Archive for the ‘PE and Academic Achievement’ Category


How Physical Education Can Help Students Beat Exam Stress

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

a high school teach helps a student during his exam

Did you know that almost a third of children in the U.S. say they have experienced symptoms of stress? This stress impacts everything from academic performance to behavior in classrooms. So, what can be done to change this, especially during high-stress times like final exams?

Physical education teachers are in a good position to help students work through anxiety and stress with activity. By introducing physical activity as a form of stress relief during exam time, students have shown improved concentration and a marked reduction in fatigue. When outside stressors affect the brain, the entire body is impacted, as well. That means, when the body feels good, the mind is likely to follow. Take a look at some of the key factors that come into play when adopting stress-reduction exercise routines into daily life.

Exercise as a Stress Reliever

In addition to being a contributor to overall health and well-being, exercise has a direct impact on the body’s ability to react positively to stressors. At any level of fitness, from beginner to intermediate, individuals can train their body to manage day-to-day stresses in a manageable fashion. What’s more, children up to age 18 need 60 minutes of aerobic activity a day to maintain high levels of health and fitness.

Some of the benefits to adapting healthy lifestyles to include daily physical fitness are:

  • Pumping up endorphins. By engaging in health-focused exercise routines, individuals are able to see increases in the level of endorphins – the brain’s feel-good hormones – produced by the body. In no time at all, these increased levels of “pleasure pangs” spill over into all aspects of life; be it relieving stress levels at home or in the workplace. Try running on the track, enjoying a brisk nature hike or even shooting a couple games of basketball with a few friends after school or during lunch to see the benefits in motion.
  • Boosting overall mood. One major benefit to exercise is an increase in self-confidence. Studies have also shown that individuals who exercise on a regular basis are less likely to develop depression and bouts of anxiety.
  • Improving sleep cycles. Don’t forget the healing and restorative power of sleep: a fully actualized and regular exercise regimen naturally tires out the body, making it more susceptible to deep sleep and the possibility of waking up more refreshed to tackle the day. This benefit in particular becomes vital when adolescents reach high school; dealing with above-average stressors, students who have more sleep perform much better in national testing.

Stress-Free PE Activities

Exercising shouldn’t be an added source of stress. Some students suffer anxiety when it comes to traditional PE activities, like laps or obstacle courses, because there is so much competitiveness, discomfort and high expectations — just like during their exams.

Make sure your PE classes provide students with a healthy break from their other school stresses with these ideas for fun and pressure-free lessons:

Freeze Dance

This fun-filled activity can be achieved by simply pressing play on a music device. Modern dance crazes like the Cha-Cha Slide, the Cupid Shuffle and Whip/Nae Nae are crowd favorites. The fun part for educators is in knowing that students have no idea they are enduring intense physical exercise while performing some of their favorite dance moves. Try adding a little extra fun to the mix by instructing kids to freeze every time the music stops.

Yoga

By integrating controlled poses, deep breathing and stretching into exercise routines, students find true inner calm with yoga. Not only does it offer immediate stress relief, but it also promotes an overall sense of well-being while lowering anxiety levels significantly. The only materials needed are a mat, a towel and some inspiration for sequences.

Ultimate Frisbee

This game has lots of twists and turns and is fun for all fitness levels. It also has the added benefit of being played outdoors, offering students a breath of fresh air. So when the weather’s good, seize the opportunity to introduce Ultimate Frisbee into your lesson plan.

It’s clear that exercise and stress relief go together. PE teachers can help students deal with their everyday stressors with activities that improve physical and emotional health. Just make sure your lesson plans don’t add to your students’ burdens by creating more risk of failure.

What are your favorite activities to help your students burn off anxiety?

Can Exercise Help Students to Excel Academically?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

exercise

Although we all know that physical activity is an essential factor in lowering the risk of child obesity, and improving physical fitness, new research is proving that a fit body, can equal a fit mind. In other words, ensuring your kids stay active could be the first investment you make in their college fund.

