Archive for August, 2017


Up, Up, and Away! Superhero Lesson Plans

Monday, August 21st, 2017

superheros

If you can’t get your students into being more active, maybe Superman can!

If there’s one thing kids these days love, it’s superheroes. Even when you limit their screen time and they haven’t seen the movies, chances are they’ve still heard about Iron Man or Wonder Woman from one of their friends.

Fortunately, as a physical educator, you can harness this enthusiasm into some super lessons of your own.

Superhero Skills

Role playing in your class can be a great way to introduce younger students to basic fitness concepts and movements.

Start by having your students come up with their own superhero name based on a particular athletic skill like jumping, balancing or throwing. Suggest ideas based on the curriculum you are using, or find inspiration through other lesson plans for elementary-age students.

Next, have them invent a scenario where they need to use that skill. For example, maybe “Jumping Jane” needs to jump over a river to help her friend, or “Throwing Boy” needs to throw a life preserver to someone in the water. Help individual students perfect a signature move with your guidance for proper form.

Once their backstory is established, have each student share their superhero and their signature move with the class. At this point, all of your students should try out this move. Help them as needed to ensure they’re using proper form. You can even use the associated rubrics to score students based on this exercise.

Superhero Sounds

Boom! Pow! Zap!

Having students act out typical superhero sounds effects is another elementary-age technique that can be used alone or integrated into lesson plans like the one above.

Work with students to decide what physical movement each sound evokes: whether a big jump for “boom!”, a kickbox-style punch for “pow!”, or a double spin for “zap!” Decide on a series of sound actions and teach them to your whole class before integrating them into an exciting story. Your students have to act out each sound when they hear you say it.

Storytime just got a whole new twist!

Superhero Day

For older students, you can make a whole day out of superhero physical activities.

Try reframing the traditional track and field day as a superhero day. With a pinch of imagination and any middle school lesson plan, you can create a day-long mission requiring superheroes. Just make sure you relate the activities back to your school and district’s specific curriculum.

Start by setting the mood with superhero-themed teams and colored t-shirts to match. Divide the class into groups like the green Hulks, blue Wonder Kids, and red Iron People. Then, make a list of the skills and activities you’re due to complete and transform them into a day of superhero activities. You’ll turn traditional track and field on its head – superhero style!

A regular sprint and jump circuit fulfills National Standards elements of “running, jumping, analyzing and correcting movement errors” and “participation in physical activity, conditioning application.” But a Ninja Turtle circuit, where students sprint pizza boxes to their fellow “turtles” and jump over obstacles along the way, fulfills the fun requirements that National Standards might not cover.

It’s the perfect way to enjoy an entertaining, yet effective, day of physical education.

Superhero Sports

Every high school has a football team, but how many have an elite alien-neutralizing task force?

Something that works for K-12 students is turning their favorite sport into a superhero narrative.

Reimagining a football as an alien object that needs to be neutralized across the line adds an element of fun and imagination to a familiar game. Turning badminton rackets into Spider-Man’s extensions can do much the same. Take a look at some of the lesson plans for high school-age students that incorporate specific sports, and try to think of ways they can be reframed as superhero activities.

Just because students aren’t in elementary school anymore doesn’t mean they can’t use their imagination. Integrating imagination and creativity into physical education lesson plans at all levels has the potential to boost student participation and make physical education more fun.

But, at the end of the day, an educator who gets kids more involved in fitness is the real superhero!

Contact SPARK today to speak to our expert team about more lesson plans for your physical education classes.

Our 7 Most Popular Articles Published Around the Web

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

young girl plays on the jungle gym

If you frequent the SPARK blog, you’ll know we’re passionate about children’s health and physical activity, but our blog isn’t the only place where we’re sharing our passion.

Our SPARK experts have been spreading their insight and knowledge across the Web for some time now. Because we don’t want you to miss out on any of this helpful information, we’ve rounded up 8 of our most popular articles on the web for you. Read on to find out more about these great examples of our thought leadership.

