Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category

How Much Do You Know About Different Learning Styles? [QUIZ]

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

There are a variety of different learning styles; are you familiar with all of them and how they affect students’ ability to retain information? Test your knowledge of different learning styles with our quiz.


Ice Breakers to Get Kids Moving

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

ice breaker

Cultivating a comfortable classroom environment for students is crucial to how well they perform. Physical education classes in particular tend to come with a little more anxiety for some kids and a feeling of confidence is the key to their success.

One of the easiest ways to get new students acquainted with your PE classroom is through ice breaking games. Take a look at few you should try to help your class get moving.

Name Memory Game

Help students gain confidence in class and learn each other’s names through this classic – with a physical education twist. Have the class stand in a large circle that includes the teacher. Start by saying your name and doing some sort of physical movement (clap, stomp, jump, or spin around). The person to your left repeats your name and movement, and adds his or her own. The next person repeats both and adds a third. This repeats all the way around the circle, with the teacher going one last time to repeat everyone’s name and movement.


Have students arrange in a circle and hold hands. This game starts with the leader (usually the teacher) making a sound. He or she then squeezes the hand of the person to the left and continues to make the sound. The new person also starts making a sound and squeezes the hand of the next student who does the same. Soon the entire circle is a chorus of chosen sounds. When the hand squeeze returns to the game leader, he or she stops making the sound and squeezes the hand of the next person on the left who also goes silent. This continues until every sound has ceased.

Grab It

This game is best for preschool or early elementary students. Use a bean bag or another small object and pair up students who sit, facing each other, with the object in between them. When the teacher yells “Grab it!” the first person to pick up the object gets a point. Teachers can increase the difficulty by yelling things other than the command, and deducting a point if anyone is fooled.

7 Buzz

This game is best for students in upper elementary or middle school. The group forms a circle and each person takes a turn counting, in sequence, until the number 7 or a multiple of it is called. The person who should speak that number yells “Buzz!” instead and the circle reverses. To make the game even more challenging, use a lower number like 5 or 3.

What Am I Doing?

Divide the number of students in your class by 2 and then have them number off from 1 until the halfway number, and then again. Have the students with matching numbers pair up and stand next to each other in the large circle. Start with the team to the left of the teacher and have them go to the center of the circle. One student will start doing an action, like pretending to mow the lawn, and will ask the other student “What am I doing?” Instead of answering with the real action, the second student will mention a new action. The first person must then do it, while the second then asks “What am I doing?” You can put a limit on the amount of times the pair performs, or just let them go until they lose sync or are laughing too hard to go on. This is an especially good exercise to get new people to meet and interact, instead of sticking with the people they already know.


First days are hard – for students and teachers. Ice breakers that incorporate movement can help students loosen up and will help you get to know them a little better too.

East St. Louis School District 189 – PEP Grant Case Study

Friday, October 7th, 2016

East St Louis Blog pic 1

Putting Some PEP in Their Step

The East St. Louis School District didn’t have much of a PE program in its elementary schools; in fact, for over five years, it didn’t have any PE at all. Budget cuts and limited local funding for a school with a 100% free and reduced lunch rate led to the cutting of PE, which did not serve to improve an already high obesity rate among students. Things were about to change for the better in 2014 when the district applied for, and won, the Carol M. White PEP Grant.

East St. Louis School District 189 was in great need of evidence-based programming to transform their near non-existent PE program and student health statistics into an active, thriving, healthy program and student population. When they won the two-year grant, they sparked transformation right away in Year 1. Working with Cassie Wolvington, Sportime featuring SPARK Sales Representative, they ordered:

  • SPARK Curriculum Materials for K-12 Physical Education and After School,
  • Healthy Kids Challenge Nutrition Curriculum Materials for K-8
  • 5 Premium SPARK trainings for K-2, 3-6, Middle School, High School, After School
  • Modified Sportime equipment sets for K-12 and After School
  • Accusplit pedometers to track steps for grant reporting

To implement the new curriculum, training, and equipment, the district used PEP funding to hire four competent, creative, and energetic PE teachers.