Findings from the realms of education and biology research hint that regular exercise creates numerous benefits for the brain. Not only can regular workouts in the school gym or on the playground improve learning capacity, attention span, and memory, but it also works to reduce stress, and even combat the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In short, keeping your kids active could make them smarter.

The reason for this is that learning functions and memory retention are functions in the brain that rely on the growth and nourishment of brain cells, and exercise creates the best environment for that process to occur.

It All Adds Up: Exercise and Math

A recent study suggests that there may be a link between regular participation in physical education, and the mathematics scores that children achieve on standardized tests. The details of the study indicate a correlation between the amount of time students spent taking part in physical activity at school, and the scores they achieved during math-based exams. But the scientifically-backed connections don’t stop here. In fact, various pieces of research over the years have been able to point to the obvious interaction between physical health, and brain function.

The study worked by dividing the elementary schools of the city into separate groups according to level of physical education and exercise opportunities provided to students. At the same time, the researchers examined the recorded math scores for each student within those groups, allowing them to see a connection between both factors. The results showed that the schools offering the highest opportunity for exercise (151 minutes average) often posted higher math scores. In comparison, schools offering an average of 29 minutes of activity showed a lower proficiency rate.

Why the Research Makes Sense

While other studies have shown that academic performance is influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic status and parental involvement, a growing body of evidence has begun to reveal that active children often have a stronger performance in school, particularly in regards to mathematics and reading. The reason for this is simple – physical activity promotes positive mental health, reduces the likelihood of developing risk factors for chronic disease, and helps to build strong muscles, but it also affects academic achievement by enhancing concentration and improving classroom behavior. In fact, certain pieces of research have even suggested that reducing physical education exposure in schools could hinder the academic performance of developing children.

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure at this time what aspects of exercise contribute to better cognitive function, they are learning that it does physically benefit the brain – just as it benefits any other muscle in the human body. After all, increased aerobic exercise helps blood to pump throughout the body, delivering nutrients to organs and muscles. More blood means more oxygen, and therefore, nourished brain tissue.

At the same time, scientists have also suggested that regular exercise could be essential in helping the brain to produce more of a special protein known as the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor“. Otherwise known as “BDNF” this protein is an incredible source of nutrition for the brain, as it encourages the cells to grow, interconnect, and even communicate in brand new ways. Studies are even showing that exercise helps to play a part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the “dentate gyrus” area, which is heavily responsible for the development of memory skills and learning.

Encouraging Educational Exercise

As more evidence continues to show the intertwining natures of exercise and brain function, it only makes sense that more groups are coming together to advocate the importance of after school activities and physical education in schools. Reports have already begun to suggest that all students should be getting at least sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and yet only about half of school-age children are meeting this guideline.

Fortunately, parents may be able to help supplement some of the exercise that kids aren’t getting at certain schools. By supporting physical education classes, classroom breaks and recess, then encouraging children to take part in after-school sports and activity, they can increase the chances that their child will come to think of exercise as a normal, habitual, and important part of life.

SPARK’s Common Core Survival Guide (Part 2)

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

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Lesson planning to meet CCSS mandates with a focus on PE

By Aaron Hart (@nyaaronhart on Twitter)

Welcome to the second installment of our CCSS Survival Guide. As I mentioned in Part 1, it’s important to know and understand your district’s interpretation and guidelines for working toward Common Core Standards.

This week’s tip: Planning with Depth of Knowledge (DOK) on your mind.

If you would like a quick refresh on DOK you can visit Part 1 of this series.

Consistent with other CCSS concepts, lesson-planning structure is also nothing new. I’m sure most of you will recognize the lesson components I’m outlining as we review them. What I believe is important here is that we define each component in light of CCSS and speak the language of the standards, as well as other core subjects (remember PE is – or at least should be – a core subject).

As a resource, SPARK is providing a Standards-based Lesson Planner here to help you with your alignment.

Component 1: Standards Focus

There are two fields provided for this component of the planner, one for PE standards and one for Academic Standards. (We don’t label this section CCSS because each state is different and it is possible that one day CCSS will be a thing of the past.) This allows you to clearly define the standards that you’re working toward during your lesson. The space for PE standards is above and is larger than the academic standards because we’re PE teachers and as PE teachers, our focus should remain on OUR standards.