The Fall of Dodgeball: Why Schools are Removing Competitive Elimination Games from Their PE Curriculum

In this post on Edutopia.org, Jeff Mushkin explores why schools are getting rid of dodgeball and other elimination games. Reasons include a heavier focus on bullying prevention as well as trying to promote engagement from all students throughout entire physical activities. As a Director of Curriculum Development for Sportime featuring SPARK, Mushkin provides expert advice on the types of games and activities that can be used to replace dodgeball in PE lessons.

Is Gamification the Next Step in Physical Education?

Jeff Mushkin looks at the concept of gamification, which is the idea of introducing gaming principles to non-game activities, and how it can be incorporated into physical education programs. Discover his innovative ideas in this interesting piece on Edutopia.org.

Fit Vacation: How to Add Healthy Activities to Your Family Vacation

Vacations are a perfect time to relax, but they also pull you out of your normal routine. This usually means that your fitness goals are put on hold until you get back, but the good news is, they don’t have to be. With these tips from Dr. Kymm Ballard on The Active Times, you can head off on vacation knowing how to keep the whole family healthy while away from home.

Physical Activities that Provide Kids with Lessons in Leadership

Leadership is a skill kids can learn in multiple areas of life, from the classroom to the playing field to home. In this article on The Leadership Program, Dr. Kymm Ballard offers ideas on ways parents, teachers, and communities can get kids involved in physical activities that teach and nurture leadership skills.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Physical Education As Punishment

It’s not uncommon to see physical activity used as a punishment, particularly by teachers or coaches. One common example is requiring students to run extra laps. While this form of punishment can be effective, it comes with its downsides, too. In this post on TeachThought, Dr. Kymm Ballard discusses the problems with using physical education as a form of punishment, and how it can affect students and their relationship with physical activity later on in life.

Is Your Child Getting Enough Exercise?

Today, only one in three children are physically active on a daily basis, and an estimated 13 million youth in the US are obese. Could your child be among those who aren’t getting enough activity? In this piece on The Active Times, Dr. Kymm Ballard covers the statistics and national fitness guidelines on youth health. She also discusses what types of exercise your child should be getting and strategies to get them moving.

4 Habits Kids Should Learn to Become Healthy Adults

Forming habits takes time, but it helps to get a head start. If you want to set your child up for a healthy adulthood, get them started with the right attitude at a young age. Adults who ate healthier in their childhood, for example, tend to show better health later in life than their counterparts. This post on CaliDiet shows you how to develop important healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Visit SPARK’s blog today to discover more insightful articles on children’s health and fitness.

No Gym? No Sweat: Physical Education Ideas Fit for Any Space

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Kids stretching in empty room on yoga mats

The word gymnasium suggests basketball hoops, climbing ropes, and other tools that help keep active bodies and active minds fit and busy. It’s a classroom like any other; where vital skills like teamwork, commitment, and leadership are learned. In a way, the gym is the fitness center for the mind: “Movement activates all the brain cells kids are using to learn,” John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says. “It wakes up the brain.”

But in many schools, the gym is a multi-purpose facility; the setting for assemblies, science fairs, concerts and drama productions, and other activities that, while central to the daily life of the school, can leave physical education teachers scrambling. (This sort of thing never happens in chemistry class.)

So, what do you do when your gym class suddenly has no gym? It’s often not as simple as opening the door and turning the kids loose outside. Not every school has a playing field, and even those that do are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. Sometimes, the cafeteria, an empty classroom, or even the hallway will have to do. Use these SPARK lesson plans to turn just about any space into an ad hoc gym with just a little bit of equipment and a whole lot of imagination.

Squirrels in the Trees

What you need: Nothing at all!

Set ‘em up: Establish a mid-sized playing area of about 20 paces by 20 paces. Break the students up into groups of three, with one group member designated as the “squirrel” and the other two as “trees.”

