

TERM1

Change 1 – Introduce Colour

The first change I made this year had nothing to do with increasing movement opportunities, it was all about making the learning space more inviting to students. This change was done during the first 2 weeks of term 1 and was not driven by research it was driven by student voice. After speaking to the students across my year 7 classes and asking them the question “if you could change 2 things in this room what would they be?” The clear stand out responses were: 1 – more colour and 2. make it more comfortable.

Although I had my suspicions I was not exactly sure what they meant by make it more comfortable. I decided that response needed more investigation but it was easy to bring colour into the room, so I started with what seemed to be the easiest task. I worked with the students to put up posters, balloons and change the grey chairs with coloured chairs. After bringing in the colour I asked a couple of classes to explain to me what they meant when they said “make the room more comfortable”. To cut a long explanation short they told me sitting in chairs all day was tiring and uncomfortable.

This was another light-bulb moment, although I am sure my initial line of thinking was heading in a very different direction to what the students would have been thinking. Students suggested possible solutions would be bringing in lounges and having working spaces where they could stand from time to time. Initially I thought this would be beyond possible but I told the students I would look into their requests and see what I could do.

Change 2 – Cross Trainers        

After reflecting on the conversations I had with my classes and observing the positive change in a large number of students’ learning I decided to let one change lead to another. The introduction of colour had been positive so I focused on providing my students with a space where they could stand from time to time. I decided to bring in a few cross trainers into the classroom towards the end of the term. This was also a test to see if the students would take advantage of the changes they requested.

When students came into the class with the cross trainers most asked when the lounges were coming? A few keen students would jump on the cross trainers and use them as we started the lesson, once they had enough they would sit down and work with their group. As the lessons progressed more and more students would gain confidence and begin to take turns on the exercise machines. This was a huge success and as I have discussed in my earlier posts I began to explore and research the idea of a kinesthetic classroom and the idea began to take off.

Change 1 and 2

Term 2

Change 3 – Remove all Chairs

Before term 2 ended I asked the students who would like to have a classroom where you may move around instead of sit down? Every student put their hand up and said they wanted that opportunity. I thought the solution was simple, just remove all the chairs then the kids will have to move around.

After writing a proposal to our College Principal and gaining his approval I removed all the chairs and changed the desks to a set of old science benches that were standing height for the students. I replaced the chairs with a range of exercise equipment. As my initial idea was to create a room that was a cross between a classroom and a gym I tried to include a range of equipment that could be used to develop the 11 components of fitness.

Cross trainers = Cardio

Balance boards = Balance & Core strength

Plyometric stations = Muscular strength/endurance

Aerobic steps = Cardiorespiratory endurance

Totem soccer = Coordination

Totem tennis = Reaction time

Agility ladders = Agility and Speed

Hurdles = Power

I am still working to find a suitable set of activities for flexibility however I made an intentional decision not to include an activity for body composition as I felt including specific activities related to this component would make students self conscious and have negative effects on student learning. I have since learnt it would not be a simple task to remove all the chairs. Taking away the chairs had a massive impact on student engagement. Although engagement increased to a point there was an impact on classroom management and the student’s understanding of the organisation processes within the class. I also noticed my teaching cues used within the class had to change.

I worked with this setup for a term and found the younger students adapted quickly and worked well in the environment however the older students found the transition more difficult and often complained about the changes especially not having the usual convenient space to sit and work during group work activities.

Coming to the end of term 2 I felt I had made significant progress however when reflecting on the older students’ feedback it was clear the current learning environment was far from being the optimal one I was seeking. When I made the first change moving from a class with chairs to a class without chairs it was simply to get the kids on their feet and increase their movement opportunities. Australia like many western countries has an adolescent obesity epidemic and while at school we sit kids down for 5.5 hours a day therefore we are significantly contributing to the problem.

Along the way I learnt that by increasing the movement opportunities I was allowing students to activate their brains for learning. So there is no real reason for us to be contributing to the problem. These two reasons were quite powerful reasons to continue exploring the design of a kinesthetic classroom. Although the feedback from the older students was they wanted the chairs to be brought back into the room I did not feel this was the right thing to do for the long term. Although I did not bring the chairs back into the classroom I value student voice and I could hear something different needed to be done as my older students had openly expressed their view. I knew that because we were not in agreement I needed to find some sort of middle ground or a compromise.

Room 2nd Change

Term 3

Change 4 – Bring in the Lounge

Returning to school in term 3 I realised although I have involved students in the process, a lot of the decisions had been made by me. I was saying “I will” or “I think” at important times instead of asking “What would you do?” or “What do you think?” The situation with the chairs was an example of one of those important times. So instead of making a decision myself I asked my year 9 students “what would you do if you could not bring the chairs back into the classroom but you needed a place to sit?” The kids came up with some amazing responses. The first was to bring a lounge into the classroom.

We had an old wire frame lounge in the PE storage room that the kids had obviously noticed was not being used and could be better used in the classroom. Their reasoning for bringing the lounge into the classroom was that it was a space you could sit and work together with friends and although you could sit on the lounge you were able to get up and move freely through the room as you were not restricted by a desk. Every bit of me wanted to argue their point of view to keep the lounge out of the class but a compromise was needed so I agreed to bring the lounge into the room.

