Archive for September, 2012

Success Story Showcase: Q&A with Ken Endris of Fouke Elementary

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Fouke Elementary School in Southwest Arkansas has been getting national attention recently for reducing the obesity rates of its students by nine percent at a time when childhood obesity rates are increasing in most of the nation. And guess what? As weight has gone down, attendance and test scores have gone up. SPARK’s Executive Director, Paul Rosengard, recently caught up with Ken Endris, Principal at Fouke Elementary School in Arkansas and SPARK advocate, to learn more. 

Paul: Have you always believed “healthy kids are better learners” or was there a particular conference presentation, book, or other event that changed your thinking?

Ken: I have always believed that every child should have a hook or reason to be excited about school. Fortunately, all kids find enjoyment in some kind of movement. If a school or program offers a wide variety of games, sports related activities or just organized free play the school will witness an increase in academic performance in various ways, including: burning off pent-up energy and allowing kids to pay attention better and focus on their work; boosting self-esteem and mood; and increasing blood flow to the brain which helps with memory and concentration. There have been studies on comparing fit students to less fit students on standardized tests and the students who performed better on the fitness tests performed better academically as well.

Paul: Not all elementary principals have prioritized physical activity and healthy eating at their schools, in fact it’s fair to say some nearly ignore it. What do you say to your colleagues to encourage them to allocate some time and attention to building a healthy environment?

Ken: My suggestion to other principals at any level is to survey your stakeholders. If your students in high school would like an organized intramural program than one would be very smart to find a way to implement this simple way to engage all students, especially the non-athlete. If they were engaged in athletics they could still participate in any intramural sport, except the athletic sport they were involved in. For over thirty years all of my students have had an opportunity to participate in before school, at lunchtime or after school in free physical activities such as: juggling clubs, gymnastics, running/walking club, dance, etc. Yet, our school really witnessed a huge drop in obesity once we integrated nutrition classes in 2008. These nutrition classes were the missing link to change the behavior of our students and staff to fully understand how vital physical activity and nutrition go hand in hand in creating a healthy school model.

Paul: What role have parents played in developing your vision for their kids? How did you first solicit their support?

Ken: Volunteerism is very important since our after school physical fitness activities are free to students.  Myself or a staff member has to be the facilitator, yet the parents are always eager to assist students at a fitness station, exercise with the students such as walking or jogging with them, or work with small groups as they choreograph movements to a song. Our school is very rural. Over 60% of the students are economically disadvantaged and we are the only elementary within the 271 square miles of the Fouke Arkansas School District. So basically, our school is the community and we must include all our stakeholders: parents, students, staff and community patrons on any decision making that improves student achievement and an excitement for every child to be present every day. Some schools have taken our model and structured it to fit their needs. For example, one principal who had a large majority of Hispanic students organized intramural soccer teams and games during recess. This school witnessed significant gains academically, less discipline referrals and a higher involvement of parent volunteers. I guess my main advice would be if you are not satisfied with the results you observe within your school community, then maybe you might want to rethink how you are engaging every student every day.

Paul: Thanks Ken!

Paul Rosengard

Executive Director


Mind Over Matter: Helping Your Students Overcome Challenges to Build Mental and Physical Strength

Friday, September 14th, 2012

A child’s mental and physical strength must come from within. No matter how much you teach a child problem-solving skills, critical-thinking skills, or even something innocuous like how to throw a football, they won’t be able to truly succeed until they believe they can.

Confidence isn’t something you can adequately teach with a chalkboard and some colorful chalk. This is where the PE teacher excels. Keep reading for some tips on how to help your students overcome their own challenges to begin building mental and physical strength.

It’s All Fun and Games

As a PE teacher or administrator, you are in a unique position to combine physical activity with critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork. It has been well documented that physical activity enhances the learning ability of young children, so to best teach confidence, comprehension, and other valuable life skills, no class is better suited than PE class for elementary learners.Mind over matter

Take these activities, for example:

  • 3-Catch Basketball – This game pits 2 teams of 3 players against one another in a small square. One team holds a basketball and must make three successive passes in a row while the defending team attempts to block or intercept those passes. When a point is scored or a ball is dropped, the offense and defense switch.
  • I Want a Home – for this game, set up a grid of cones to act as home bases for your students to stand on. Leave some open cones so children have a place to move. Each child takes turns calling out names of animals, where the animal lives and then “I want a home!” At this point, all the students imitate the animal by moving to an unoccupied cone.

Though these activities are meant for young children, there is still a lesson here: These activities are disguised as games, which helps decrease performance anxiety, promote critical thinking, and encourage strategic planning. Also, these games promote imitation as well as individuality, and likewise teamwork. And, of course, the students are earning a workout simply by moving and being active.

Repeating Things That Work; Repeating Things That Work!

The best way to teach the skills that break down obstacles and promote mental and physical strength is to use simple, fun activities. It’s OK to repeat activities too; in fact, you can use the same games but alter a small aspect of them. For example, take I Want a Home—instead of zoo animals, your students can imitate different types of birds, or modes of transportation, or anything else you can think of. For 3-Catch Basketball, substitute a football or tennis ball to get your kids using different motor skills and strategies.

