On the move in Finland

More Recess

Worried about passive, phone-tapping kids, Finnish schools are trying to get students moving, writes Tim Walker in The Atlantic. An American, Walker lives in Helsinki and teaches in a bilingual school.

Kids in Finland have short school days and frequent 15-minute breaks — typically there’s one after each 45-minute lesson. And even though the breaks keep them more focused in the classroom, they don’t necessarily keep them more active at school.

Under the “On the Move” initiative, his school has turned sixth graders into “recess activators” for first and graders. Older kids lead the younger ones in games, such as Banana Tag.

In the fall, a new schedule will combine short recesses into at least one 30-minute break. Students in grades seven through nine will choose activities, such as yogalates, floor hockey, or gymnastics.

Teachers also are looking for “strategies for getting students to be more active during lessons,” writes Walker. These include “energizers” (short breaks from sitting), allowing kids to complete work while standing or while sitting on large bouncy balls.

He’s replaced oral presentations, which tend to be dull and time consuming, with the “gallery walk.”

Students fasten their presentations to the walls of the classroom or hallway as if they were exhibiting their work in an art gallery. Each display is numbered and the children rotate from exhibit to exhibit systematically, spending a minute or two carefully studying each one. To make this experience more meaningful, students provide written-feedback to each other as they’re visiting each display. Before they start the active gallery walk, I hand out sticky notes in two different colors. On one color, my sixth graders write questions about the work for the presenter to consider and on the other, they jot down positive observations.

On the Finnish Report Card 2014 on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Finnish kids received a “D” for physical activity levels, reports Walker, U.S. children earned a D- on the 2014 United States Report Card.

Core PE: Now with less exercise

Common Core has come to gym class, reports Madeleine Cummings in Slate. That can mean anything from “word walls” to worksheets. Will there be less time for exercise?

Many P.E. teachers have little training in the new standards or in how to teach academics, she writes. They’re under pressure to help raise test scores. “Who needs exercise when gym class can serve as yet another 45-minute opportunity for teachers to shoehorn in vocabulary and multiplication drills?”

“Timmy Dhakaia, a senior at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School, says she and her classmates now spend so much gym time on written exercises and tests that they don’t always have time for, well, gym,” writes Cummings. After a yoga session, students fill out a worksheet on which parts of the body each pose strengthened. It takes time.

At a Maryland elementary school, teacher Judy Schmid has her bowling students score games manually. They learn Core math skills while counting pins, calculating their scores and playing number games. It takes time.

A “text” can be anything, advises Martha James-Hassan, who directs physical education programs at Towson University.

 Instead of asking students to read articles or write essays in gym, she suggests students learn what the lines signify on the gymnasium floor, or compare ingredients on a nutrition label. Talking about a sports controversy at the beginning of class is another technique for sparking discussion and helping students learn how to frame arguments, both skills valued by the Common Core.

“But even these more creative suggestions sacrifice students’ physical activity,” writes Cummings.

The new, nicer PE

Although she comes from a dodgeball-loving family, Rachel Levy thinks it’s time to reinvent PE, she writes on All Things Education.

The new, nicer PE bans dodgeball, exercise as punishment and rewarding the most athletic students.

In are personal fitness plans, target heart-rate zones, and sports that play to different strengths and introduce students to activities that they can pursue across a lifetime. “Physically literate” and “lifelong movers” are buzzwords of the New PE.

Even for her athletic sons, who are starting middle school, the new approach makes sense, writes Levy. But will PE be pushed out by academics?

I hated dodgeball. I threatened to drop out of high school if required to walk on a balance beam. (My counselor, a former PE teacher, negotiated a compromise.)  I won the National Teachers of English contest (state of Illinois) with a biographical essay on my loathing for field hockey titled Confessions of a Physically Educated Woman.

Now I exercise every day for 45 to 90 minutes, combining weight training, walking, swimming and a weekly Zumba class. Why? Because I want to control my diabetes and stave off general decay.

Michelle O backs healthy hip hop

Hoping to get young people moving, First Lady Michelle Obama will appear  in a new hip-hop album, Songs for Healthier America, reports U.S. News. It’s just a cameo with no singing involved. 

In June, Mrs. Obama appeared in a hip-hop video urging kids to “work hard/eat right” with rapper Doug E. Fresh, singer-songwriter Jordin Sparks and TV medical personality Dr. Oz.

The full album, which includes songs with names like “Veggie Luv,” by Monifah and J Rome, “Hip Hop LEAN,” by Artie Green, and “Give Myself a Try,” by Ryan Beatty, will be released on Sept. 30 by Partnership for a Healthier America and Hip Hop Public Health.

