Archive for the ‘Physical Education’ Category

16 Ideas for Teaching Dance in PE

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Keeping students interested in physical education can be a difficult task. This is especially true in the case of larger classes, limited equipment, and a wide range of student abilities. To combat all of these issues, some PE instructors have started incorporating dance into their lessons. By using dance as a teaching tool, these instructors are able to use creativity, involve more students, teach life skills,  and use resources wisely, all while allowing students to become fully involved in the teaching process. Also, keep in mind that Dance & Rhythms is in the National Standards and should be considered when teaching physical education.

teaching dance

Why Teach Dance in PE?

  • Many students can feel left out or inadequate in traditional PE activities such as team sports. Often, these activities focus on the students who are already good at sports, which discourage others. Dance can offer a break from these activities and allow these students to shine.

  • “Dance” is an incredibly wide area of study. This means you can appeal to a number of backgrounds through dances from the hula to line dancing.

  • Teaching dance teaches students skills they can use at events outside of the classroom, such as social events. Additionally, exposure to rhythm helps children understand other concepts, such as music.

  • Instructors can adapt dance lessons for any ability or age group. This allows for a wider range of students to feel as if they can succeed in the activity, which encourages enthusiasm.

  • Students can bring in their own music, which also allows for more involvement.

  • Teaching dance uses little equipment—generally, all an instructor needs is a large space, something to play music, and maybe a screen to show moves more easily. This helps with keeping costs low.

  • Forming dance steps can easily incorporate other fitness ideas, such as calisthenics, in a fun way.

How to Use Dance in PE

  • As stated above, using student input to choose songs allows for more involvement.  Using different kinds of songs can get students with all kinds of backgrounds more engaged.

  • Make sure that there are large spaces and enough room for everyone to move around.

  • Consider using steps that can be modified to fit abilities. This will help more students feel as if they can participate and do well.

  • On a similar note, remember that the main goal of this is to keep students moving. This means that it’s better to encourage students to do their best rather than emphasizing doing the steps perfectly.

  • The jigsaw method can empower students to feel as if they are capable. In this strategy, the instructor organizes students into small groups and assigns each group to learn a step of the dance. When the groups have learned that step, they teach it to the rest of the class.

  • Starting with small steps helps make the process seem less daunting and easier to learn.

  • Websites such as YouTube and Vimeo have many examples of dances and ideas that other instructors can adapt or build off for their students.

  • If you have a space with a stage or a screen, you can use it to your advantage. Showing steps on a stage elevates you, so more students can see you. Additionally, using a screen allows for video use.

  • Make sure to encourage students that all sorts of people dance, regardless of gender or other interests.

Teaching dance in physical education classes can benefit both teachers and students. Dance allows instructors to be creative and engage students who might not get as much out of other activities. Students also benefit from being more involved in the planning process and having flexible goals that allow them to feel achievement in these lessons.

Have you ever used dance in your classroom? What are some of the ideas you used to keep students engaged in the process?

The Evolution of Physical Education

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Physical education is such a strong staple in today’s school curriculum that it’s hard to imagine it was not always a part of the world’s everyday education. But every program has its beginnings, and the state of physical education in America is no exception. Let’s take a look at how the physical education program in today’s school system got its beginnings.

physical education

The 1800s

Physical education was first stamped into the school system in 1820 when gymnastics, hygiene, and care of the human body found its introduction into the curriculum. In 1823, the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts was the first school in the nation to make it an integral part of their educational program.

But physical education did not become a formal requirement until after the civil war, when many states put the physical education requirement into law. In 1855, the practice was truly born in the United States, beginning with a city school system in Cincinnati, Ohio, which became the first entire schooling system to implement the program. California followed soon after, in 1866, as the first state to pass a law requiring twice a day exercise in public schools.

The 1900s

By the turn of the century, sports and gymnastics were highly prominent in educational institutions. In the following years until World War I, educators could begin to select a profession in physical education. From then until the Great Depression, physical education was standard part of formal education.

