Archive for February, 2013

The 5 Worst Kids Menu Foods

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Here is a look at the 5 worst kids menu foods found at some major restaurants.


The “New PE” – Is It Hogwash?

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Honestly, I’ve been asking myself this question since I was an undergraduate over 15 years ago. I recently re-focused on it when I stumbled upon a lengthy Facebook debate concerning what the New PE really is. Well, how can we learn the truth? It’s common to see the term used in titles for conference presentations, on PE equipment marketing materials, and on t-shirts and bumper stickers. The NEW PE will revolutionize the way students, parents, and administrators view physical education. It’s not like the OLD PE, because it’s, well… the NEW PE!

I did a quick database search in our professional journals for the term “NEW PE” used in article titles. It has been used a lot! Among the top 7 results I found a title from 1979, another from 1990, another from 1999, and more recently, 2007. “Enough Already with ‘New PE’ Rhetoric!” I say, “Amen!”

As good as the tagline may have seemed at the time (every 10 years or so since the 1940s), this marketing strategy hasn’t worked. Are students healthier than they were in 1979? Nope. Are they more active than they were in 1990? Nope. Are they more skilled and/or physically literate than they were in 1999? Nope. Do school boards everywhere value PE? Definitely NoPE!

I’ve visited a lot of PE programs during my tenure in this profession and I’d like to give my thoughts based on observations (and maybe even vent some). There is one thing that defines every outstanding PE program that I’ve ever seen. It’s not high-tech heart rate monitors. It’s not magnificent ExerGaming options. It’s not even a 22-pound manual of games and activities. IT IS a passionate educator working tirelessly to improve the lives of her or his students. In short – HOPE.

HOPE that the lesson plans that are implemented will provide a spark for learning, a jolt toward physical activity, and a thunderclap for lifelong wellness. HOPE that the children we teach will go out into the world and live healthy and productive lives. HOPE that young adults will find a joy and satisfaction in routine physical activity. This sort of teaching MIGHT include heart rate monitors and DDR systems. It MIGHT include SPARKfit or cross-country skis. It MIGHT even include old-school playground games—if they were delivered with passion and joy to a new generation.

Is it really that simple? Does successful teaching really rely on things that we as individuals can control? If so, why do we continue to struggle as a profession? Why aren’t our students more active? Why is physical education constantly under attack?

My observations tell me that too many PE programs lack HOPE. There are many great programs that are led by passionate teachers, but there are many being led by teachers that have had the HOPE sucked out of them. Their programs have become HOPEless.

Don’t get me wrong – I know the path we’ve chosen isn’t an easy one. There are demands, there are requirements, and there are unreasonable mandates.

Guess what? That’s the way it’s been for 30 years (maybe 50+). It’s what we all signed up for. Kids aren’t the same as they used to be – I get it. However, we are professional educators. This is the path we’ve chosen. Here’s some old-school wisdom – let’s suck it up and move forward.

Here’s my plea to any and all PE teachers. Teach with HOPE and passion. If you’ve lost your HOPE, get it back. Go to a conference, sit and talk shop with some passionate colleagues. If you can’t find something that works – please change your job. Move aside and make room for the more HOPEful. At a minimum – don’t poison the next generation of PE teachers with your toxic culture of laziness and excuses. If these words offend you, maybe it’s time for a gut-check.

Thank you so much to each and every HOPE-filled teacher out there – there are thousands of us. Let’s unite and carry on with pride and passion. Let there be HOPE – Health Optimizing Physical Education.

What do YOU think about “New PE”? Feel free to leave your comments below:

-Aaron Hart, SPARK Development Team Leader

PS – I’d like to thank Dr. Matthew Cummiskey of West Chester University for his HOPEful work and passion. This Blog article is not intended to discredit or disregard his work or the good work of others who have used the term, “The New PE.” Please check out the good work of Dr. Cummiskey at And another special thanks to Dr. Thom McKenzie who created the HOPE acronym (Health Optimizing Physical Education). If you want to find out more about the concept of HOPE PE, see:

Sallis, J. F., McKenzie, T. L., Beets, M. W., Beighle, A., H., Erwin, H., & Lee, S. (2012). Physical education’s role in public health: Steps forward and backward over 20 years and HOPE for the Future. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 83(2), 125-135.

Partner Spotlight: Healthy Lifestyle Choices

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Our health education partner, Healthy Lifestyle Choices (HLC), provides a school-based program that empowers youth with the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices. Focused on the emotional, social and physical health of children, HLC provides hands-on activities in the classroom on topics including Life Skills, Nutrition, Fitness, Safety, Conflict Resolution and Substance Abuse Prevention.

