A program that increases students’ academic and physical fitness -- and blends into classroom schedules -- might have teachers doing cartwheels of their own. By tying physical activity bursts with lessons, Activity Works helps improve students’ focus. Included: A description of how to implement Activity Works.
When recess and physical education fell victim to accountability pressures in some schools, many teachers had to struggle to keep weary students focused. A program launched in 2009 called Activity Works provides students with short bursts of exercise in the classroom while they are learning, improving their concentration and reducing restlessness.
Ted Tolles, the vice president, development, for Activity Works Productions, talked with Education World about how Activity Works can make a difference for young learners.
Education World: Can you explain how Activity Works…works?
Ted Tolles: Activity Works applies a specific Kinetic Learning Technology™ through professionally produced multi-sensory modules that lead students through carefully crafted 12-minute activity bursts, combining physical activity with cognitive learning in the classroom.
Kinetic Learning TechnologyTM combines auditory, visual, and kinesthetic stimulation -- including aerobic exercise and contextual physical movement -- tied to core curriculum objectives for grades 1, 2 and, 3.
Teachers choose the time of day when their students most need an energy boost, such as mid-morning or mid-afternoon, or when groups of students are in a non-productive setting -- indoor recess during bad weather, for example. They simply launch an episode from their hard drive or server and allow students to follow the on-screen instructions. All activity occurs within the small area of the student’s personal space. Teachers coach students toward maximum effort and range of motion. This supporting role for teachers is absolutely critical for the frequent and sustainable use of kinetic learning and aerobic activity on a daily basis.
Supporting lesson plans help teachers develop key vocabulary and apply cognitive content to academic and physical education standards.
EW: What inspired you to develop Activity Works?
Tolles: Activity Works was created to address three academic and wellness problems: Academic improvement, childhood obesity, and compliance with state mandated physical education standards. All three problems can be addressed by increasing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity tied to curriculum.
EW: Why did you choose to focus on primary-grade level students?
Tolles: Primary grades tend to be in a self-contained classroom so one teacher has the entire day to fit in Activity Works. As you move to higher grades and multiple teachers, the responsibility is more diffuse and it is harder to schedule an activity period. Also, younger students are very willing to follow a well-told story. Younger students are less self-conscious about their physical appearance and will move freely, while older students are more inhibited by peer pressure and concern for social image. Younger students also have recess in their day, and indoor recess is a great time to use Activity Works rather than the sedentary activity that is typical when a large group of students is penned in the cafeteria or classroom.
EW: What are the goals of the program?
Tolles: Despite strong evidence that improved physical fitness correlates with higher academic performance, external forces over the past five years have increased total seat time and reduced physical activity for students. Schools are looking for activity solutions that work within their time- and space- constraints.
Our goals are to stimulate more moderate-to-vigorous activity in children and help overweight children feel the benefits of exercise, reinforcing their desire to exercise more.
EW: How do you see it addressing the problem of childhood obesity?
Tolles: Children in many communities participate in school schedules that do not provide enough exercise and they live in communities without safe environments for outdoor play. We intend to address the problem in the short term by providing a simple method for groups of kids to expend more energy without changes to schedules. Our contribution to a longer term solution is -- over time -- to engender in young children an appreciation for how much better they feel if they exercise regularly.
EW: How is Activity Works different from other wellness programs?
Tolles: Activity Works episodes, delivered via network or stand-alone media, offer 12-minute multi-sensory adventures, developed using validated exercise protocols and kinesthetic movements, integrated into math, social studies, science, music, and art. The product is unique because it is:
• School-based. It can be used in classrooms for indoor recess and for before- or after-school programs.
• Simple to use. Activity Works allows the teacher to serve as more of a coach than a director. That is a critical factor because many teachers are not active and are not comfortable being in a position of responsibility for movement.
• Measurable. Users can measure activity time against the impact on academics.
• Scalable. Activity Works can be used with small or large groups.
• Sustainable. Kids want to move; a solution that works for teachers and school schedules.
EW: What, if any, information is included in Activity Works’ materials about healthful eating?
Tolles: Each teacher receives a set of ten parent newsletters -- one for each month of the school year -- designed to be copied and sent home with ideas for how to increase physical activity and make meals more healthful. The ideas are customized to specific times of year.
EW: What type of feedback have you received from teachers?
Tolles: During the 2009-2010 school year, a New Jersey/New York Wellness Project serving more than 3,000 students noted that 80 percent of teachers reported that frequent use of Activity Works stimulated improvement in students’ attention and focus on instruction. Teachers also reported that a one-hour orientation was sufficient to begin the program.
The majority of teachers -- 67 percent -- were able to provide at least 30 additional minutes of physical activity weekly in the first year, and virtually all teachers planned to increase or sustain usage next year.
Studies of the physical and academic impact of Activity Works are underway, now that a cohort of teachers has integrated the process into the daily routine.
This e-interview with Ted Tolles is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2011 Education World