“U R What You Eat” (featuring Salad Bar, Matisyahu, Travis Barker, and Ariana Grande) and “We Like Vegetables” (featuring Los Barkers!) also are on the album.

Black and Hispanic children, who are the biggest fans of hip-hop music, are significantly more likely to be overweight or obese compared to white children.

Evaluation overkill hits PE teachers

Evaluating teachers’ impact on student achievement is “a necessary reform,” writes Terry Ryan on Ohio Gadfly. But it can go too far. Ohio will evaluate phys ed teachers on their students’ skipping, throwing, dancing and batting skills and knowledge. Among the goals:

*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;

*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances.

The suggested written test for K-2 students (five to eight year olds) includes:

To throw a ball overhand with your right hand, you should step forward with your left foot.

A. True B. False

For a good overhand throw, you should bend the elbow in the shape of an “L” behind the head before throwing.

A. True B. False

Instead of throwing balls, kids will be taking tests on how to throw balls. Teachers think this is stupid, writes Ryan. Parents think it’s stupid. Everyone thinks it’s stupid except for the Ohio Department of Education.

P.E. goes academic

Gym Class Isn’t Just Fun and Games Anymore, reports the New York Times. In addition to teaching health and fitness, P.E. teachers are trying to add reading, ‘riting and rithmetic to their classes.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On a recent afternoon, the third graders in Sharon Patelsky’s class reviewed words like “acronym,” “clockwise” and “descending,” as well as math concepts like greater than, less than and place values.

During gym class.

Ms. Patelsky, the physical education teacher at Everglades Elementary School here, instructed the students to count by fours as they touched their elbows to their knees during a warm-up. They added up dots on pairs of dice before sprinting to round mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. And while in push-up position, they balanced on one arm and used the other (“Alternate!” Ms. Patelsky urged. “That’s one of your vocabulary words”) to stack oversize Lego blocks in columns labeled “ones,” “tens” and “hundreds.”

P.E. teachers worry their jobs will be cut if they’re not seen as critical to a school’s core mission — and test scores, a Palm Beach County administrator tells the Times.

Across the country, P.E. teachers now post vocabulary lists on gym walls, ask students to test Newton’s Laws of Motion as they toss balls, and give quizzes on parts of the skeleton or food groups.

At Deep Creek Elementary School in Chesapeake, Va., children count in different languages during warm-up exercises and hop on letter mats to spell out words during gym class.

The District of Columbia has added 50 questions about health and physical education to its end-of-year standardized tests.

More academics can mean less exercise.

In Kristina Rodgers’s gym class at Indian Pines Elementary School in Lake Worth, Fla., students spent as much time pondering pictures of broccoli and blocks of cheese to stick into pockets on a food chart as they did hopping or running.

Taking the “physical” out of physical education won’t help all those boys getting antsy in class. Kids need time to move.

Can exercise build bigger brains?

Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter? Several recent experiments link aerobic exercise with brain development, reports the New York Times.

In a University of Illinois experiment involving  nine- and 10-year-old students, the fittest children, as measured by a treadmill test, performed best on cognitive challenges; MRIs showed “significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and executive control.”

Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

A second Illinois study focused on complex memory, which is associated with activity in the hippocampus. The fittest children had larger hippocampi than the least-fit children.

A Swedish study of more than a million 18-year-old boys who joined the army, found “better fitness was correlated with higher I.Q.’s, even among identical twins,” the Times reports.

The fitter the twin, the higher his I.Q. The fittest of them were also more likely to go on to lucrative careers than the least fit . . . There’s no evidence that exercise leads to a higher I.Q., but the researchers suspect that aerobic exercise, not strength training, produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain, said Georg Kuhn, a professor at the University of Gothenburg and the senior author of the study.

Aerobic endurance, not muscular strength, was linked to a livelier  brain.

According to a new UI study, not yet published, Wii Fit will not make us smart. Twenty  minutes of running on a treadmill improved test scores immediately afterward;  20 minutes of “playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity” did not.

PE effect is zero, researchers say

Pumping up PE won’t affect obesity, concludes a British study. Children who exercise more at school do less at home. Those who get little exercise at school do more on their own.  The net effect on energy expenditure and body mass is zero.

In the end, a child will expend the same amount of energy, whether in school or out, suggesting that his level of activity is set by some kind of internal meter in the brain, said the lead researcher, Terry Wilkin, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Peninsula Medical School in the British city of Plymouth.

The research was conducted on children eight to 10 years old at three schools. Inner-city students did PE at school two hours a week;  a prep school for wealthy students provided nine hours of PE. The third school was in the middle in exercise and socioeconomics.