How to play:

  1. Facing each other, the trees join hands. The squirrel stands outside the trees.
  2. On the teacher’s signal, the trees lift their arms and the squirrel moves under them to the other side. Then, the trees squat down and hold their arms low to the ground while the squirrel moves over them. Next, the trees stand up again and the squirrel moves around them on the outside. Finally, the trees crouch while holding one arm up and one down while the squirrel moves through the space between them. The full sequence should take about 30 seconds.
  3. The teacher signals again, one tree switches roles with the squirrel, and the cycle repeats.
  4. After one more signal, the last tree gets a turn at being the squirrel.

Musical Hoops

What you need: One standard hula-hoop per every two students; a device to play music.

Set ‘em up: Scatter students and hoops around the space. Use as much of the room as you can to encourage movement.

How to play:

  1. When the music starts, move about the room. Watch out for other students and try to look for open space.
  2. When it stops, get inside the nearest hoop as quickly as you can. (If you can’t find your own hoop, share with someone else; you just have to have one foot inside the hoop.)
  3. Once the music starts again, step out of your hoop and keep moving. This is where it gets interesting: The teacher will remove one hoop from the playing area!
  4. At the end of each round, there will be fewer and fewer hoops to squeeze into. Will everyone fit inside?

Grab the Apple

What you need: One beanbag (or similarly graspable item) per every two students; a device to play music.

Set ‘em up: Set the students up in pairs sitting cross-legged on the floor and facing each other. Place a beanbag between each pair.

How to play:

  1. The students sit facing each other with their hands on their knees while the music plays. When the music stops, the first one to snatch up the beanbag wins the round.
  2. In each new round, the students move into a different position and perform an exercise of the teacher’s choice while the music plays. One round could be situps to the beat of the music, followed by pushups, then leg pumps from a pushup position. Get creative and see what your kids can do!

Need ideas to keep your students fit, happy, and eager to learn? SPARK can help. We work hard to create best research-based physical education programs for kids from pre-K through grade 12. Discover the curriculum, training, and equipment that best fits your class.

Taking the Fear Out of Physical Education

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

A woman trainer at the gym helps her student lift weights.

An educator’s job goes beyond ensuring students learn particular facts and develop certain skills. Instead, educators play a critical role in instilling their students with a love of learning, discovery and exploration.

Ideally, an enthusiastic and skilled educator can help a student not only remember the year the Constitution was written or the Civil War broke out, but also imbue them with a sense of wonder and make them want to learn more about history.

Yet physical education is a subject where many educators can inadvertently have the exact opposite effect, making their students flee from the subject. Negative experiences in gym class as a child can make a person less likely to engage in physical activity as an adult.

What can physical educators do to ensure their classes are the start of a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity? And how can adults who are still intimidated by negative experiences in gym class learn to love exercise for the first time?

What Educators Can Do for Students

A bad physical education teacher doesn’t only scare kids away from gym class — he or she can also make them throw in the towel for the rest of their lives.

A 2009 study in the academic journal Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise found negative experiences in gym class as children keeps people far away from team sports for years. As one study participant said, “[physical education] robbed me of the joy of physical activity for many years…It destroyed my physical confidence.”

Another study examined the practice of picking teams in physical education class, and found this caused “real and long-lasting harm to people’s psyches and their physical activity participation levels.”

Doing the wrong thing can cause a lot of harm. So, what are the right things that physical educators should do?

Keep the Goal in Mind

As a physical educator, sometimes it’s easy to forget what the end goal is. Teaching children sports is not the end goal — teaching them teamwork and physical coordination and improving their physical strength and health are the end goals. Sports are one means to this end.

Keeping this in mind will change the way you approach teaching physical education. It will minimize the importance of winning and losing, and will help you adopt more creative ways of teaching skills.

Consider the example of teaching a child to dribble a basketball. The important thing is not that they know how to dribble a basketball; rather, it’s that they improve their hand-eye coordination. Having them dribble through a course of pylons is one way of helping them improve their hand-eye coordination, but there are many other drills and activities that can use a basketball to achieve the same ends. The trick is finding the activities that your students will find enjoyable rather than excruciating.