Keeping up the positive momentum in Year 2, the district ordered:

  • Additional Curriculum Materials and Physical Education Equipment
  • SPARK Booster Trainings for K-2, 3-6, Middle School, High School, After School

Impressed with the great customer service and personal attention provided to them by their Sportime featuring SPARK Representative, they ordered an additional $145K worth of equipment.

Boys Track & Field Head Coach and PEP Grant Director Barry Malloyd commented on the experience, “Our district’s experience with SPARK has been life-changing for our PE teachers, students and parents. There is now a SPARK in our physical education programs like never before. The SPARK curriculum and trainings have provided our district with a SPARK of hope. The supplies, equipment, curriculum, trainings, and webinars that you provided us have catapulted our district’s PE program into the 21st Century. Our district administrators, PE teachers, students, and parents have given our PEP program a standing ovation because of our students’ drastic improvements in all areas of the GPRA Measures. It’s because of this SPARK that our district has some ‘PEP IN OUR STEPS!’”

Mr. Malloyd continued, “The benefits that our district is most excited about are the Fall and Spring SPARK trainings given to all of our district PE teachers and after school partners.  Also, the awesome supplies and equipment that you provide has made PE once again fun, exciting, and relevant in our school district. I could not and would not ever ask for another provider other than SPARK.”

From having no PE program to sparking a thriving, healthy, active PE program that is the envy of peer school districts – now that is a success story! Congratulations East St. Louis School District 189!

To learn more about the SPARK and PEP grant, click here.

East St Louis Blog pic 4

Introducing: Project IGNITE!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016


By: Naomi Hartl, PE Development & Technology Specialist, Sportime featuring SPARK

These two questions are frequently asked in the physical education profession today:

  • “What does effective teaching look like in a physical education class?”
  • “How can I observe model teaching practices in physical education?”

Physical educators are not always given time to observe other teachers within their school or district, and administrators observing classes may not understand what an effective physical education lesson looks like. They may think if students are smiling, moving, and behaving, then the educator is an effective teacher.

While the physical education classroom may “look” different from a general classroom, both require sound instructional practice, which is essential for an effective physical education program. Therefore, a recurring problem is the minimal knowledge about what evidence-based teaching practices look like in physical education.

There are many informative resources available that support effective teaching. These may be in the form of blog posts, resource documents, journal articles, and books. However, there is nothing that is freely and readily available to the public that visually shows us what it looks like.

This is where Project IGNITE! comes in…

Project IGNITE! is a free resource package, brought to you by the SPARK Innovation Team, that includes SPARK Lesson Checklists, an Effective Teaching Resource Document, and the much anticipated Project IGNITE! Video Library.

The purpose of Project IGNITE! is to elevate the profession by providing a platform that shares videos of what effective teaching looks like in a physical education setting. This platform will allow administrators, physical educators, university professors and pre-service teachers to begin to have collaborative conversations about what effective teaching looks like in physical education and begin the shift from a teacher evaluation lens to a professional growth mindset.

The Project IGNITE! Video Library is a crowd-sourced project where educators from across the country contribute by sharing videos of their lessons. All videos submitted will go through a vetting process before being posted on the website. We would like to post video clips that represent multiple levels of what effective teaching looks like in physical education and encourage you to share video clips at every level of your teaching. All videos are stored and posted for free on

Sportime featuring SPARK is actively searching for an elite group of effective physical educators to showcase best practice from their programs and assist others by adding their expertise to our online Video Library.

Ready to learn more?

Join us on for a free webinar on September 14th at 5pm PT, 8pm ET to learn more and join the movement. Click Here to register for the free webinar.

Want to get started? (after September 14th)

Log in or create your free account at, then navigate to the Project IGNITE! Video Library under the Course Catalog. View videos, download resources, and access instructions for uploading your video.

Join us as we revolutionize the profession by sharing what effective teaching looks like in a physical education setting!