Click Here to learn more about the Health Education program we offer in partnership with HLC.

The HLC Program offers many programmatic supports on their website including a parenting guide, newsletters for students and short videos that support classroom instruction. For example, one of the toughest things to do is help children make good decisions by thinking before acting.  Students can watch a short video of Stephanie using the steps of the STAR decision-making model as she decides whether to study for a test or go to the movies (Click Here for this particular video).

S – STOP. Ask yourself, “What decision needs to be made?”

T – THINK. “What are my choices?” “What are the positive and negative consequences of each?”

A – ACT. Make a decision and take action!

R – REVIEW. Ask yourself, “Did things work out as I planned?”

Early Childhood Physical Activity: What do Our Lesson Plans Teach?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

We believe all students require our best effort. Whether you’re a concerned parent or a curious teacher, we know you feel the same.

So when it comes to our youngest students, we know only the most comprehensive lesson plans will do; plans that integrate active movement, life skills, critical thinking—and of course, fun!
That’s why SPARK created an early childhood education manual with 11 instructional units. Our methods are trial-tested and teacher approved, and parents are sure to see improvement in their child’s abilities across the board.

Read on for more information about what SPARK lesson plans teach our students in early childhood physical activity.

Unit 1: Building Blocks

An example lesson in this unit is Starting and Stopping. Students focus on basic movement skills like starting and stopping all parts of the body. Comprehension is also practiced through auditory discrimination and spatial relationships and awareness.

Games like “Motion Memory Goodbye Game” and “Travel! Go Home!” and “Dance Freeze” are fun, keep students engaged with the teacher and with other students, and help strengthen those all-important building blocks.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit.

Unit 2: Musical ASAPs

When we combine music and physical education, we strengthen extremely important developmental areas for children: rhythmic expression, locomotor skills and balance. This unit focuses on getting students to sing simple rhyming songs like “Knees Up, Mother Brown” while participating in class-wide movements.

Students also learn how their movement affects their own bodies by feeling for their heartbeat. These lessons are vital because these skills help students connect their learning to real-world applications.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 3: Super Stunts

This unit focuses on getting students to expand their physical abilities using safe activities like “Single Leg Balances.” This activity challenges students to do a variety of maneuvers, including standing on one foot, crossing legs while standing, balancing like a bird on one leg, and many others.

This fun lesson can be combined with other movement activities for extra challenges. For example, include “Travel! Go Home!” from Unit 1 to introduce a kinetic element to the lesson.

Lessons like this focus on balancing, agility, role playing, and lower body strength, which enable children to become more confident in their movements and physical abilities.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 4: Parachute Play

“Popcorn” is always a PE favorite. Using a parachute, mesh balls, and their own muscles, students create a multi-colored frying pan that teaches them color recognition, group cooperation and upper-body strength.

These skills help students learn to work with others and even to motivate each other as they work toward a common goal.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 5: Hoop It Up

This unit uses hoops to teach a wide variety of important skills. For example, in the “Musical Hoops” lesson, students will practice sharing, auditory discrimination, creative imagery, and lower-body strength.

Since hoops can be used in a huge number of ways, our lesson plans use this unit to connect many previous and future units to one another. With the addition of music, for example, students combine important motor skills with creativity and critical thinking.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 6: Ribbons, Scarves, Balloons for Me

This unit expands Unit 5’s hoops theme with a variety of other types of materials. Ribbons and scarves add in another creative element as well as introduce new types of physical abilities (it takes a different set of skills to hold a hoop than it does to hold a ribbon!).

An example lesson here is “Abracadabra” and students learn tossing, catching, and shape recognition—all vital skills for growing children.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 7: Fluffball Fun

Fine motorskills are essential to the physical development of a young child. By using lessons like “Sit and Toss” in this unit, students use the soft and safe fluffballs to learn tossing, hand-eye coordination, visual tracking, and how to cross their body’s midline.

By using such a lightweight item, our lesson plans encourage correct movement skills without danger of heavier objects. This allows students to become adept at specific movements and abilities that build their confidence in a fun way.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 8: Beanbag Bonanza

The next step in locomotor skills is with beanbags. This unit expands on the previous units by combining visual and auditory recognition skills to hand-eye coordination and visual tracking.

An example lesson is “Self-Tossing,” which includes a ton of fun games that help students learn to follow instructions and build their independence by working alone.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 9: Rope Action

Rope lessons are a huge step forward for our young PE students. With lessons like “Introduction to Ropes” students learn behavioral expectations, object manipulation, and pathway recognition.

