Friday, June 18, 2021

$100,000 grant will train teachers to keep kids moving


A few teachers in Boulder Valley, Colo., will use a $100,000 grant to get some training in increasing physical activity for kids during the school day, the Daily Camera reports. Put this in the “Biggest Waste of Money Ever” category.

I have two responses, neither of which would cost schools any money: recess and brain breaks.

“Brain breaks have been all the rage for quite some time now. We’ve learned that regularly incorporating short movement activities into the instructional day not only allows children to get their ‘wiggles’ out, but energizes them and increases their ability to focus on the next learning activity as well,” writes Bevin Reinen on the Teach Train Love site.

“Let’s utilize the technology we have to give the kids a healthy dose of pop culture and silliness all mixed into one. These videos are sure to get your students (and maybe even you) moving and grooving”:

  1. “The Sid Shuffle” Ice Age Dance Video
  2. Madagascar’s “I Like to Move It” Video
  3. Wyclef Jean “Electric City” Music Video
  4. Just Dance Kids “Get the Sillies Out” Video
  5. Minions DJ “You Should Be Dancing” Video
  6. Shake Break Video
  7. Just Dance Kids 2 “Whip My Hair” Video
  8. “The Ding Dong Song” Crazy Frogs Video
  9. The Learning Station’s “C’Mon Let’s Dance” Video
  10. Mario Dance Video
  11. “Respect” Rap Video
  12. “The Cha Cha Slide” Instructional Video
  13. “If You’re a Kid” Instructional Video
  14. Dancing Pandas Video
  15. Sesame Street “Share It Maybe” Video
  16. Cee Lo Green’s “Kung Fu Fighting” Video
  17. Backyardigan’s “I Got a Feeling” Video
  18. Some Nights: Wreck it Ralph Video
  19. Koo Koo Kanga Roo’s “What’s That You Say?” Video
  20. Just Dance “What Does the Fox Say?” Video

And listen, if those aren’t enough to keep your kids moving during the day for a long time—or if you simply get tired of kids asking “What does the fox say?” all the time, Ms Reinen has a few more pages (holidays, with a seemingly endless supply of brain-break activities. All get kids moving for free. All are available for teachers everywhere to use. There’s no need to pay $100,000 to find out how to do this.

If you’re wondering if research supports the idea of brain breaks, stop worrying. First, every teacher who has ever stood in front of a class full of elementary students knows they fidget. And when they’re fidgeting they’re not paying attention, which is a bad thing. They know the brain breaks work.

A small body of research does support the idea of physical activity to support learning, however. In 2008, for example, John Kilbourne studied the connection between movement and education at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. He had his university students sit on big exercise balls during a 14-week class. Just to maintain balance, some minimal physical activity is required.

He found that with even the small amount of movement his students got during class, which is less than your students would get with any of the brain-break activities Ms Reinen describes, students reported being better able to concentrate in class, take part in productive discussions, and take better notes.

His original research was published in the February 2009 issue of The Chronicle of Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education, but interest in researching the idea has fallen off since then. However, two student researchers, guided by psychology professors at the University of Minnesota, attempted to explain, through research, why there has been little interest in studying the brain-break phenomenon.

The bottom line: Teachers do it because they know it works. Why set up a control group in an experiment and deprive those kids of the physical activity?

Kids who take brain breaks don’t fidget, no additional research is needed, and that’s all we need to know. The following is reprinted under a Cretive Commons license from the Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Minnesota (authors: Nicole Kafka and RaeLynn Limberg):

Stability balls, which are commonly used for physical fitness, have become a recent interest among educators as a classroom intervention. Educators implement stability balls as an alternative to traditional classroom seating with the intent to improve classroom behavior and academic engagement. Little empirical support, however, exists for their use and effectiveness. For the purpose of this study, an 18-item questionnaire was administered to teachers working in school districts in Southern Minnesota that have and have not implemented stability balls as a classroom intervention. The intent of the questionnaire was to uncover motivations for implementation, perceptions regarding effectiveness, and estimate the prevalence of stability balls in classrooms. It was hypothesized that teachers are motivated to use stability balls based on individual student’s needs and are perceived as a beneficial intervention in lieu of experimental analysis supporting their efficacy.

In defense of the teachers in Colorado who got the grant, no public money is being used for this professional development. The money came from Kaiser Permanente, which is clearly interested in helping kids stay more physically active during school days that have become more and more sedentary.

So, it’s not the taxpayers who are on the hook for this waste of good teachers’ time, but a private company. Ah, what they could’ve done with the hundred grand!

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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