The second thought was to have exercise bikes that fit under the desk so you could pedal as you work and you did not have to stand. I was excited to hear this from the kids, I thought they were so clever as I have seen pictures of desks like this used in America but unfortunately I was sure they were out of our price range, this after all was only a pilot project. The students were not deterred by this, they were coming up with all kinds of solutions. For about 15mins all I could hear was “what if we did this Sir?” and “why don’t you try this Sir?” I took note of a number of the ideas and again told the students I would look into it. Reflecting on the students ideas I realised we would only need a basic exercise bike and they were not too expensive. I was able to find one shop that was selling them for $40. I purchased an exercise bike, set it up in the classroom and then gave it a test run. I was happy to see it was a success for both younger and older students.

As I could not purchase 20 exercise bikes I reintroduced a set of chairs into the classroom to meet the needs of my year 9 students. It is interesting to note that as I observed the students through the rest of the term the exercise bike was usually one of the first seats to be chosen by the students. My goal for 2015 will be to introduce more exercise bikes in the class. The key learning from term 3 was that when students were seated, classroom management was easier. As crazy as it sounds towards the end of the term I began to think about activities that could be done to have students remain seated but move at the same time.

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Term 4

Change 4 – Remove the Totem Activities

When designing the final changes for the year I tried to keep in mind the learning space/environment should be able to be used by any faculty. So I removed the totem soccer and tennis games as they seemed to be activities that were PE based activities to me and could cause problems in other classes. If the same attention could be given to creating movement opportunities within all classes as we give to increasing literacy within all classes then we may be able to make a difference in the teenage obesity epidemic we face. I am not an advocate of standardised testing but if we look at current NAPLAN and PISA results maybe the approach our country is using to help our kids read and write is not the most effective and it is time to try a different approach.

Maybe it is worthwhile exploring an approach that involves some out of the box thinking. I do not believe it is the responsibility of all teachers to become movement coaches or PE specialists but I think we should all be responsible for the wellbeing of the kids in our class and let them move more. I believe HPE teachers should be the ones putting their hands up to lead the change within schools because when something becomes the responsibility of everyone quite often no one does it.

At the same time there is only so much a school can do. I also believe parents have the leading responsibility when it comes to keeping their kids active. They must be the driving force when inspiring students to value movement opportunities. I hope every school is a supportive place where the home school partnership flourishes supporting and assisting the good work of each other.

Change 5 – Fitness Balls and a Table Tennis Table.

Now I have had my rant, back to the changes in the classroom. After a bit of thought I came up with the idea of using a few fitness balls as seat for the students. This was another compromise having students work their core as they were sitting but once I brought the fitness balls into the room they turned out to be one of the most active pieces of equipment in the room as the students would sit and bounce on them non-stop. I was able to put up with this for 2 or three weeks before the constant bouncing drove me insane.

I needed to find a desk that the students could sit around, bounce and work. The science desks were too high, the old tables were too low so I was feeling like a character in a fairy tale when I found a table that was just right. I left two fitness balls in the hall by mistake during sport time, this resulted in two students using the fitness balls as seats while they watched their friends play table tennis. They were sitting quite comfortably beside the table and at times leaning on the table as they umpired the game. Although this was a direct contradiction to taking the totem tennis and soccer games away I put a table tennis table in the room. This created a large group work-space for 12 students. Through the term this became quite an effective addition to the room.

Change 6 – No More Equipment but How About a Layout Change?

Towards the end of the final term of the year I felt I was on track in terms of the equipment in the room and having an understanding of the processes needed to maintain a positive learning space. I was pretty happy with the changes made during the first 12 months of the pilot project and the student feedback was pretty positive.

The last change happened by accident and was probably one of the most significant changes observed during the year. It is always a challenge to keep students engaged in their learning during the last week of school but for the last few years I have successfully finished the year by running an end of year pizza party activity where students work in groups and are given the challenge to create a pizza that has 1/3 of the kilojoules of a Pizza Hut pizza. During this activity we needed a long space to work so we moved the tables around in the class creating a line in the centre of the room. This significantly increased the available space in the classroom. Another advantage was the breakout stations such as the cross-trainers became more prominent and you could see students move from their seat to the breakout station then back to their work. This chance discovery has my mind ticking over for what could happen in 2015.

My thoughts for 2015 will be based on the physical activity guidelines provided by the Australian Government. They state adolescents need 60mins of physical activity every day. We know that for whatever reason, a large number of students do not meet this level of daily physical activity. What if we flipped the current thinking and aimed to ensure kids get 60mins of physical activity each day during school time to benefit their learning potential and health? This could be achieved within the school day by incorporating:

  • 15mins of moderate exercise in a morning class (the old health hustle concept used in primary schools during the 80’s would be interesting to modernise and develop)
  • 10mins of moderate exercise during recess
  • 20mins of moderate exercise during lunch
  • 3mins of moderate exercise such as brain breaks in all other classes (based on a 6 period day where 15mins is done P1)

That would mean that exercise from other sources such as walking to or from school, playing with friends after school, sports training would be additional physical activity. Students would not be playing catch-up, they would be getting ahead if we followed this thinking.

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There is so much more to speak about on this topic but that is it for this year. This has been a very long post that I have been working on for most of the final term. Until today it was unfinished due to the end of year rush. Once school finished I told myself I would finish it off next year and post it at the start of the new school year. I am glad I took the time to sit in the sun and reflect on 2014 before the new-year starts. I am glad I finished this post because it has been a very successful year and I have now completed everything I set out to achieve in 2014. Good luck to anyone leading the way with change and bring on 2015.

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