Make It Fun

The thought of physical activity shouldn’t induce feelings of apprehension or fear. It should be fun! A 2014 study of youth athletes found the overwhelming reason they played sports was because it was fun. When it’s no longer fun, the main reason to play is gone.

An important way to keep sports and physical activity fun is to minimize attention on outcomes. Avoid keeping score. Offer positive reinforcement. Make having fun a more important goal than winning. Emphasize self-improvement rather than competitiveness. Encourage your students to do better at a physical activity than they did the time before, rather than comparing them to other students.

These are particularly important principles when teaching physical education at the younger ages, but the overarching goal of encouraging fun is important to keep in mind at all ages.

Remember That Your Attitude Matters

Physical educators are often people who care a lot about sports and take profound satisfaction in athletic achievement. Sometimes this makes them too quick to push children harder and farther than children are ready to go.

Remember, the role of a physical educator is different than that of a coach. Children don’t need a drill sergeant, they need an educator who cares about creating a safe and fun environment for them to learn.

With your words and actions, demonstrate that effort is more important than perfection, and fun is more important than winning. Your attitude will set the tone for the class, and ultimately make a huge difference in how your students feel about physical activity.

Think Beyond Sports

Sports are great, and team sports in particular impart many important skills. All the same, some students will not gravitate towards sports as much as to other physical activities. It is important for them to understand that physical activity is not limited to competitive sports.

Introduce your students to other physical activities like dance, wall climbing, archery, aerobics, yoga and outdoor activities like canoeing. You’ll broaden their understanding of physical activity and make it more likely they hit on an activity they’ll enjoy enough to make a lifelong hobby.

Eliminate Picking Teams

One last suggestion: don’t let your students pick teams. Students who are picked last describe the experience as embarrassing, alienating and frustrating. It can invoke strong feelings of sadness, shame and even anger.

None of these are emotions you want your students to associate with physical education. When playing sports, make the teams yourself. As the educator, you will probably be much better at creating teams and making for a more enjoyable experience for the entire class.

How Adults Can Overcome Negative Experiences

If you’ve had a bad childhood experience with physical education, it can shape the way you view physical activity for the rest of your life. You may feel intimidated by the very idea of going to the gym or joining a sports team.

There a few ways you can overcome these feelings. For example, if you want to begin weightlifting, but find the gym an intimidating place, you can set up a home gym. Another option is to could go the gym with someone you trust, who can help make you feel more at ease. Even doing a few sessions with a personal trainer can help many people feel more comfortable.

It’s also worthwhile to think about the activities you have negative associations with. If you found team sports stressful and unenjoyable, consider trying solo sports like cycling, golf or swimming.

Don’t let a bad gym teacher from your childhood ruin a lifetime of physical activity. There is an incredible range of physical activities suited to everyone’s skills and interests. Find the one that you’ll enjoy today to have a healthy hobby for life.

Tabata 201

Monday, August 7th, 2017

young woman using a skipping rope

By: Dr. Derek J. Mohr & Dr. J. Scott Townsend, Appalachian State University

In our last blog, Tabata 101, we discussed the Tabata Protocol. Today we will extend the conversation, focusing on how to teach Tabata in a physical education setting.

Imagination Station

Imagine a PE class that operates like a wellness center (see this blog for more details)… one where motivated students choose from and enjoy participating in a variety of fitness stations (weight training, yoga, Tabata, fitness walking, cycling, etc.), where each station is led by certified student-instructors, focused on helping their peers develop personal fitness skills, knowledge and confidence. Read on to make this dream your reality…

Tabata Refresher

Tabata is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program designed to get maximum fitness benefits in a short duration workout, making it a great option when you are pressed for time or want to add variety to a training program. Accordingly, Tabata can be a meaningful part of a well-rounded HS PE program.

Tabata in SPARK High School PE

In the SPARK HS PE program, Tabata is part of a larger unit called Group Fitness. As such, Tabata, like all other group fitness “mini-units,” consists of two progressive instructional activities:

  1. Basic Training

Here students master fundamental safety protocols and movement techniques associated with the unit content. In SPARK Tabata, students use the Content Cards to experiment with and master basic exercises. This may take multiple lessons as the teacher leads students through the mastery process. Tabata Basic Training focuses on SHAPE Standards 1, 2 and 3.