Component 2: Academic Language Focus

This field allows you enter key physical education vocabulary words that are the focus of the day’s lesson. These are the words that you’ll use, define, and model in order to increase your students’ depth of knowledge.

Component 3: Student Targets

AKA – objectives. This field provides four lines, enough room for 2 to 4 student learning targets. These statements should reflect DOK outcomes for the lesson and should also link directly back to the standards listed above. These targets will also provide structure and meaning to the assessment tools that you’ll select below. Well written targets are observable, measurable and developmentally appropriate.

Component 4: Assessment Tool Used

The main point of DOK is to provide a structure for preparing students to demonstrate their skill and understanding on a given assessment. So, this field is important. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that assessments do not need to result in an every-day grade, or be put on display for all to critique. Visual performance demonstrations, as well as group and individual discussion are appropriate Formative Assessments. This field allows you to clearly define the assessment opportunities that you’ll use to either guide or evaluate student DOK.

Component 5: Frontload the lesson with a “Hook”

Back in the old days we used to call this “Anticipatory Set.” This component provides a brief discussion topic or point that you’ll use in order to get the students curious about the day’s lesson. It’s where you’ll “hook” them in with something interesting and on topic. This can be done just before, during, or after your lesson ASAP.

Component 6: Selected Physical Activities (In Sequence)

Our planner provides space for three scaffolded activities. Depending on your lesson duration, you may need more or less than 3. If you need more and want to use our planner, simply fill out an additional PDF form for activities 4, 5, and so on.

The fields in this section provide room for the activity title, as well as a field for transition notes. The idea is that you’ll have your activity plans in addition to this planner on your iPad or clipboard. What’s important here is that selected activities build on one another, increasing the depth of knowledge presented and practiced.

Component 7: Debrief / Think About

This part of the lesson is one of the most important and is also one of the most often forgotten. In an effort to maximize activity time and teach proper fitness habits, I suggest that you have your students sit and stretch during the debrief. You can even model good stretching technique with your younger students while you discuss the day’s lesson.

The key to effective DOK debrief sessions is using DOK question stems. Again, this type of questioning and discussion is nothing new. However the DOK stems do provide a great starting point for planning a meaningful end to your lesson.

Again, here’s a link to SPARK’s Standards-based Lesson Planner.

Our CCSS alignment is an ongoing work in progress so please send us your feedback and questions. We’re all learning this together!

SPARK’s Common Core Survival Guide (Part 1)

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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Meeting CCSS mandates without selling out as a physical educator

By Aaron Hart – SPARK Development Director

@nyaaronhart (on Twitter)

The Common Core wave has been crashing on the shores of physical education for a while now. Regardless of the pros and cons of this movement, many of us are faced with the reality and requirement of alignment. PE specialists have been cautiously studying the standards with a focus on maintaining what we believe is truly important – creating a high MVPA environment in which students develop the skills and knowledge needed to enjoy a lifetime of physical activity.

Over the next 4 months, leading up to my Common Core presentation at the 2014 Physical Education & Wellness Summit, I’ll be sharing bi-weekly tips for physical educators working to meet their district CCSS mandates.

Please keep in mind that every state and district approaches the Common Core in a unique (and often evolving) way. The content provided here offers what we believe to be universal for physical education. However, it’s important to consider the specific implementation requirements and guidelines that your district has adopted.

This week’s tip: Focus on Depth of Physical Education Knowledge.

You may have heard the term “Depth of Knowledge” (DOK) in relation to the Common Core. Like most thing we’re seeing in the Common Core – DOK is nothing new. It was developed in 1997 by an educational researcher named Norman Web and refers to the level of understanding needed to answer a related assessment question/problem. Here you go…

Level 1) Recall and Reproduction

Level 2) Skills and Concepts

Level 3) Short-term Strategic Thinking

Level 4) Extended Thinking

These levels apply across subject area and certainly apply to physical education skills and concepts. The goal is to move students through the levels, providing opportunities for them to demonstrate their understanding. Let’s try an example.