By 1950, over 400 United States colleges and universities were offering the physical education major to teachers. The Korean War then proved that Americans were not as physically fit they should be, and a new surge of focus on the physical fitness of the nation was born. This resulted in a more stringent level of standards within U.S. schools, including the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy placed a keen eye on promoting physical education programs, and employed a Presidential Fitness Test Award to assess physical fitness levels of the nation’s children. This ensured that U.S. students were at least as physically fit as European students. This test, implemented in 1966, was designed to encourage and prepare America’s youth for military service. It included throwing, jumping, a shuttle run, and pull-ups. The award was given to students placing in the top 85th percentile based on national standards.

In later years, physical fitness programs saw cutbacks during times of recession, and in 1980 and 1990 many programs were dropped from educational institutions. Both economic concerns and issues with poor curriculum plagued these years of the 20th century, and as the commitment to physical education declined, additional subjects and electives began to take the place of these classes.

Modern Focus

Since its inception, the changing academic curriculum has seen multiple enhancements to the physical education discipline. Many national and global events have taken part in altering the course of physical education in America and bringing us to our current structure. With physical education classes often being the first to go during budget cuts and curriculum reorganizations, the evolution has been a winding road with constantly redeveloped guidelines.

Physical education is a staple of a comprehensive educational system, and fitness plays a major part in the physical and mental health of all Americans. Today’s educational landscape has allowed this important program to flourish as an integral part of the modern day educational school system. Lately this focus has been renewed, as there is now a national concern over the rising rate of obesity among our youth. Fortunately, programs like the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Program are renewing our dedication and shifting the focus back on physical education within the school systems, nationwide.

How to Teach Social Skills in PE: Grades 3-6

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Physical activity environments are natural settings for peer interaction and the development of social skills. By the very nature of game play or active participation, students discover how to work in a group, how they compare with others, how “winning” and “losing” affects them, how to follow rules, and how to strategically problem-solve. In addition, teaching social skills is an important aspect to bullying prevention in physical education and around campus.

A primary objective of SPARK is to create positive movement experiences that last a lifetime. Nurturing a student’s self-perception and self-image is a critical variable when teaching students to value physical activity. Negative experiences in PE class may impact a person well into adulthood.

Teaching social skills is not unlike teaching sport or fitness skills. Students should understand the “learnable pieces,” practice them in authentic situations, receive feedback, and process their learning.

Take the following steps when teaching social skills to students:

1. Define the skill.

Discuss why it is important. For example, help students understand that “Encouragement” is a gift you give to others. It delivers empathy, support, motivation. If you encourage someone, you’ve committed a selfless, powerful act.

2. Teach the skill

Discuss strategies to address it. Use a t-chart to instruct each social skill and obtain student input. Ask students,

“If we heard encouragement during class, what might it sound like?”

Hear their responses, shape and supplement as needed, list on the t-chart.

Then ask, “If we saw encouragement during class, what might it look like?”

Shape and list. Post the completed t-chart where students can see it every day.

An example of a t-chart for the skill “Encouragement” might look like this:


What does it sound like?

What does it look like?

“You can do it!” Thumbs-up
“Don’t give up!” High-five
“Keep trying!” Pat on the back

3. Provide opportunities to practice the skill.

Remind students you will be looking for their ideas, along with the proper mechanics of the respective sports skill. (E.g., “Step toward your target before passing, and don’t forget to encourage your partner if she needs it.”)

4. Process use of the skill. Ask questions such as:

“Did someone encourage you today? How did it feel? Did you have more fun playing with a partner that encouraged you?”

Processing questions can be posed while students stretch during cool-down, gather equipment, transitioning from 1 activity to another, recording scores, etc.

The following teaching cues provide suggestions for facilitating social skills discussions:

3rd Grade Teaching Cues

Responsibility: “What might your personal and group responsibilities be in this class?” (E.g., Listen and follow directions, give your best effort, maintain a positive attitude even if the activity that day isn’t your favorite, etc.)

Helpfulness: “Will you offer to be a partner to someone who needs one? Invite others to join your group? Assist with putting away equipment?”

4th Grade Teaching Cues

Encouragement: “Encouraging others is a sign of personal strength and confidence. See if you can make at least 1 encouraging statement every class.”

Acceptance of Personal Differences: “Can you respect people that may be less skilled than you in an activity? Will you work to build them up instead of put them down?”

