Archive for June, 2016


Does Evidence-Based PE Matter? Part 3: Is Evidence-Based PE Easy to Implement?

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

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Author: Dr. Kymm Ballard, SPARK Executive Director

Click here to read Part 1 of this blog series on Evidence-Based Physical Education, and click here to read Part 2.

What is the current evidence? Is it evidence/research-based or evidence-informed (we believe things are happening but may not be enough formal research to show it, like PE improves academic performance)?

Numerous refereed publications (over 45 to date) have reported SPARK physical education (PE) program effects, including papers showing evidence of achievement and/or significant improvement in the following variables:

  • Physical activity (MVPA)
  • Physical fitness
  • Lesson context and teacher behavior
  • Academic achievement
  • Motor skill development
  • Student enjoyment of the program
  • Adiposity
  • Long-term effects/institutionalization
  • Process measures (parent behavior, teacher acceptance of program)

Click here for our complete list of research & publications.

How feasible is it to implement and sustain?

Though the SPARK lessons are written with the certified teacher in mind, it was proven to be feasible and simple to implement and sustain. Through the SPARK trainings, teachers learn management techniques to increase MVPA as well as strategies for varying lessons based on an individual’s needs. This change in teaching leads to sustainability.

SPARK also has developed an effective Train the Trainer model, leading to a district adopted method of teaching that is a foundation for institutionalization, district empowerment, and leadership. Years of dissemination in the real world have shown that SPARK’s “return on investment” is outstanding when implemented correctly in the recommended doses and with fidelity. There have been papers also published on the sustainability of the program you can find here.

In conclusion, I eventually chose to work with SPARK because I saw the incredible difference it was making in the way teachers were doing their jobs day to day. I had coordinators tell me they had teachers now actually teaching that were previously described as “rolling out the ball.” They attributed this – in part – to the management skills learned during SPARK trainings. This wasn’t all new practice, but it was a way to disseminate best practices and improve the health of our children.

The research stands for itself on SPARK with 4 specific NIH studies and numerous others that utilized SPARK in their studies. There are also over 45 publications and 100’s of articles verifying the research still today. SPARK is being translated currently in several other countries and studied overseas — with one of the newest studies occurring in Iran.

If you want to see a tremendous improvement in your students and teachers and care about implementing an evidence-based physical education program that’s linked to public health objectives, SPARK is a proven choice.

For more on SPARK research and special projects, click here.

* Criteria adapted from Chalkidou, K., Walley, T.,Culyer, A., Littlejohns, P., Hoy, A; Evidence-informed evidence-making; Health Serv Res Policy July 2008 vol. 13 no. 3 167-173.

Does Evidence-Based PE Matter? Part 2: Why is Evidence-Based PE Significant?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

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Author: Dr. Kymm Ballard, SPARK Executive Director

Click here to read Part 1 of this blog series on Evidence-Based Physical Education.

Suggested criteria for prioritizing physical education research-based programs:

You might begin by asking yourself: What is its relevance to the field? Will it help advance and improve the field of physical education?

SPARK was and is a program that links effective and proven physical education pedagogy and concern for rising childhood obesity. One of the goals of the original studies was to determine that if the SPARK approach increased MVPA, could teachers still effectively instruct physical education so their students successfully gained the skills, concepts, and confidence needed in a quality PE program? This was proven to be true along with increases in students’ motor and sports skills, fitness, MVPA, academic achievement, enjoyment of PE, as well as the quality of teacher instruction (i.e., less time managing, more time promoting fitness, teaching physical skills, etc.). SPARK evidence helped advance and improve the field of physical education.

Furthermore, it has since been examined with in a variety of settings and populations, including variances in race, gender, and poverty, and shown to be adaptable and effective. And for NC, a State that has some of the highest obesity rates among children, SPARK was an excellent fit. For more on various relevant research click here: http://www.sparkpe.org/physical-education-resources/relevant-research/

Is it important to school, community, parents, field in general? Is it important to the student outcomes?