Back to School: Creating that Positive Learning Environment

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Group of little girls and boys in front of blackboard

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

The beginning of the school year is always a fun time for leading some icebreakers with your students. Icebreakers are meant to “break the ice” that might exist when a group of people, in your case, your students, don’t know each other. They are also helpful when kids do know each other but may be too shy or embarrassed to open up and work to their potential. Icebreakers done well can really help get your school year off to a great start. Here are five tried and true icebreakers that are fun, involve everyone, help students get to know each other better, and help break down barriers that may exist. Enjoy!

  1. 3, 2, 1
  • Find a partner. You have about a minute to come up with three UNIQUE things you have in common. E.g. You both swim on a team. NOT: You are both girls. (Have three pairs share their commonalities and give them time to discuss.)
  • Now, you and your partner join another pair to form a foursome. This time find two UNIQUE things the four of you have in common. (Have three groups share their commonalities and give them time to discuss.)
  • Finally, your group joins another to form a group of eight. Your task is to find one thing you all have in common! (Have three groups share their commonalities and give them time to discuss. Then discuss how they came up with their commonalities and how it helps to know things we have in common with others.)
  1. The Name Game
  • How quickly can we form a circle touching elbows?
  • In the Name Game we will start with me and move clockwise around the circle. When it is your turn, step forward, say your name loud and clear, and the physical activity you like to do best. When you say your activity, also act it out.
  • After each person, the rest of the circle calls out their name and acts out the activity while saying it. E.g. Joan likes to jump rope!
  • Continue around the circle, stopping to review every 5-7 students, until everyone has gone. Then we’ll do one final time around to review.
  1. Workout Buddies
  • Mingle, mingle in our activity area at a walking pace. Stand thumb to thumb with a partner. This is your Thumb Wrestling Buddy. Whenever I call “Thumb Wrestling Buddy!” find this person and begin thumb wrestling. (Explain and demo thumb wrestling. Allow them to practice for 30 seconds or so.) Say goodbye and thank you, then jog away.
  • Stand elbow to elbow with a new partner. This is your Rock, Paper, Scissors Buddy. You will be partners when I call “Rock, Paper, Scissors Buddy!” (Explain and demo rock, paper, scissors. Allow them to practice.) Say goodbye and thank you, then side-slide away.
  • Stand knee to knee with a new partner. This is your Knee Tag Buddy. In Knee Tag the object is to tag your partner’s knees while they try to tag yours. Use only one hand; the other hand wraps around the wrist of the hand you are using. (Allow them to play.) Say goodbye and thank you, and then skip away.
  • Stand back to back with a 4th This is your Secret Handshake Buddy. You will have one minute to create and practice a secret handshake that has five moves. (Allow time to create and practice.)
  • These Workout Buddies will be used for the first few weeks of school. Let’s do a quick review so we remember who our four buddies are and what to do when we meet them! (Call each buddy name and allow time for students to find their specific buddy and begin the activity. Once all have found each other, quickly move to the next buddy.)
  1. Change Three Things
  • Find a partner. You have one minute to look at and memorize what your partner looks like.
  • On “Turn away” both of you turn away from your partner (you’ll be back to back) and change three things about your looks; they can be subtle or obvious. On “Turn back” both of you turn to look at your partner and guess the three things they changed.
  • Turn away! (Give them about a minute to change things around.) Turn back! (Allow time for partners to figure it out.)
  • Now we are going to do it again! This time you will have to get even more creative! (Repeat at least one more time.)
  • (Discuss what it takes to be observant. Also, how were you able to change things and get creative?)
  1. Rock, Paper, Scissors Fan Club
  • Find a partner. On signal, play rock, paper, scissors with this partner. The lucky one raises their hand and looks for another lucky one with their hand raised to play again. The unlucky partner becomes the biggest fan of the lucky partner, cheering their name and following close behind them.
  • Then, after the next game, the lucky one repeats and this time all three of the unlucky partners are part of their fan club, which is now a growing fan club.
  • Continue until there are only two lucky ones left and half the class is cheering one name and half cheering for the other. These two will play one final match.
  • When there is one final lucky one, the whole class cheers for that player!
  • (Because it is based on luck, it is fun to see kids who have never been the center of attention or on the “winning side” of things. It is a nice way to end a class.)