This helps advance understanding of how objects fit into a space and how they can be used to perform certain tasks. Having these skills at a young age promotes creativity and independent critical thinking in these students.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 10: Have a Ball

This unit introduces ballistic events and quick reaction skills to students. With lessons like “Bounce and Catch,” hand-eye coordination is again practiced, as is bouncing and catching. These two skills are important to add into the student’s ever-growing repertoire of locomotive abilities, along with balancing, agility and upper- and lower-body strength.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Unit 11: Fancy Feet

We wrap-up the early childhood PE lesson plans with a unit that focuses on what we find in our shoes sometimes—our feet! An example lesson here is “Kicking for Distance” and it focuses on balance, auditory discrimination, and visual tracking, as well as kicking.

Once young students have practiced fine motor skills, our lesson plans move into establishing large-scale locomotor skills that children use to interact with the world around them, including one another.

Click Here for a sample lesson plan from this unit

Together, these 11 units form a comprehensive instructional plan that teaches young children exceptionally useful skills from sharing and cooperation to identifying colors and sounds to building strength and coordination.

Teaching PE in Thailand: A SPARKer’s Journey Volunteering Abroad

Friday, February 8th, 2013

By Billy Beltz, SPARK Marketing Director

I’ll admit it, I’m jealous of all the Physical Educators we interact with every day. I’m usually stuck in the SPARK office behind a desk, and they’re out there running around and working directly with the students. I’ve spent time teaching physical activity to youth and I know it’s hard work, and also how rewarding it can be.

So for 2013 I decided to step out of the office and onto the field more often… somehow that ended up being a field 8,000 miles away!

I’m excited to share that in March I’ll be participating in a volunteer project to provide a sports camp and teach physical education to youth in the rural Trat Province of Thailand. I’ll also be donating PE equipment to the schools that they can keep and use year-round, long after I’m gone.

So why is this project important? From my work with SPARK over the last 4+ years I’ve come to realize the amazing benefits of creating an environment where youth are able to engage in active, inclusive and FUN activity. It makes a world of difference- not the least of which is instilling a lifelong love of physical activity. The youth in the communities I’m visiting do not have access to this for much of the year, and that’s why the sports camp is such a big deal to the community there. And I’ll get to share some of SPARK’s amazing activities with the youth and teachers there and hopefully leave them with something they can use after I’m gone!

Additionally (and probably more important) is the ability to donate new PE equipment that will be of lasting benefit to the schools in the area. SPARK’s Executive Director Paul Rosengard has generously agreed to donate PE equipment from out office to be provided to the schools. I’ve checked with the local organization to see what they need and make sure I’m not bringing over anything that wouldn’t be put to good use. They were extremely excited to hear I might provide this, and I can’t wait for the kids to see it in person.

I’ll be volunteering with an organization called uVolunteer. If you’d like to learn more about my project, the organization or to donate to this cause, Click Here.

Wish me luck!!

Billy Beltz

Marketing Director


3 Great Middle School Lesson Plans to Try This Month

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Need some ideas for engaging and enjoyable activities? Here we’ve listed three great middle school lesson plans to try this month.  SPARK Middle School Physical Education (MS PE) was designed to be more inclusive, active, and fun than traditional PE classes. Aligned with NASPE National Standards, each one of these lessons are easy to learn, and easy to teach. Enjoy!

2-Minute Drill

This classic football activity is a good one to start with since so many students are familiar with the game already. Here’s the setup:

  • Form groups of three students and one football.
    • Pick one quarterback, one center, and one receiver.
  • Use your feet to make a 10-step by 15-step grid with cones at the corners.

The point here is to practice snapping the ball to the quarterback, running a passing play, and scoring a touchdown. Students should be fast and score as many as they can in two minutes. Here are the rules:

  • Students line up on any side of their grid: center in snapping position, quarterback behind and receiver to the side.
  • QB yells “Hike!”, the center snaps the ball and the receiver runs out for the catch.
  • A touchdown is scored when the ball is caught beyond the opposite gridline.
  • If a touchdown, the QB and center run to the receiver and start over from the new goal line. If no touchdown is scored, the receiver runs back to the QB and center to try again.

This activity focuses on specific sports skills, aerobic capacity, cooperation, accepting challenges, and teamwork. You can increase or decrease the size of the grid to accommodate the ability of your students. As students improve, add another receiver and defender to the mix!

Click Here to download the complete lesson plan.

Daytona 2000

Now here’s one that will get their motors running! (As long as their motors are their feet, of course.) The object here is for a team of two to accumulate 2,000 steps while running laps around a course one minute at a time. Here’s how to set it up:

  • Designate two elliptical courses with cones, one inside the other. The outer path should be 25 by 50 steps, and the inner course 20 by 45 steps.
  • Give each student a pedometer (or one to each team if there are not enough).
  • Play music for one minute at a time to designate when partners switch.