In NC, we felt the State’s physical educators needed resources aligned to what were the NASPE standards, although there were no national grade level outcomes at the time. However, SPARK did show how their lessons could be used as a resource to align to our state standards and outcomes (objectives), which provided that critical link. It was important to the community who funded the project and the field in general having approximately 97% of the school districts wanting to be trained in SPARK PE. Our state had high levels of childhood obesity so it was important that we not only teach effective PE but address the public health concern of obesity via increased PA and nutrition education. SPARK helped us with all this and more.

Does it align or assist in national priorities (i.e., National PA Plan, Lets Move Active Schools, Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community, etc.)?

At our time of exploring curricula and resources for the teachers in NC, national initiatives were just coming on the scene. However, the alignment today is amazing. It was aligned to the CSHP, PECAT, and National PA Plan, which helped to lift NC’s foundational platform. Now, our physical educators had a common ground to teach from, then add their own good ideas, and accelerate their professional growth. It was then up to each district and teacher to set goals to improve their programs, their content selection, and their instructional strategies over time.

Today, SPARK partners with all the groups mentioned above, investing and/or participating together on Hill events, meetings, or sponsorships. The relationships continue to grow because it is extremely important that SPARK continues to align with national priorities. One of SPARK’s many strengths is the reach it has to grassroots teachers. Through SPARK, we are able to execute many of the action steps from awareness to implementation of these national priorities, and in turn, help improve the quantity and quality of physical education for children and teachers everywhere.

Click here to read Part 3 of this blog series on Evidence-Based Physical Education.

* Criteria adapted from Chalkidou, K., Walley, T.,Culyer, A., Littlejohns, P., Hoy, A; Evidence-informed evidence-making; Health Serv Res Policy July 2008 vol. 13 no. 3 167-173.

Does Evidence-Based PE Matter? Part 1: What Constitutes Evidence-Based PE?

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

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Author: Dr. Kymm Ballard, SPARK Executive Director

The term “evidence-based” is used frequently in education and, fortunately for all of us, is directly applicable to physical education (PE) as well. The team at SPARK feels that a program can claim it is evidence-based only if there is data demonstrating positive results on students and/or teachers linked to relevant outcomes (i.e., activity levels, fitness, skill development, etc.) and if those outcomes have been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, it is important that other content experts/organizations (i.e., CDC, N.I.H., National Cancer Institute, etc.) agree with the findings and support the group’s claim(s).

There is also the revelation of a fairly new term “evidence-informed” which sometimes gets confused with evidence-based. As a profession, we need to ask the questions and understand that all research is important. So how do the findings apply to your school and student needs?

We can all find lesson plans from free websites and books, but we should ask ourselves “Is this lesson evidence-based?” The lesson may implement a standard and reach an outcome. If this is the extent of what you want your program to be, there are many lessons to choose from. What makes SPARK so unique, different, and evidence-based, is if you implement the lesson after being trained in the methodology, you will not only implement a standard and outcome, increase the physical activity time a child is active during the day, and help to obtain national recommendations for children to be active, but you are replicating something that has been proven to work.

With a direct link to research, a teacher knows she/he has aligned his/her curriculum choices with public health recommendations that address childhood obesity. SPARK is more than an effective PE program; it is a marriage of quality, SHAPE America Standards-Based PE and public health recommendations, and this makes it the most evidence-based program available in the U.S.

I was a Consultant for the Dept. of Education in North Carolina (NC) for 11.5 years. While serving in this capacity, I wanted to provide my physical educators in NC a foundational framework leading to excellent curriculum and resources for implementation. I saw too many times that my teachers had to start from scratch, basically trying to write their own lessons, on curriculum revisions where Math, Science, and others were reviewing updated texts, assessments, and supplemental materials. Some of the lessons were good, some were not, but it was all they had. I wanted them to have a solid base as a foundation for them to start from, and build their house of curriculum from there. Unfortunately, as a State employee, it was not feasible for me to provide a “statewide” curriculum. Luckily, our partners NCAAHPERD received funding from several sources which were able to help establish this groundbreaking effort (see success story here). In deciding what to do to support NC physical educators, some areas of importance surfaced.