Back to School: PREP, SET, TEACH!

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Coach Giving Team Talk To Elementary School Basketball Team

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

Well, it is that time of year again! You have squandered another perfectly good summer and now you need to get ready for the new school year. If you teach using one of the SPARK Programs, this post will help you prep for a SPARKed-up year.


Not looking forward to spending all your Sunday afternoons planning what to teach each week? Well, the Yearly Plan (YP) is the way to get it all done up front. This isn’t to say there won’t be some adjustments along the way, but it’ll save you many hours throughout the year. Not only that, it also ensures you will cover all the content needed for each grade level.

Each SPARK Program has sample yearly plans which can be used as written or as a guide to create your own that is more aligned with your needs. Things to consider when creating one for your school:

  • Standards and Outcomes: This is most likely your highest priority. If you do a Standards-Based Yearly Plan, try using SPARK’s as a guide. It covers all the outcomes for each of the grade levels showing which assessments to use and which SPARK activities help address those standards. It’s very handy!
  • Facilities and Equipment: Due to the reality of often sharing space and stuff, you will need to keep this in mind when writing the YP. For example, if there is only one track, you won’t want all 7th grade classes doing Track and Field at the same time. In our MS program, we have YPs for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades keeping these issues in mind.
  • Weather: It’s tough to teach flying disc activities when it’s crazy windy, and you wouldn’t want to be doing jump rope on a blacktop when it’s 100° outside. If you use outdoor space much, like we do in California, you’ll need to use the weather as your guide.
  • Team-Teaching: If two or more teachers are team-teaching PE, that needs to be figured out before you write up your YP. For example, if three 5th grade teachers want to “specialize” in one Spotlight on Skills unit for three months it might look like this: Ms. Sanchez teaches Dance, Mr. Anderson teaches Cooperatives, and Ms. Ng teaches Football. The YP shows all three for three months, with students rotating from teacher to teacher each month. Be sure to keep facilities and equipment in mind when selecting units.
  • Unit Plans: As part of a YP, you will need to have Unit Plans to schedule which activities you will teach on which days in order to address the standards and have students reach the outcomes for their grade level. SPARK has sample Unit Plans for each unit/section in each of the programs.

2016-2017 SPARK Calendar:


Prior to each week you’ll want to pull out the lessons needed for each day and each class. Many teachers using tablets will create PDFs out of all the lessons needed for each grade level for the whole unit. Others, who like the paper lessons, will pull them out of the manual and put in sheet protectors and on clipboards for each day. Whichever way you go, prepping your lessons on Fridays ensures a smoother week to follow. SPARK has you covered and ready to adjust and challenge students with SPARK It Ups, Extensions, and Game Resets (depending on which program level).

View and download additional sample SPARK lesson plans:


If you didn’t do an inventory at the end of last year, shame on you. Just kidding! However, you should do one now so you know what you have and what you may need to order.

Before each unit, check out the What You Need page found in each unit’s Introductory Pages to ensure you have all required equipment before you teach each unit. If you don’t have the equipment, see if you can substitute something else, or possibly borrow from another school. (“If you loan me a KIN-BALL® and I’ll loan you a parachute!”) If that doesn’t work, either order it or change your plans! Once you have your equipment together, put it all in a cart (or two or three) so it’s ready to go and other teachers know you have dibs!

Check the lesson plans for any instructional materials needed and print them or pull from your SPARKfolio.

Be sure you have your music prepped and ready to go, as well. Make a playlist for each unit so you’ve got it all in one spot. You can use SPARK’s music from one of their CDs and SPARKfamily, and add your own if you like. Students always appreciate new, fresh music (clean versions, of course) they are hearing on the radio.