Focusing on CCSS in Literacy, we want our students to be able to:

  • Determine the meaning of domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade-appropriate subject area (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.4).

What does this mean? It means that it’s important to teach our students the academic language and vocabulary of physical education.

Here’s a perfect vocabulary word to use as an example: Fitness

Let’s move “Fitness” across the DOK levels using National PE Outcomes.

  • DOK Level 1: Discusses benefits of being active and exercising/playing (National PE Standard/Outcome S3.E1 – Grade 1)
  • DOK Level 2: Describes the concept of fitness and provides examples of physical activity to enhance fitness (National PE Standard/Outcome S3.E3 – Grade 3)
  • DOK Level 3: Charts and analyzes physical activity outside physical education class for fitness benefits of activities (National PE Standard/Outcome S3.E1 – Grade 5)
  • DOK Level 4: Identifies barriers related to maintaining a physically active lifestyle and seeks solutions for eliminating identified barriers (National PE Standard/Outcome S3.M1 – Grade 7)

This example helps clarify the developmental progression while aligning a fundamental vocabulary word with both the CCSS as well as National PE Standards. The Grade 7 PE outcome is listed in the Level 4 bullet above. For your reference, here’s the middle school CCSS:

  • Determine the meaning of key terms and other domain-specific words as they are used in a specific technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.4)

As we look to develop students into “College and Career Ready” individuals, who are fit and focused for the future, it seems as if “overcoming and eliminating barriers to fitness” is a 21st Century Skill. (Insert the mountain of data showing the relationship between personal health and productivity in the work place.)

To wrap up this entry in SPARK’s Common Core Survival Guide here’s a short PDF packet of resources focused on our topic. Here’s what’s included and why:

  • DOK Level 1: Individual Rope Jumping Activity Plan. Go to the Wrap it Up section of this lesson – the debrief session at the end of lessons is a perfect time to facilitate DOK discussions. (K-2 SPARK PE)
  • DOK Level 2: Partner Fitness Challenge Task Card. Notice the “N” challenge on this chart. It aligns perfectly to Level 2 DOK outcomes and can help your students meet CCSS in Speaking & Listening. (3-6 SPARK PE)
  • DOK Level 3: SPARKfit MVPA Journal. Provides a tool for charting weekly physical activity time. Now, schedule 5 minutes of class time for students to analyze data and plan for improvement. (SPARKfit for Grades 6-12)
  • DOK Level 4: SPARKfit Wellness Challenge. Students work in groups to research, summarize and present the ways in which families (or other social support groups) can help to eliminate barriers to regular physical activity. (SPARKfit for Grades 6-12)

Thanks for reading! Check back in two weeks for more tips and resources.

Schooling, Health and Youth Development – What is Necessary?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Schooling, Health and Youth Development – What is Necessary?

Provided by ASCD Whole Child Programs · www.ascd.org · www.wholechildeducation.org

Over the past few years, ASCD authors have penned a number of articles about the need for schools, educators and policymakers to focus on the health and well-being of their students. Not just for the sake of their health and well-being (if that shouldn’t be enough on its own) but also to support effective teaching and learning.

Here are just a few selections to read and share:

Physical Activity

Integrating Movement Roundup

Ensuring a high-quality physical education program is important. Equally important is ensuring that students are active across the school day and not just in PE class. Research shows that kids who are physically active are not only healthier, but also likely to perform better academically; and short activity breaks during the school day can improve concentration and behavior and enhance learning

Play and Recess

Playing a Game Is the Voluntary Attempt to Overcome Unnecessary Obstacles

Last month we ran the theme of integrating movement throughout the school day (and outside of physical education classes). Obviously one place where this should be a no-brainer is recess. But it’s been scary seeing how many schools and districts have been cutting back on recess time to either provide enrichment classes or add additional academic study time into the school day.

Investing in Healthy Recess to Nurture the Whole Child

A healthy, positive school environment transcends what goes on in the classroom. In fact, what happens at recess holds a crucial key to developing the whole child. A school that provides time and space for students to run, talk, and play helps ensure every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Experience and research tell us that active students learn better, and daily recess is proven to help students focus in the classroom.