5th Grade Teaching Cues

Competition: “Whether your group is ahead or behind when our time ends is not important. How you handle it is. What are appropriate ways to behave when ahead? When behind?”

Positive Disagreement: “It’s easy to lose your cool. It takes courage and self-control to keep it. Can you settle your differences by listening and talking? Use rock, paper, scissors to decide.”

6th Grade Teaching Cues

Shares Ideas: “When we work in groups, do you pitch in and play a supportive role? Do you raise your hand and contribute to discussions? Offer creative ideas to your partner or group?”

Compromise: “If you have a disagreement during class, do you try and find a way to create a win-win solution that all parties can feel good about? Be the first to give a bit, and strive for an agreement that the other person is first to give next time.”

Provided by the SPARK PE 3-6 Program.  Click Here to learn more about SPARK 3-6 PE.

How to Teach Social Skills in PE: Grades 3 6

Tips to Prevent Bullying in Physical Education

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

High school sports

Bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school and affect their ability to learn and concentrate in class. Opportunities for bullying are found all over the school campus but in this blog we’ll focus on steps we can take to prevent bullying during physical education class.

There have been numerous studies about bullying in PE and one of the common findings is that children who are bullied during physical education class are less likely to be active.  Not only less active in their current PE class, but as adults later in life as well.

Why does bullying occur and what does it look like in physical education?  Students get picked on for being overweight, having lower skills than others and for being picked last when it is time to choose groups or teams.  Types of bullying include verbal attacks, excessive aggressiveness, or exclusion or avoidance during activities. As a teacher, with so much activity going on and kids moving around the gym, it can be challenging to always see or hear it happening in your classes.  So instead of reacting to the problems, how can we prevent them?

Choose activities that keep all students active

  • When students are engaged in activity they are moving and having fun which reduces the amount of time they have to watch and critique others.  Bullying happens during down time so keep transitions short and lessons active!

Assign groups and partners before class

  • This reduces the chances of the same person always being left out, picked last, or stuck with the same partner or group every time

Teach and reinforce social skills

  • By increasing appropriate behavior, we can teach kids how to demonstrate the social skills we expect of them.  Teach these skills throughout the school year and look for examples of them during the lessons that you teach.

For additional bullying prevention resources, visit the new School Specialty Blog:

The Best Apps for Keeping Kids Active

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

The Best Apps for Keeping Kids Active

It’s safe to say that the world around us is becoming increasingly mobile and tech-oriented. People of every age are falling in love with their smartphones, tablets, and laptops, which can result in a more lethargic lifestyle and shortened attention spans. Having a healthy approach to life prevents your children from packing on the pounds during adolescence and also gives them the tools they need to set up a life of choices catered to their enhanced wellbeing. According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the fate of a child’s weight can be determined by the time they turn five.

We all know that raising a healthy child is important, but that task can become more trying when you can’t pry them away from their smartphones. Perhaps the best way to deal with the issue is to use technology to your advantage.

Although too much screen time can be unhealthy for your children, innovative new concepts are emerging to help parents prompt their kids into physical activity. Health, nutrition, and fitness applications provide an education into how the body works, what makes it run better, and more, while feeding your child’s technology addiction.

Following are some of our favorite apps for keeping kids active.

Super Stretch Yoga HD

Super Stretch Yoga HD is a free application for the Apple iPad that works to teach children fun and easy yoga moves that they can try out themselves. Instead of simply watching cartoons on their iPad, your child can start trying out poses modeled by children of their own age, letting them stretch out their limbs and show off their skills. The application includes a total of twelve different yoga poses for your child to perfect, each with its own description and accompanying video.

Yoga is a great hobby to get your child interested in physical wellbeing and fitness. Not only does it improve strength and flexibility, but it’s also likely to be something that they continue to enjoy as they grow to later life. The videos included with this application offer reassurance to keep beginners trying time and after time, as well as advice on the best time of day to try out certain poses. You can even play the videos on your television with an Apple TV.


Are you the kind of parent that regularly walks their child to school or goes for small adventures on the weekend? Strava is an application that allows you to map your walks, bike rides, and hikes and time each journey, so you can show your children how much they’ve accomplished in a certain scope of time.