SPARK always suggests leading off the year with our first mini-units (Building a Foundation, The First 3 Lessons, The First 5 Lessons, and HS PE 101) followed by team-building activities from the Cooperatives Unit (3-6, MS, and HS). These activities help to establish a positive learning environment to set up protocols, learn and reinforce social skills, and promote cooperation and trust among your students. (It never hurts to revisit these throughout the year!) Follow your YP and make adjustments as you go.

By doing some extra prep now, you’ll save yourself a lot of work throughout the year. Who knows, maybe you’ll have time on the weekends to do some playing yourself! Golf, anyone?

Keeping PE Real…Real Fun, Real Engaging & Real Meaningful

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Physical Fitness Sports Team for Children

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

What’s Your PE Reality?

Have you ever faced the challenge of getting your students consistently motivated, engaged, and supporting one another? Can you imagine a festive, energized PE class where students, on a daily basis, show up early, give 100% effort, demonstrate leadership and teamwork, genuinely cheer the efforts of their classmates, and learn?

Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not! Read on to learn more about proven strategies to make this your PE reality…

Authenticating Strategies

The simple, research-verified and teacher-tested strategies outlined below: promote a sense of belonging (affiliation), teamwork, and personal growth; establish the critical, and often misunderstood, cooperation-competition link; focus on fair play and character development; and enhance students’ participation and ownership in the learning-teaching process. While individually impactful, when used collectively these strategies create a genuine, fun, supportive PE environment.

  • Long Term Grouping

Form equitable learning teams early in the unit and keep students on the same team for the entire unit.

Benefit: Creates a context where teams have time to gel, and where loyalty, teamwork and personal growth are fostered.

  • Fair Play/Character Matters

Use a fair play contract that focuses on character traits to deliberately highlight expectations for your classroom.

Benefit: Adhering to fair play principles creates an environment that is supportive and encourages students to be responsible. Fair play extends beyond the PE classroom to all facets of life. Training students for a lifetime of cooperating and competing fairly is a worthy goal and one that must be vigorously pursued in PE.

  • Team Points System

Create a system where teams can earn and accumulate points across the unit for what you believe is important (i.e., fair play, on-task, exemplary actions, etc.). Point totals may be used to crown a unit champion.

Benefit: This system motivates because it accentuates the cooperation-competition link. Students are more task-focused and goal-oriented and teachers experience more efficient classrooms with fewer behavior problems.

  • Student Roles

Develop roles and associated responsibilities to ensure students learn about all aspects of activity including player/participant, official, scorekeeper, etc.

Benefit: Students learn from and enjoy performing non-player roles. Students assume more ownership and teachers are able to accomplish more when students assist. If space and/or equipment are limited, the use of non-player roles provides a way for more students to be meaningfully involved and simultaneously reduces the problems associated with students who would otherwise be idle.

  • Season with a Culminating Event

Title the unit a “season” and segment it into pre-, in- and post-season phases, with a culminating event (think Super Bowl, World Cup, Dance Olympics) to end the unit.

Benefit: The event represents a meaningful destination and a venue for the application of the unit content in an authentic or “real” context. It inspires students to work cooperatively toward successful participation, promotes a spirit of unity within teams, and fosters a sense of healthy competition between teams, especially when paired with the fair play and team points systems.

Next Steps

Make PE real for your students by:

  • Selecting two or more of the authenticating strategies from above to implement.
  • Identifying one class in which to implement the strategies you selected.
  • Reflecting on the implementation and challenging yourself to add strategies and classes as you and your students become increasingly comfortable with real, meaningful, and fun PE!

What other strategies do you use that serve to make PE meaningful for your students? We would love to hear from you in the discussion section below.

USC Students Excited about SPARK Physical Education Curriculum

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

By: Dr. Kristy Hilton, Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California

When I signed on to teach the “Movement for Children” physical education class to current and prospective K-6 teachers at USC earning their Masters of Education degree and/or California Teaching Credential, they were using a quality, often-used textbook in these types of graduate classes. Although an excellent textbook, I knew it would end up on the shelf gathering dust once the student completed the class. I suggested to the Department Chair to switch to the SPARK research-based curriculum for a long career value for these teachers. Now that the faculty has taught it for the past six years, the positive outcomes have been widespread.