Does Better Recess Equal a Better School Day?

In a new study released Tuesday, Mathematica Policy Research and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University rigorously evaluated the Playworks program and found that it improved outcomes in the areas of school climate, conflict resolution and aggression, physical activity, and learning and academic performance.

Nutrition

Reducing the Effects of Child Poverty

In today’s global economic state, many families and children face reduced circumstances. The 2008 economic crisis became a “household crisis” (PDF) when higher costs for basic goods, fewer jobs and reduced wages, diminished assets and reduced access to credit, and reduced access to public goods and services affected families who coped, in part, by eating fewer and less nutritious meals, spending less on education and health care, and pulling children out of school to work or help with younger siblings. These “new poor” join those who were vulnerable prior to the financial shocks and economic downturn.

No Child Should Grow Up Hungry

We are proud to welcome Share Our Strength as a whole child partner. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign aims to end childhood hunger in the United States. It connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending childhood hunger a national priority.

Mental Health

Best Questions: Mental Health

More than 20 years ago, I spent one school year as the full-time school counselor in an early childhood center in Washington, D.C. Our enrollment was 250 full-day preK and kindergarten students in an old, huge brick building with 20-foot high ceilings and massive center courtyard-like hallways. I spent the year in easily washable clothes and with my hair in a ponytail at all times because, as anyone who has ever worked in early childhood can tell you, fancy clothes and fancy hair don’t mix well with peanut butter and finger paint.

A Health Iceberg

I use these slides often when discussing health. It starts with the tenets, becomes a pyramid, and then ends with what I call a “health iceberg.” Let me show you what I mean.

The common thread through all of these articles is that health and well-being matter and they determine how well we learn, grow and achieve. Health and education are symbiotic. What affects one affects the other. The healthy child learns better just as the educated child leads a healthier life. Similarly, a healthier environment—physically as well as socially-emotionally—provides for more effective teaching and learning.

To learn more about ASCD and Whole Child Education, visit the links below.

www.ascd.org

www.wholechildeducation.org

How to Use SPARK Integrations

Friday, February 7th, 2014

If you are a SPARK physical activity or physical education program user, you’ve most likely heard about our fabulous, but not-yet-famous SPARK Integrations on the back side of each activity plan. Found next to the Extensions and just above the Tips and Pointers, these little nuggets are a not-so-hidden gem that can be used to help integrate other subject areas into your PA/PE program, or to infuse some wellness messages or physical activity elsewhere throughout the day. Each program has their own unique topics appropriate for the participants of that program.

  • Early Childhood integrations are all of the Academic persuasion and include Art, Literacy, Mathematics, Music, Nutrition, and Science.
  • After School integrations reinforce learning from the activity, increase MVPA (Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity) at home, and coincide with the Think Abouts used at the end of the activity. They are all Home Plays, meaning they give information to kids to use in their home life and include Move More, Character Matters, Fitness Focus, and Food Facts integrations.
  • K-2 Physical Education features Academic, Home, and Wellness integrations.
  • 3-6 Physical Education includes Academic, Home, Wellness, and Fun Fact integrations.
  • Middle School Physical Education has Home, Wellness, Global, and Multicultural integrations.
  • High Schools Physical Education includes Home, Wellness, Global/Multicultural, and Sport Literacy integrations.

Please explain these!

Academic integrations link PE to the classroom and back. These range in subject matter from literacy to math to science. These are one of the many ways SPARK helps to address the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics (Examples: 3-6 Flying Disc: Corner to Corner Give and Go and EC Super Stunts: Animal Movements 1)

Home and Move More integrations promote physical activity at home with friends or family members. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Kin-Ball Cooperative Golf)

Wellness integrations provide tips on nutrition, safety, health, etc. (Example: K-2 Catching and Throwing: Switcheroo)

Fun Facts are only found in the 3-6, but these are some doozies! They include an interesting short story or tall tale that you and your students will get a kick out of and share with others. They are connected to the activity by name or theme, but not necessarily by a straight line. (Example: 3-6 Soccer: Soccer Golf)