Typically, this application doesn’t market directly to children, but it is a great way to make walking to school and traveling to new places more fun. The further you go and the more you do, the more of an excuse your child has to be proud of themselves. You even get little notifications when you create a new personal best in your time, allowing you and your little one to celebrate each milestone together.

Iron Kids

Iron Kids is an application lovingly developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help children eight years and up get more exercise as they grow. In 2013, the Iron Kids application won it’s very own Web Health Award for providing young athletes with everything they need to safely and effectively improve their fitness, balance, and strength.

The app centers around nine exercises that involve the lower body, upper body, and core. Videos are included to help your kids understand how they can do the exercises and how those exercises benefit them.

Smash Your Food HD

An interactive and informative game intended to teach your children important real-life skills, such as how to read nutrition labels and what they should be eating, Smash Your Food HD is an impressive application for kids. Your child will enter their age and how much exercise they regularly get so that the app can calculate how much salt, sugar, and oil they should be consuming.

With the nutritional labels given for common fast foods as a guide, your kids will then need to estimate how much oil, sugar and salt is in each item. After they’ve submitted their answers, they’ll be able to find out whether the food they’re looking at is healthy for them. Finally, your young ones will get the opportunity to smash the food to pieces, watching a can of soda rip apart or a jelly donut burst!

Fitness Kids

Fitness Kids is an application designed by experts in the fields of pedagogy, physical education, and health. Packed with interesting exercises for children between the ages of 6 and eight, this app teaches children each movement through the use of colorful, engaging videos.

What makes Fitness Kids a little different from other applications is that it offers funky music and colorful backgrounds for a stimulating experience, and the exercises themselves are fun to do. Your kids will keep coming back for more as they figure out their favorite movements, such as the Conga or the Crab. Your children can also engage in competition with their friends, and their skill levels will improve as they continue to progress.

Keep Moving!

Getting your child to give up on technology might be an impossible task, but using that technology to your advantage could provide a safe and easy way to invest in their health. Think about how much time your child currently spends in front of a computer screen and ask yourself if you’d feel better knowing that they were playing a game designed to get them learning and moving.

The earlier your child starts to get in shape, the more chance they have of reducing their risk of certain illnesses. Kids who are frequently active experience:

  • A lower chance of becoming overweight
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Potentially lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Leaner physiques
  • Improved confidence

On top of this, the more active a child is, the better he or she will sleep, deal with emotional challenges, and manage physical strain.

Let us know if you’ve discovered any great applications tailored to children that get your young ones moving more often.


10 Ways to Promote Safe Biking for National Bike Month

Friday, May 1st, 2015

bike riding

Around the country, bicyclers have been supporting National Bike Month every May since 1956. Sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, May gives experienced and novice cyclists a chance to participate in bicycling events, try out biking for the first time, and promote safe bicycling practices. Want to participate in the fun? Here are 10 ways you can promote safe biking during National Bike Month.

Know and Follow Bike Safety Rules

Before you start having too much fun, you’ll want to review what safe biking actually entails. shares a list of safety tips and advice on how to maintain your bike. A few tips from their list to keep in mind include:

  • Keep your tires inflated to the pressure listed on your tire.
  • Inspect your brakes frequently to ensure they work properly.
  • In addition to always wearing a helmet, make sure your helmet fits properly.
  • If riding at night, be sure to wear bright and reflective colors.
  • When riding on a trail, stay to the right, pass on the left, and ensure you use a signal—such as a horn or your voice—to let other riders know when you’re about to pass.

Once you’ve reviewed these safety rules, be sure you’re following them at all times. Not only will it set an example for young riders, but it will ensure your safety along with the safety of others around you.

Help Educate Fellow Bikers and Non-Bikers About Rules and Etiquette

Now that you’re aware of common bike safety rules, you can share your knowledge with others. As you gear up for riding this May, make sure anyone else riding with you understands these safety rules. For instance, it might be a no-brainer to wear a helmet, but some riders—especially those who don’t bike often—may not know to call out “On your left” when passing other riders.

It’s also worth discussing these rules and etiquette with non-bicyclers as well. While they may never go riding, they’re likely to encounter other riders, and it’s worth knowing what “On your left” means before a biker passes you.