  1. Create a Workout

Here students create a series of personalized Tabata workouts by applying fundamentals mastered in basic training. As part of the process, students practice, refine and then lead classmates through their created workouts. In SPARK Tabata, students are challenged to create nine 4-minute Tabata workouts (3 workouts with 2 exercises, 3 with 4 exercises and 3 with 8 exercises). Tabata Create a Workout focuses on SHAPE Standards 4 and 5.

Tabata Teaching Tips

  • Encourage students to give Tabata a chance to help them improve aerobic and muscle fitness.
  • Focus students on safety, performance cues and personal fitness goals.
  • Modify activities to ensure safety, individual success and motivation.

Get Equipped

Share Your Knowledge

What are your experiences teaching Tabata? What advice would you give to someone who has never taught Tabata, but wants to? Post a response below and let us know!

Current SPARKfamily members with High School access can find the new Tabata unit under High School Web-Based Units. If you are not a current SPARKfamily member, you will receive 3-year access to the digital content when you purchase a SPARK High School curriculum set.

Add These 7 Things to Next Year’s Equipment Wish List

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

PE teachers holds a stopwatch while a young girl climbs a wall

Today’s educators are beginning to recognize the connection between physical activity and cognitive function in the classroom. This means that all teachers, not just physical educators, are searching for new resources that might help them to encourage brain-boosting movement throughout the school day.

One of the best ways to make sure that students stay engaged during PE lessons and other academic experiences is to have the right resources at hand. The following items are some of the best, most effective pieces of equipment that you can have on your wish list. Here, we’re going to introduce you to a range of items and offer ideas for how you can use these products to cultivate a healthier school culture.

1. School Smart Coated Foam Balls

When it comes to essential resources for any physical education class, it’s hard to overlook the value of foam balls. This School Smart set includes a range of colors, perfect for bouncing, throwing, catching and volleying with racquets and paddles.

During early childhood, when children are most engaged by colors and sensory experiences, a collection of School Smart coated foam balls can help educators to plan lessons like “Bounce and Catch.” These lessons can help children develop basic motor skills, while introducing them to colors, numbers and more.

2. Volley SuperSkin Flying Discs

Perfect for both indoor and outdoor use, Volley SuperSkin Flying Discs come in a range of colors and feature peel-proof, super-durable skins for a longer lifetime in classrooms. These discs work perfectly either as part of standard throwing and catching games, or as part of a game of “All-Run Flying Disc Baseball.”

All-Run Flying Disc Baseball is a great way to get students of all ages working together to pass and throw discs between members of a small team. This game encourages teamwork, boosts aerobic ability, and helps to build up endurance, too.

3. Sportime Stopwatches

A simple set of Sportime Timetracker stopwatches can help students and teachers alike track their progress during timed games and races. Educators can share these stopwatches with students to encourage them to set their own fitness goals.

One particularly good use of the Sportime stopwatch is for Social Studies Fitness Relay lessons. Being able to view the amount of time each student spends within different fitness relay sections can help to encourage a balanced development of skills.

4. Sportime High School Fitness Station Pack

The Sportime High School Fitness Station Pack is a comprehensive collection of equipment designed to get students moving, and it comes with a SPARK digital curriculum, too! The collection includes foam balls, cones and exercise mats, ideal for building new high school lesson plans.

The Sportime Fitness Station Pack could be a great way to start introducing students to new skills, like yoga. With the mats in hand, and some yoga content cards, students can learn how to manage stress and improve flexibility with simple yoga poses.

5. Poly Enterprises Classic Game Cones

Cones might seem like a simple resource, but they often make up a fundamental part of most team-based games in a physical education lesson. These Poly Enterprises Classic Game Cones come in a variety of sizes and colors to suit any lesson plan.