Students in these USC “Movement for Children” classes are often overwhelmed with the volume of required academic content to crunch in the framework of a typical teaching day. To then add more content time for teaching physical education, plus their often lack of comfort teaching physical education, and possible lack of supplies and facilities just send them “over the top.”

The SPARK curriculum binder provides the students with standards-based, easy-to-read and execute lesson plans. They also receive access to online videos, assessment, and skill cards.

When the students at USC use SPARK lesson plans to provide their teaching videos, they quickly build their confidence to teach a quality, content-based physical education class. Not only are their physical education classes demonstrating excellent quality, but they inspire their Guiding Practice Teacher to begin teaching physical education, as well.

My students have written many testimonials to me about how the culture of their school with modeling the SPARK physical education program has changed. Some of these schools wrote grants and adopted using SPARK. Here is one of the student testimonials:

“At the end of class at USC, I just wanted to say thank you! SPARK has really changed classroom management for me. My students know that Thursdays are SPARK days, and they are extra good those days in order to earn SPARK time at the end of the day. I honestly feel more confident in teaching physical education even though I was no good at it when I was in school. Dr. Hilton, thank you so much for all of your patience and understanding, kindness, passion, and wisdom!! I know this class was only one credit or unit, but I learned so much about classroom management and instructional strategies. It blows my mind!

Rebekah Hwang – Student
University of Southern California – Los Angeles, CA”

SPARK has not only changed my students’ teaching quality, and the communities they teach, but has changed my perspective of how valuable SPARK is. If the bottom line is for our classroom teachers to incorporate physical education, then SPARK is the biggest bang for the buck.

Click here to learn more about SPARKuniversity resources!

Making Fitness Personal: 4 Steps to Fitness Ownership

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016


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

Students Motivated?

Ever wonder about the best ways to motivate and make fitness personally meaningful for all students? If so, you’re not alone. To help, we want to share some proven strategies focused on student empowerment and inclusion that, when implemented properly, can help you motivate each student to achieve their personal best and take ownership of their fitness.

Empowerment Strategies

Strategies that offer responsibility, choice and meaning give students greater ownership over their personal wellness. These strategies include:

Meeting Psychological Needs

  • Competence – students can perform activities well and with confidence.
  • Autonomy – students have options and can choose activities in which to engage.
  • Relatedness – students have a partner, small group, or team to encourage and support them.

Authenticating PE

  • Teachers create personally relevant, socially meaningful, highly engaging experiences for students.

Providing Leadership Opportunities

  • Teachers design positions of and chances for responsibility in which students engage.

A Sample 4-Step Empowerment Process

SPARK has designed a 4-step process for High School PE, where students have the option to earn SPARK Fitness Instructor Certification in a variety of content areas. The process is highlighted below and in the SPARK SFI Certification 101.

1. Master – basic movements and/or routines

In this step, the teacher is helping students remediate and refine individual movement competency.

  • Example: students master basic yoga poses or a “fun” salutation routine.

2. Create – a program or routine

At this point students develop a personalized fitness routine and/or program applying knowledge and skills.

  • Example: students select and sequence yoga poses to create a fully personalized yoga routine.

3. Lead – a fitness routine or station

Next, students showcase leadership and personal and social responsibility by guiding others in a fitness activity.

  • Example: students lead classmates through the personal routines created in step 2.

4. Pass Test – to demonstrate knowledge

Lastly, students complete a written assessment to ensure that they know the content well.

  • Example: students take a yoga quiz and must pass with at least 80% to earn the SFI Yoga Certification.

Next Steps

Make fitness personal for your students by:

  • Applying the empowerment strategies outlined above.
  • Implementing the example 4-step empowerment process in your own PE program.

For more ideas and resources for High School Physical Education, check out the SPARK High School Physical Education program.

Which Type of Physical Educator Are You? [QUIZ]

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Phys Ed teachers gather ’round! Take this quiz to find out your fitness teaching style.