Print Out Promotional Materials to Share With Friends

If you’re not sure how you can help this National Bike Month, it’s as simple as printing out promotional materials and sharing them with family and friends or on promotional bulletin boards. These materials can cover anything from promoting biking events to sharing infographics covering safe biking practices. If you’re not sure where to get this material, check out’s promotional materials for National Bike Month.

Wear a Helmet

It’s one thing to know you should wear a helmet. It’s another to actually put it on. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that bicycle helmet use can reduce head injury risk by 85 percent. While it may seem like you don’t need one since you don’t reach high speeds while biking, accidents between cars and bicyclists are a real possibility.

As the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports, “During the past few years, no more than 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.” This again highlights the importance of helmet use among riders of all ages.

Use Reflectors reports that the most common source of injury for bikers is being hit by a car. On average, 69 percent of biker fatalities are in urban areas where there’s a lot of traffic. One way to add an extra layer of safety to your biking practices is to use reflectors. This will help drivers see you more clearly, especially at times of low visibility.

Most bicycles already come with reflectors, but it’s worth testing them out to ensure they function properly. You can also add reflector tape to your pedals and other areas of your bike to ensure a higher level of visibility. You might also consider an electric flashing reflector that will help drivers see you from a distance at night and in fog.

Keep Your Bike in Shape

Not only do you need to protect your body with a helmet and biking gear, but you’ll also want to protect your bicycle. A worn out bike can lead to faulty brakes, broken chains, and other problems that can cause wipeouts and crashes. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep bolts, bearings, and chains greased.
  • Test your tire pressure frequently, and pump your tires if needed.
  • Before taking off, test your brakes. Replace your pads once there’s about a ¼ of the pad left.
  • Store your bike in a clean, dry place during the off-season to reduce rust and wear.

If all else fails, take your bicycle into a bike mechanic regularly to ensure everything is in working order. Check out more maintenance tips at

Reach Out to Your Government for Better Biking Conditions

If there are a lot of people in your town who bike, it’s important that they’re biking under safe conditions. Oftentimes riders are left to share the road with cars, which can lead to accidents. Other times, sidewalks aren’t wide enough for bikers and pedestrians to share.

If you really want to make a difference this National Bike Month, talk with your local government about creating better biking conditions in your town, such as by adding a bike lane in areas of high traffic. Petitioning for bike lanes close to schools is a good way to encourage students to ride their bikes to school while providing a safe environment to do so.

Volunteer at a National Bike Month Event

National Bike Month is packed with fun events for bikers of all ages. May 15, for instance, is National Bike to Work Day this year, and May 6 is National Bike to School Day. Even if you can’t find a National Bike Month event in your area, you can always plan one yourself! shares a guide to helping you plan an event in your neighborhood. Some ideas include bike safety workshops, training classes, and bike races.

Host a Safety Assembly at Your Local School

Whether you’re a student looking to spread the word of safe bicycling or a concerned parent or teacher, you can reach a lot of potential cyclers by hosting a bicycling safety assembly at your school. See if you can get your local district to agree to a presentation. Share statistics, videos, and stories with students, and try to get both teachers and students actively involved.

Participate in a Ride Smart Class

The League of American Bicyclists has been focused on education since the 70s. Their Ride Smart class teaches bikers more about riding, and it helps connect them with other cyclists in their area. Take a look at’s map to find a Ride Smart class in your area.

We’re avid cyclists at SPARK PE and believe that safety is a priority for any physical activity. While bikers should be promoting safety practices all year round, National Bike Month helps raise awareness of these issues, and you can leverage this nationwide event to get the word out. What will you do this May to promote safe cycling practices?


Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

SPARK Teams Up with ICAN Foundation

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

SPARK Teams Up with ICAN Foundation to Rush Past Childhood Obesity with New Orleans Saints Running Back Pierre Thomas

Partnership aims to decrease “screen-time” and increase physical activity both during school and after school with quality PE programming and community events

SPARK™, provider of the world’s most-researched physical education programs, is partnering with ICAN Foundation to make an immediate impact on the lives of students in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. SPARK and ICAN Foundation will work together to help schools and community centers raise funds or apply for and win grants in order to implement SPARK’s high-quality physical education curricula or afterschool program.