Cones can be a vital part of a STEM Fitness Training session, helping to create different activity stations for students around the room. With STEM, children can get active, while learning facts about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

6. School Smart Parachute

The School Smart Parachute is a high-quality piece of equipment, complete with a drawstring carrying bag for easier storage. These parachutes are a fantastic way to encourage collaboration through team-based games, while promoting coordination and rhythm in PE environments.

Students can use parachutes to play “Parachute Switcheroo,” a recess, after-school, or lesson-based program for students that teaches coordination and teamwork. In Parachute Switcheroo, students learn how to cooperate, focus, and organize themselves as part of a group.

7. Pull-Buoy No-Kink Hoops

The Pull-Buoy No-Kink Hoops are lightweight and durable hoops that use a special formula to avoid bending and breaking. These 30-inch options are ideal for educators who want to create lesson plans based around gymnastics, aerobics and teamwork. A single set contains a range of colors for students to choose from.

One great way to boost your lesson plan with No-Kink Hoops is to introduce your students to “Cooperative Golf” or Kin-Ball. This exciting game is a great way to keep kids active, while teaching them how to work together toward a universal goal. What’s more, this activity is a great way to teach children about games played throughout the world.

Your Equipment Wish List

Chances are your wish list will depend on your existing resources and the new lesson plans you hope to implement in the year ahead. But, by implementing just a few of the suggestions outlined above you could find new and engaging ways to keep your students active, both inside and outside of PE lessons.

Tabata 101

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

People exercising with dumbbell at gym

By: Dr. J. Scott Townsend & Dr. Derek J. Mohr, Appalachian State University

Tabata 101 is the first installment of a two-part blog series highlighting the latest web-unit addition to the SPARK High School PE Group Fitness Unit.

Tabata… a HIIT for getting fit.

Tabata is a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) program designed to get maximum fitness benefits in a short duration workout, making it a great option when you are pressed for time or want a change from more traditional workout programs.

The Protocol

A single Tabata workout is 4 minutes in duration and consists of two parts: work and rest.

  1. Work: 20 seconds of full effort
  2. Rest: 10 seconds recovery
  3. Repeat: Complete workout/rest cycle 8 times
  4. Exercises: 1, 2, 4 or 8 exercises can be included per workout

An Example

  1. Push-up (20 sec), Rest (10 sec)
  1. Jumping Jacks (20 sec), Rest (10 sec)
  1. Air Squat (20 sec), Rest (10 sec)
  1. Jump Rope (20 sec), Rest (10 sec)
  1. Repeat 1-4 (4 min)

A Bit-a Tabata History

  • Who: The Tabata protocol was developed by researcher Izumi Tabata.
  • How: His landmark study compared the following training programs:
    • Traditional aerobic training: 5X/Week @ 60 min/workout
    • HIIT: 20 sec work, 10 sec rest repeated 8X
  • Results: HIIT and traditional trainings equally improved aerobic endurance. Tabata also improved anaerobic capacity while the traditional did not.
  • Summary: Tabata is an effective training protocol for improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Try Tabata

Follow the guidelines below and give Tabata a try.

  • Bod Squad: Use body-weight exercises to reduce the need for specialized equipment.
  • Experiment: Try Tabata at a lower intensity to get comfortable with the protocol.
  • Choose Wisely: Select exercises you can perform safely and that match your fitness goals.
  • Modify: Alter exercises to match your current fitness level and progress as your fitness improves.
  • Stack It: When ready, try multiple Tabatas back-to-back with a brief rest (1-3 min) between each.
  • Warm-Up & Down: Use a dynamic, full body warm-up before and warm down afterwards.
  • Tech Support: Use a Tabata app to: select exercises, and add music to and/or time your workout.

Share Your Tabata Thoughts!

Stay tuned to for our next Tabata blog. In the meantime, we’re interested to know… What are your experiences engaging in Tabata? What advice would you give to someone who has never engaged in Tabata? Post a response below and let us know!

Current SPARKfamily members with High School access can find the new Tabata unit under High School Web-Based Units. If you are not a current SPARKfamily member, you will receive 3-year access to the digital content when you purchase a SPARK High School curriculum set.