You only need four cones for each track; that way you can have your students count how many cones they pass before it’s time to switch. Here’s how the game works:

• One partner begins on the outer track, jogging at a continuous pace for one minute. The other partner walks on the interior track in the opposite direction.
• At the one-minute mark (designated by your music), the partners continue around their track until they meet, they high five, and then switch.
• 2,000 steps is the goal, but can your students do more?
• Add difficulty by having students dribble a soccer ball or basketball while they jog!

The features of this fast-paced activity include aerobic capacity, interval training, and accepting challenges. Students even learn to motivate each other!

Click Here to download the complete lesson plan.

Sepak Takraw

If the name of this game sounds foreign to you, that’s because it is! Sepak is Malay for “kick,” and takraw is Thai for “woven ball.” The object is for students to hit the ball over a net using only their feet and legs. It’s very similar to volleyball, only no hands are allowed. Set it up like this:

• Six students are assigned to a grid that is 8 by 8 paces in the area.
• Create two teams of three, with a net between the teams made of jump rope and cones.
• Teams of three form triangles in their square, with one person at the net and two in the back row.

Yes, students can let the ball hit the ground, but only once between passes. Students must use their feet to hit the ball to the other side of the net in three or fewer passes. Here are some more rules:

  • Only the serving team can score. Teams serve by having one player lob the ball to the center player, who kicks it over the net to the other team.
  • The serving team earns a point when the defending team does one of these things:
    • Kicks the ball out of bounds
    • Takes more than 3 hits to return the ball
    • Touches the ball with a hand or arm
    • Traps or catches ball with feet or body
    • Lets the ball bounce more than once between kicks
  • If the serving team scores, they continue serving. If the defending team wins the volley, no teams score points.
    • When the defending team scores, they get to serve.
    • The players on both teams rotate.
  • Don’t forget to encourage communication between teammates! If your classroom is highly skilled, or you want more players per team, expand the court and put more students in play.

This difficult but rewarding activity promotes learning transferable foot skills and game strategy, increases aerobic capacity, and teaches cooperation and appreciation of diversity.

Click Here to download the complete lesson plan.

Now that you’re equipped with three more lesson plans, it’s time to get out and play!

What’s the Best Valentine’s Day Treat? A Healthy Heart!

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner: a time of cards, candy, poems, and hearts adorning every door, window, and wall. While our hearts are often associated with love, they also have one of the most important roles in the human body. Let’s take a closer look at the heart’s function and anatomy.

Heart Shapes and Basics

Contrary to what is depicted in cartoons and popular culture, the heart is shaped like a cone. The apex of the “cone” points down and to the left. It’s hollow and located behind the breastbone, just between the lungs and above the diaphragm. About two-thirds of the heart is located to the left of your body. heart

In terms of size, the heart is roughly the size of a balled up fist, measuring 2.5 inches deep, 5 inches long, and 3.5 inches wide. On average, a man’s heart weighs about 10.5 ounces, while a woman’s heart weighs 9 ounces.
Proportionally, the heart is less than half a percent of your total body weight, but it is also the body’s most powerful muscle. Such a tiny organ is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout all parts of your body.

Heart Parts

The heart is composed entirely of cardiac muscle that gives it the power to contract and expand and synchronize heart beats. The heart’s wall is divided into three layers:

  • Epicardium: the outer layer that protects the heart from sustaining damage
  • Myocardium: the middle layer composed of muscle
  • Endocardium: the smooth, inner lining of the heart that connects with the inner lining of blood vessels

The inside of the heart is divided into four chambers:

  • Right atrium
  • Right ventricle
  • Left atrium
  • Left ventricle

Blood passes through each chamber via one-way valves, much like the taps on a faucet, which prevent blood from flowing backwards. As each chamber contracts, the valve opens at its exit. At the end of the contraction, the valve closes. The four valves are:

  • Tricuspid valve located at the exit of the right atrium
  • Pulmonary valve at the exit of the right ventricle
  • Mitral valve located at the exit of the left atrium
  • Aortic valve at the exit of the left ventricle

Let It Flow

Blood flow is the name of the game, and the heart is the main player. All your blood enters through two veins located on the right side of the heart: the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava. The superior vena cava takes blood from the top half of your body, while the inferior vena cava collects blood from the lower half.