SHAPE America recommends that school-aged children receive at least 60-minutes of physical activity per day. This is hard to achieve if students spend most of the eight-hour school day sitting behind desks. SPARK fights this sedentary school model by making classroom instruction, PE classes and after school programs more physically active. Similarly, the increased amount of time youth spend using electronics is impeding on physical activity after school and on the weekends. Through its community programs and initiatives, ICAN Foundation is helping create more active lifestyles to demonstrate how being active can be fun and rewarding.

“After learning about the similarities of our organizations and the fact that SPARK is the number-one research-based health organization in our country, I knew a partnership was necessary,” said Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints running back and founder of ICAN Foundation. “This will be a great opportunity for everyone involved, especially the students.”

“Working with ICAN Foundation is the perfect marriage of ideas for SPARK,” said Paul Rosengard, executive director of SPARK. “With the foundation’s deep community connections in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi, and SPARK’s 25 years of experience in schools nationwide, we make a great team. With a joint goal of increasing the amount of physical activity youth receive every day, we know that together we can make an impact on those communities.”

How Can You Help?
Together, ICAN and SPARK will implement research-based programing to help combat childhood obesity in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi. Your support, partnership, or donation can assist us in our efforts. Please contact us to learn more and support the effort to combat childhood obesity.

Dr. Kymm Ballard
SPARK Partnership Development Manager
(336) 263-3646

Vincent Calabrese
ICAN Foundation
(312) 285-9384

About ICAN Foundation
ICAN Foundation was founded by Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints running back, in response to the ongoing problem with childhood obesity. ICAN Foundation was established to prevent and educate the children and their parents about the seriousness of childhood obesity in the United States.

SPARK is a collection of research-based Physical Education, After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health programs for educators serving Pre-K through 12th grade students. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum materials, teacher training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders, representing many thousands of schools, organizations, and agencies worldwide. SPARK also helps educators find physical education grants. For more information on SPARK, visit or email or call 1-800-SPARK-PE.

ICAN Foundation-1

SPARK celebrates 25! Reflection from Dr. Jim Sallis

Monday, July 21st, 2014

SPARK celebrates 25!

By Jim Sallis

It’s exhilarating to celebrate the 25th year of SPARK. In 1989 we had big ambitions for our new NIH grant. We wanted to define what health-related physical education is, comprehensively evaluate a program that we designed to meet that vision, and then encourage schools to adopt the program so kids could be healthier. I could not have imagined where those ideas have led by 2014. I am very proud to be part of the SPARK story, because SPARK has improved the physical activity, health, and quality of life for millions children and adolescents over the past 25 years.

The research teams worked hard on the SPARK and M-SPAN studies that produced the original curricula, training, and support model and materials. But there are numerous successful research programs that never have any impact in people’s lives. What makes SPARK different is the staff, led by Paul Rosengard. Paul and the staff not only share the vision of improving children’s health through physical activity, but they have built an organization that brings the joy of SPARK to about 1.5 million young people every day. I use “joy” of SPARK deliberately, because the first data we collected in a pilot study were enjoyment ratings of SPARK PE classes. We were pleased that the fifth graders chose “smiley faces” almost all the time for all the class activities. Delivering fun has been our job at SPARK ever since.

At 25, SPARK as an organization is now an adult. The staff have high level skills and are dedicated to doing a great job at customer service. We have created a national network of trainers, and the feedback from staff development sessions continues to be consistently enthusiastic. We take responsibility for updating, expanding, and improving programs and products. Like most young adults, SPARK is a sophisticated user of technology. Our video group has produced hundreds of videos that help instructors deliver great physical activity programs. All materials are now available online. I am amazed that teachers now can take all of SPARK out on the field with iPads. That is a real revolution in physical education. SPARK is even doing some traveling, growing rapidly in India and China. I’m confident SPARK will continue to evolve and innovate so we can get better at delivering great instruction to teachers and great physical activity to students.

As long as our schools want children to be active and healthier, we will keep delivering the joy of SPARK.

Jim Sallis

James F. Sallis, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine Chief,

Division of Behavioral Medicine.