Multicultural connect activities to diverse cultures found locally and regionally. (Example: MS Dance: Create a Poco Loco)

Global connect activities and/or units to history, customs, and practices of countries around the world. (Example: MS Golf: Bocce Golf)

Sport Literacy integrations provide useful skill, strategy, or game regulation specifics that pertain to each unit. (Example: HS Badminton: Win the Point)

Character Matters help develop social skills and positive character traits like fair play, initiative, trust, etc. (Example: AS Cool Cooperatives: Hog Call)

Fitness Focus and Food Facts: I don’t think I need to describe these other than to let you know they are great! (Examples: link to AS Great Games: Builders/Bulldozers and AS Super Sports: Mini-Basketball

 

Sounds cool, but how am I going to use them?

Teachers of physical education and physical activity (PE Specialists, Classroom Teachers, Activity Leaders, Early Childhood Leaders, etc.) use the integrations in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas:

Read during Warm-ups: As students/participants are warming up (e.g. during Perimeter Move) read the Integration aloud to set the stage for the activity to follow. This works best with the types of integrations that give information about that activity, like the Wellness, Multicultural and Global, Fun Fact, and Character Matters integrations.

As an Extension of the Activity: Many of the integrations are actually hidden extensions in that they change the way the activity is played and the focus has now been placed on something math, literacy, or science-related. These Academic Integrations (found in EC, K-2, and 3-6) can be used during the middle of the lesson as an extension to integrate these academic subjects INTO Physical Education. These vary from a quick science fact about aerobic capacity to a math extension that changes the focus of the game to utilize mathematical skills. (E.g. 3-6 Jump Rope: Jumping Color Tag)  When using any of these, it’s wise to check with the classroom teacher to see if the level of academics is appropriate for his/her class and to prepare for teaching the extension instead of the activity as written on the front page.

Read during Cool-down:  While students are cooling down (e.g. stretching) read the integration and discuss using pair/share. For example, after playing Durango Boot (AS Flying Disc) read the Character Matters integration and ask students to discuss the how competition motivated them in the game with a partner. Call upon 3 pairs to share what was discussed. This tends to work best with Home Plays, Move Mores (in AS), Character Matters (as a reflection on behavior during class) and Sport Literacy (to review rules/concepts learned during the lesson.)

Put on Bulletin Boards: Print copies of the integrations. (For MS they can be found on SPARKfamily.org under each unit’s instructional media in the Planning section, just below Unit Plans but all other programs they are on each activity’s backside.) Post the integrations for each week’s lessons so students can read throughout the week as they pass by. This use works best with all types of integrations except those providing an extension to the activity by changing the focus to something academic. Ask students questions about them during roll-call or warm-up to assess their learning. Reinforce students who respond appropriately.

Share with Classroom Teachers: It’s all great to integrate other topics into PE to help address Common Core State Standards, but what about a little reciprocity? To help integrate PE concepts into academic classes, share integrations with your classroom teachers. If you are a classroom teacher, they could be used as short physical activity breaks and an infusion of wellness facts throughout the day. The types of integrations that work best here are those pertaining to Wellness and any Home Play activities.

Use with the Little Ones: If you are a leader of a pre-school/early childhood program, there are a variety of ways you can use the integrations. They serve as academic enrichment tools for before, during and after a SPARK lesson. Use the Music integrations during circle time and the Art integrations during center time. E.g. “We made an umbrella with our parachute today. Can you draw an umbrella?”  (Example: EC Parachute Play: Umbrella)

An example of a Science integration is a discussion about baby animals in a SPARK activity called Guppies. Math integrations may include the concepts of shapes, counting, and grouping. Many of the Literacy integrations suggested in SPARK can be easily added to circle time because they prompt children to act out a story using a skill learned during movement time. All of the books suggested in the Literacy Integrations coordinate with the lessons and relate to one or more of the following themes: colors, language arts, mathematics, movement skills and knowledge, nutrition, personal development, science, self-image, and social development. (Example: EC Building Blocks: Creative Words and Movements)

The Early Childhood program also includes Family Fun activities (in the bottom left corner on the backside of activity plans) which serve as a type of Home Play to promote physical activity at home with their families.