Don’t use these lessons each day, of course. Instead, mix in more difficult activities with these simple, easy-to-play, and easy-to-teach ones. That way, your students learn a wealth of skills both physical and mental, and if they meet failures at first with more difficult games, you can galvanize their confidence in themselves by falling back on the games they love.

Individual Scenarios

There are times, however, when class-wide activities and lessons just won’t break through.

Don’t just teach the concept of teamwork to your students—practice the concept yourself. If you’re having trouble helping a student overcome obstacles, talk to other teachers and counselors about the child’s behavior. There may be underlying developmental problems you are unaware of, or other teachers may have been asking the same questions as you and found some answers. Tapping colleagues for advice is a great way to understand a troubled child even more.

If you aren’t able to make any headway, try talking to the parents. In many cases, at-home problems can affect a child so much that attitudes toward schoolwork and social connectivity become very negative. Proceed with caution; when in need, ask the help of your principal or administrator.

Challenges Galore

In the end, your students will learn to build mental and physical strength in their own way. However, the environment you create, the accessibility you provide to each student, and the skills you teach will all conspire to promote healthy, active learning by healthy, active, obstacle-overcoming students. It’s a very important and special career you’ve chosen.

Back to School Jitters: How to Start The School Year Right in PE Class

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Students aren’t the only ones who experience the anticipation the first day of school can bring—teachers do too.

In order to help yourself and your students relax, shake off the first-day jitters, and get a great start to this school year, there are some things you can do. Best of all, you won’t break the budget within the first week of classes.

Here’s how to start the school year right in PE class.

Create a Theme

For many students, the first day of a school year is a magical, exciting time. You can capitalize on their feelings of wonder by creating a fun and engaging theme for your classroom or gym.Spark PE

Depending on the age of your students, you can adopt an undersea theme, a space theme, a professional sports theme, or if you live in a hyper-local area, you can assimilate your theme to match the local college or professional team’s colors.

The benefits of this are many: you will make the kids feel at home, they’ll have something interesting and stimulating to look at, and it will encourage conversation among students who don’t know each other already.

And since you’re in PE, you can integrate fun games and activities into your theme. For example, if you’re theme is all about the LSU Tigers and your class is full of elementary school students, you can create a scavenger hunt using the team’s colors (purple and gold). If you go with a zoo theme, you can create games where your students must point out what animals belong in what climates and what sounds they make.

Careful Commentary

PE class is a time to feel motivated and to grow physically and mentally. As we all know from our day-to-day interactions, a single message can be communicated very different ways, which will lead to very different outcomes. After all, it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it, right?

The point here is that messages should be communicated in such a way to make students, especially the younger ones, feel comfortable, welcome, and encouraged. While PE class is a time for challenges, it is not a time to feel overly pressured or defeated. Children who are less athletic or outgoing than others (which are the ones who need extra encouragement) don’t respond well to the throw-‘em-to-the-sharks or survival-of-the-fittest approach. In fact, it just makes PE the most dreaded part of the day.

Consider using language in a specific way to make your students feel comfortable. Take these tips from our Friendly Phrasing video on our SPARK Trainer Tips page:

  • Rather than shouting, “Laps!”—that dreaded command that is heard mostly as “Keep running in a circle over and over until you’re exhausted!”—try a term like “Circuit.” This more technical, athletic, and interesting term can help students to realize they’re doing something worthwhile and challenging. Running is running, but the way students think about it is what encourages them. Do you want your students to think: running in circles or endurance training?
  • Rather than asking students to “hold hands” which has all kinds of cootie-filled implications, ask them to “join hands.” This more approachable request removes the awkward component for students; especially those in a co-ed class.
  • Perhaps the most important is rephrasing the idea of “winners and losers.” This good/bad dichotomy is what confirms the less agile or social students’ preconceptions that they are failures in PE. Try instead “success and try again.” If your students are practicing shooting a basketball into a hoop, the students who make it can step to the “success” square while the others can step into the “try again” square. This perpetuates the idea that there is no failure; there is no losing. There is only getting back up and trying again with the awareness that it’s okay to not get it right away.

There’s no need for excessive coddling, but until you get the cue that your students are comfortable and having a good time, make sure you pay special attention to word choice. Keep up everyone’s spirits with positive communication and reinforcement.

Continue the Fun

Now that you’ve created this incredibly engaging environment where you’re able to proficiently teach students their lessons in a variety of ways, keep going.

Maintain your theme throughout the year, or switch it up once in awhile; either way, make sure you always give your students an active atmosphere to overcome challenges, think critically, and move, move, move.

If you’re feeling particularly entrepreneurial, why not involve other classrooms too? Wouldn’t it be fun if your students could go to the gym for one or two math classes a semester to get real-life instruction on sine waves or parabolas using the flight of basketballs and volleyballs? The same goes for science class, too. Why not simulate the solar system using students as the planets in the large, planetarium-like gym? Combining these academic disciplines with movement is a great way to help your students truly learn the material instead of allowing them to memorize it.

Give Your Lessons a SPARK

Of course, it’s difficult to maintain the same level of excitement throughout the year that you experience on the first day.

In order to prevent the mid-semester doldrums from derailing your engaging classroom, call on SPARK to add a jolt into your learning environment. These clinically proven methods, techniques, and advice help you reach your children like never before. You’ll be able to ensure that your students are doing more than running laps or throwing tennis balls at a wall.

They’ll be learning. Now that’s a great way to start off the school year right.