From these two veins, your blood enters the right atrium. The right atrium contracts and sends blood through the tricuspid valve to the right ventricle. The right ventricle contracts and sends the blood through the pulmonary valve, through the pulmonary artery, and into the lungs.

Why does blood need to make a pit stop at the lungs? Well, blood that returns from the body is actually pretty lacking in oxygen. In order to get a refill, the blood stops by the lungs before moving on to the left side of the heart.

From the lungs, the blood reenters the heart through the pulmonary veins into the left atrium. It then goes through the mitral valve into the left ventricle and then through the aortic valve into the aorta. The aorta is the main artery of the body. It takes all of the oxygen-rich blood that the heart has pumped and distributes it to all the other organs, tissues, limbs, and body parts.

Where the Heart Gets Its Blood

Like all your other organs, your heart needs blood to get all that oxygen and nutrients. Although all your blood passes through your heart, it doesn’t actually use any of the blood that flows through it. The blood that supplies the heart with oxygen and nutrients is transported through coronary arteries. About 4 to 5 percent of your heart’s total blood output ends up in the coronary arteries.

You have two main coronary arteries, the left main and the right. The left main can be broken up into the left anterior branch and the left circumflex.

The main thing you have to watch out for is coronary artery disease, which is caused by a blockage in the arteries. A partial blockage prevents your heart from getting enough blood, a big problem considering how much your heart exerts itself. This chest pain is described as angina. More severe obstructions can lead to unstable angina. Complete blockage leads to an all-out heart attack. Blockages are composed of plaque and cellular waste products. Regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet are the most effective ways to prevent coronary artery disease.

Love and the Heart

It’s hard to say why love is so often associated with the symbol of the heart. Love has very real physiological effects on the brain, though the heart feels many of the side effects. For example, a racing heart when you see that special someone is caused by an outpouring of adrenaline. Research also shows that many people have lower blood pressure when they are with their romantic partners. Even in newer relationships, the “fresh love” that partners feel for each other can actually shield stress.
So this Valentine’s Day, remember to show some love to your heart. Among all the sweet pink and red decorations, festivities, and treats, our hearts are doing a lot of work!

Diatribe from a Digital Dreamer…

Monday, February 4th, 2013

By Paul Rosengard, Executive Director for SPARK

Almost every morning I have coffee and read the paper.  Someone I’ve never met tosses it onto my driveway when it’s still dark outside.  Are paper people nocturnal?

This, like many habits is a tough one to break – but I’m nearly there.  Soon, I’ll change my subscription from paper to digital (sorry paper people who are reading this in the middle of the night…).  But you’ll have to pry the coffee from my cold, sleepy hands.

When I was a PE teacher, I used to develop lesson plans for my classes, print them onto paper or cards, and read them all day long.  As a coach, this continued after school with practice plans.  Maybe you’re a teacher and doing the same thing?

Today, technology presents us with options.  Recently, SPARK evolved to offer an all-digital version for every program.  That means lesson plans, assessment tools, content cards, written tests, music, videos — EVERYTHING — can be saved onto a computer and/or downloaded to an iPad/tablet, smartphone or other mobile device.

I’m not teaching anymore but if I were, I’d transition to using an iPad almost exclusively.  Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. Space saving – you can have 10 resource books on a shelf or you can have them in your ibooks section.  More room in your tiny workspace for important things (like that picture of you shaking hands with Lance Armstrong).
  2. Enlarging anything  on the screen – print, diagrams, your photo of Lance Armstrong, etc.
  3. You can check the score of the big game in seconds from your ESPN app – between classes of course…
  4. Connect immediately to an LCD and show videos, use Coaches Eye (app that analyzes movement), teach students how to use an assessment tool, anything you have on your iPad you can project onto a wall.  (BTW no one wants to see that picture of you with Lance Armstrong).
  5. Kids will think you’re cool(er).

We’re in the throes of a digital revolution because for many reasons, paper cannot match up.  Soon, it will be commonplace for teachers and students to receive an updated tablet at the beginning of the school year loaded with their textbooks.  Probably save a lot of backs too.

Will digital change the way teachers teach?  Yes – it absolutely should because a world of possibilities is now available.  Imagine your volleyball exam study guide with hyperlinks to supplemental articles, videos, and photos?  At SPARK, we’re looking forward to the evolution of sight and sound.

We hope you’ll embrace the possibilities and go along for the ride — right after you cancel your newspaper delivery.  I think your paper person will land that dream job and appreciate sleeping later in the morning…

Paul Rosengard

Executive Director


Want to get an idea of what’s available on (SPARK’s digital library and home to all e-manuals, videos, assessment tools and other digital resources)? Visit to learn how to become a member or access or FREE Demo Site!