 

Please share how you use them!

Have you been using integrations in these or other ways? If so, please share with us at SPARK. Email your ideas at spark@sparkpe.org. We’d love to share your best practices with the SPARK family!

How Does Physical Activity Affect Academic Performance?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Phospholipid bilayers? Pythagorean Theorem? The Lusitania? Kennedy Who?

And so it goes. Students in every grade level at schools across the country are struggling in class. It’s not because they’re underachievers, or they’re not smart, or they don’t care. It’s because we’re working against them. The longer children and teens are forced to sit and grow roots in their chairs, the harder it will be for them to bloom.

Physical EducationThere is myriad research that proves that students need adequate amounts of physical activity throughout the school day—not only do they prevent obesity and obesity-related issues, but they perform better academically also.

Just ask the CDC, Columbia University, the New York City Health Department and Department of Education, the Universities of Illinois, West Virginia, and California.

They’ve all published research that stands behind the need for physical education in the school system.

The CDC states, “…physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior.”

And there’s more. Active Living Research says, “In some cases, more time in physical education leads to improved grades and standardized test scores.” In schools that are under government mandates to bridge the achievement gap (and when those mandates encourage “teaching to the test”), physical education can actually help improve the students’ scores.

Unfortunately, many schools cut physical education and PE funding with the belief that more rigid classroom time would somehow stimulate students to learn more. It’s an incorrect belief, and there’s scientific evidence to prove it.

Exercise directly impacts the behavior and development of the brain. “It is likely that the effects of physical activity on cognition would be particularly important in the highly plastic developing brains of youth,” according to a 2010 essay penned by Charles Basch of Columbia University.

He summarized how exercise may affect executive functioning:

  • Increased oxygen flow to the brain
  • Increased brain neurotransmitters
  • “[Increased] brain-derived neurotrophins that support neuronal differentiation and survival in the developing brain.” Neurotrophins assure the survival of neurons in areas responsible for learning, memory, and higher thinking.

Physical activity has benefits beyond improved grades, too. Basch extrapolates current research and connects physical activity to absenteeism, drop-out rates, and social connectedness.

“Drop-out rates were lower for youth who consistently participated in interscholastic sports,” he writes, though he cautions that forcing kids to join sports won’t solve the drop-out problem that plagues many inner city schools, it simply may foster an environment of connectedness that could keep at-risk students attending school.

That’s the core of it all; that’s why we’re here. We want our students to get a quality education, even though their life situation or choices often make it difficult. But every child, regardless of financial background, should have equal access to excellent education.

It’s not good enough to push them through the school system and let them fend for themselves in the real world. We must use their formative years to give them the tools they can use to survive and provide for their own families. When they have children, they’ll be able to pass on knowledge we gave them. We’re creating a positive future for generations to come.

So what can school districts do to inject more activity and movement into the school day?

First, administrators must let go of the dated idea that PE must take a backseat.

“There is currently no evidence indicating that this strategy is, in fact, effective in increasing standardized test scores,” according to the Columbia University essay. “In fact, a growing body of evidence shows that increased time for physical education and other school-based physical activity programs is associated with either a neutral or positive impact on academic outcomes.”

By the way, Columbia University is ranked among the leaders in the top-tier of best research universities in the U.S.

The evidence is clear. Physical activity should have a place in the curriculum of every school that’s serious about teaching its kids.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends 60 minutes a day for children and adolescents. Schools should provide 150 minutes per week of instructional physical education for elementary school children, and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students throughout the school year.

Adequate PE curriculum can help children achieve these numbers, in turn creating healthy bodies and eager-to-learn minds. Adequate physical education doesn’t stop there; it sets children up for a healthy adulthood, perpetuating a cycle of well-being for generations to come.

What’s the missing link between reducing obesity and increasing America’s ability to compete in a tough global economy? Physical education.

Want to learn more about the link between Academics and Physical Activity? Click Here to access a collection of Articles/Publications/Webinars on the subject.