Click here to read Part 2 of this blog series on Evidence-Based Physical Education, and click here to read Part 3.

Quidditch – Should You Embrace the Global Craze?

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

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Many real-life events inspire works of fiction, but now and then, fiction inspires real life. Quidditch, the flying broomstick sport made popular in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books, is now played outside of those pages (with a few adaptations for non-wizards). Of course, players are limited by the constraints of gravity and must avoid the signature bludger instruments made famous in the bloody matches in the book; the basics of Quidditch are happening globally though, on the ground and in safe ways.

The Guardian reports that in the past decade, Muggle Quidditch (or Quidditch for people who are not actually wizards) has ignited fans worldwide. The game is played on six continents, in 20 countries, and at more than 1,200 schools. There are also college-level and adult leagues for the sport. The appeal of the game is multi-faceted and is not dependent on having knowledge of the book series that made it famous. Kids and adults at all fitness levels can participate together in Quidditch in some way, thanks to its variation of player roles.

The Basics of Muggle Quidditch

There are seven players on each team, just like the book version. Those players are divided up like this:

  • Three chasers on each team – players who carry or pass the ball on the way to the goal.
  • Two beaters on each team – players who throw dodge balls at opposing players to disqualify them from the field for a specified time period.
  • One keeper on each team – a goalie, basically.
  • One snitch runner, not assigned to a team – a player who tucks the snitch (in this version, a tennis ball in a sock) in his or her shorts, and who is not required to ride a broomstick.
  • One seeker on each team – a player that hunts the snitch runner and tries to steal the snitch.

Throughout the game, points are earned on both teams when goal hoops are made (10 points per goal). The game ends when a seeker catches the snitch runner, and successfully steals the snitch. The team of the victorious seeker earns 30 points. The winning team is the one with the most points at the end of the game.

The game is complex and calls on a lot of different skill sets, making it ideal for large group fitness sessions. Speed and strength must combine with strategy for a win, making it a more inclusive game than some traditional physical education class options.

Quidditch is Adaptable

Students are so excited by Muggle Quidditch that it’s popping up in physical education curriculum all over the country. The Harry Potter series inspires the game, of course, but students and teachers can adapt the way it’s played based on creativity, and the equipment and resources available to them.

Muggle – or Earthbound – Quidditch is scalable based on the age of the participants, too. Younger kids can play it without broomsticks, for example, while middle and high schoolers can add that level of difficulty. Even kids who have decided they are “too old” for Harry Potter can get excited about the physicality of Quidditch. It’s a fun and challenging approach to physical education – giving Quidditch wide appeal.

More Than Just a Game

Since posting the rules for her “Earthbound Quidditch” game on a health and physical education site in 2001, Ohio P.E. teacher Jodi Palmer says the page has seen nearly 60,000 views. In an interview with AthleticBusiness.com, Palmer says that some teachers are intimidated at first by the rules and complexity of Quidditch on paper, but that once kids actually get up and moving, it all comes together.

The unusual nature of the sport makes it interesting to kids from many different backgrounds, often bringing together players who don’t have much in common off the field. Being part of a team in a game that’s unabashedly out of the ordinary can instill confidence in children, and help them to feel more comfortable in their own skin. The basis in Harry Potter attracts many book-lovers, including kids who may not otherwise take part in athletics. On the flip side, the physical challenge of the sport is appealing to active children and can become a gateway for kids previously uninterested in reading to get excited about the book series. As Harrison Homel, executive director of the International Quidditch Association, explained, “It turns readers into athletes, and athletes into readers.” The magic of Quidditch in real life is the way that it brings players together to share in a fun and unique experience; it’s not held to any preconceptions our society may hold about more traditional sports.

Ready to give the down-to-earth version of Quidditch a shot in your P.E. class? Visit the International Quidditch Association website to download rules, safety guidelines, and tips for getting kids excited about participating.