University of California, San Diego

SPARK Staff at ATM Dinner

SPARK staff celebrates 25 years at the Annual Trainers Meeting in June 2014

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

By BJ Williston

SPARK K-12 Trainer & Curriculum Developer

I was lucky to have been exposed to a wide variety of types of dance as a kid. Living in Hawaii, my first experience was taking hula lessons with my older sisters. I may have been the only redhead in the halau (or hula school) but I loved the feeling of moving to the beat and changing as much as my more native-looking friends. In school, our PE teacher taught us square dance, Polynesian cultural dances, and later dances to the hit songs of the day. I am certainly dating myself when I say we danced to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and The Jackson Five’s rendition of “Rockin’ Robin”.

In middle school we choreographed our own routines and performed in front of the class. The groups were teacher-assigned which meant a mixed bag of students cooperating to complete the task. I have great memories of that assignment. By high school I was taking jazz and modern dance classes outside of school and joined a dance company which performed around the island. We rehearsed several nights a week and the experience helped build my confidence and gave me a greater insight into the life of a dancer.

At the time I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to have been given such a well-rounded dance education. Looking back on it, I owe a lot to my PE teachers who cared enough to expose me to dance at such an early age.

Why teach dance?

My guess is that most teachers inherently know that dance is an important part of every child’s education. Aside from bringing pleasure, dance can increase health-related fitness as well as improve balance, coordination, and balance. Dance brings us more in touch with diverse cultures and may be used as a tool to teach or reinforce cultural awareness. Learning a dance helps memory and sequencing skills. In addition, dance can be a form of self-expression and creativity. Many dances promote social skills like cooperation and teamwork. Dance is typically a non-competitive activity that most students enjoy. So, the real question should be why not teach dance?

As I’m sure you know there are some PE teachers who don’t teach dance. They have all sorts of excuses for leaving dance out of the curriculum. If you are one of these teachers, this blog is for you. Let me put your worries at ease as SPARK can help you overcome just about any barrier you may have for not teaching dance. Below are a few of the barriers and ten tips to help overcome them:

I’m not a “dancer”

No one is expecting you to be an expert in everything. Most PE Specialists are more comfortable teaching certain activities over others. You may be the Invasion Games Expert or the Aquatics Guru or the Racquets and Paddles King/Queen. But just because you are not an “expert” in an area does not mean you can’t teach it. Here are a few ideas for teaching dance when you yourself are just learning:

1. Start small: Look for dances in the SPARK program that have just a few steps like the Conga, The Bunny Hop, The Pata Pata, etc. Get your feet wet with these to build your confidence and see how your students take to dance.

2. Build on that: Each time you teach a dance, use that dance as a warm-up for your next few lessons to reinforce learning. Allow students to add their own twist to dances as they get more comfortable. Revisit your dances throughout the year and keep building their repertoire.

3. Use the Jigsaw Method: Many of SPARK’s dances are broken into 3-4 discernable parts. For example a dance with Verses, Chorus, and Instrumental parts with 3-5 steps in each. Students begin in Jigsaw Groups, then # off according to how many parts there are. They then move to Learning Groups where they are all learn the same steps and become an expert in those steps. When ready, they return to their Jigsaw Group and each student teaches the part they learned. Like a jigsaw puzzle, they put it together to form one full dance. This method encourages students to work cooperatively, promotes reading, and allows students to interpret the dance steps in order to teach them.

4. Get a little help from SPARKfamily: All of the K-12 PE and After School dances are now available on in a new section called SPARKdance.  SPARKdance provides the instructional materials, music, and videos for each dance.  There are two videos per dance – an Instructional and an All Together version. Use the Instructional video to go through each dance step-by-step. Then use the All Together video to help lead the group through the dance with no stops. This frees you to move around the area to help students in need.

5. Turn over the reins: Use PACE dances to allow students to learn at their own pace with a partner or small group. SPARK also has a “Create a Dance” activity in most program levels. These activities should be used after other dances have been taught so students can build on what they have learned.

6. Find an expert: Whether it is another teacher at your school, a parent volunteer, a student teacher, community member, or even one of your students, there are “expert” dancers all around! Invite someone to be a guest teacher a few days each month. Once students learn the dance, get a few students who are comfortable leading, turn on the music, and dance away! Again, this frees you to move throughout and provide feedback to your class.

I don’t have the right music

There are all sorts of resources out there to help you with music. Try some of these:

7. SPARK provides an mp3 version of each of the songs for all of our dances on SPARK also has CDs with all of the music from each program. Click Here to download the order form.

8. iTunes allows you to purchase songs one at a time for $0.99 or $1.29. Be sure to listen to them for content appropriateness!

9. Some companies, such as Kidzbop® put out kid-friendly versions of the most popular songs of the day.

10. Stay tuned for the SPARKdance DVD set (including instructional materials, music, and videos) in September 2014!

We don’t have a dance room

Very few schools do, so don’t let that slow you down. A gym is perfectly fine for dance. If you don’t have a gym, a blacktop or even grass works just fine. Basically, kids can dance anywhere! It certainly helps to have a good sound system so you and the students can hear the music well.

Now, don’t let your students go one more week without getting them moving to music. It’s the right thing to do! Have fun!

Ready to get started? Join the #SPARKdance contest May 27, 2014 – June 30, 2014 for a chance to win an iPad Mini! Click Here to learn more.

10 Tips for Teaching Dance

Common Core Survival Guide (CCR in PE: Mission Possible)

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Common Core Survival Guide (CCR in PE: Mission Possible)

What is “College and Career Readiness” (CCR) and how do we as physical educators walk this talk?

In 2012, the Educational Policy Improvement Center published an article by Dr. David T. Conley, PhD offering, “A Complete Definition of College and Career Readiness.” Having researched several explanations and definitions of this concept I found Dr. Conley’s work to be on target and relevant to physical education.

Within his definition Dr. Conley identifies Four Keys to College and Career Readiness.

  • THINK: Key Cognitive Strategies
  • KNOW: Key Content Knowledge
  • GO: Key Transition Knowledge and Skills
  • ACT: Key Learning Skills and Techniques

In this blog entry we’ll look at two of these keys as they relate to CCR in PE, saving the other two for a future post.

First, Key Cognitive Strategies, “are the ways of thinking necessary for college-level work” (Conley, 2012). Students must be able to identify and formulate problems or challenges in order to conduct focused research, interpret the results and then communicate findings with appropriate accuracy.

In SPARK High School PE we guide students through this process with Jigsaw learning and teaching experiences. In teams, students are given a set of skills and strategies needed for successful participation in a unit. Next, they split up with each of the team members becoming the “expert” in one specific skill or concept. After the research is complete and students have become competent or proficient in their specific area, the groups come back together and communicate to (i.e., teach) their teammates what they’ve learned. In this way, students are provided an authentic context for practicing a way of thinking which aligns to CCR.

Second, Key Content Knowledge as it applies to the technical area of physical education includes key skills and knowledge, the ways in which individuals interact with those skills and knowledge, their value to the learner, and the ability to reflect on how personal attitude and effort can contribute to successful mastery of specific knowledge or skill sets.

This CCR Key provides an opportunity to take a quick look at the new National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes for PE. Standard 3 and its outcomes at the high school level (S3.H1.L1) jumps right into the center of this CCR Key, “(The learner) discusses the benefits of a physically active lifestyle as it relates to college or career productivity” (SHAPE, 2014). This discussion requires key content knowledge learned throughout the scope and sequence of a quality PE program. Specifically, what are the various benefits of physical activity? It also prompts reflection on how this knowledge directly relates to future productivity. The next progressive step is to ask students who have acquired this knowledge, “what does this understanding mean with regard to your own personal commitment to physical activity and wellness?”

At SPARK we’re all about keeping MVPA levels high in physical education classes. We don’t advocate sacrificing physical activity in an attempt to increase student learning. In fact, evidence suggests our teaching strategies promote BOTH. However, discussions like the one described above are critical to the core outcomes of our content area and therefore must be built in to our lesson structure. If we don’t provide focused discussion in physical education classes, then where will these important talks take place?  Chances are they won’t happen at all.

That’s a very brief look at the first two keys to College and Career Readiness. We’ll look at the final two in the next Common Core Survival Guide blog post.

Click Here to read Part 1 of the SPARK Common Core Survival Guide Blog Series

Click Here to read Part 2 of the SPARK Common Core Survival Guide Blog Series