By JEFF PICKELL
Where are all the kids?
Gorham Fayette elementary school physical education teacher Todd Mitchell has a strong hunch.
When he was his students’ age, he headed home after school, changed into his play clothes, then went back outside again. These days, said Mitchell, students seem more apt to park themselves in front of the TV, video game console, computer or any combination thereof, rather than engaging in healthy outdoor fun.
Since kids aren’t as physically active outside of school as they used to be, Mitchell sought to maximize the exercise they get in his classroom. He even made a study out of it.
As part of the 18-month program, teachers were required to identify one area of concern in their classroom, devise strategies to address and alleviate that concern, and compile data to determine whether the strategies were effective.
Mitchell had to be inventive when it came to gathering data. His strategies for increasing physical activity involved both creating more time for exercise and providing more motivation to do so.
Measuring how much time he was saving with new classroom management options could be achieved with a basic stop watch, but it was harder to put a number on just how much exercise students were getting.
He decided to use pedometers—bottle cap-size devices that measure the amount of footsteps a student takes—to provide the data.
In the beginning, the pedometers themselves were enough to get students jumping an extra jack or two.
“At first, the kids thought they were really neat and would move around just to have a high number at the end of class,” Mitchell said. He gave the students three weeks to grow accustomed to wearing the devices, recording the number of steps each student took during a given gym class.
Then, he observed how the fifth grade class responded to the promise of rewards. Students who achieved progressively higher step counts each day had a sticker placed next to their name on a poster board. The sticker was more than enough to motivate students to move around more during class.
“They made a game of it,” he said. “They were competing against themselves and against their classmates.”
It was competition between classes that proved most effective in keeping students on the move.
Mrs. Rufenacht’s and Mrs. Morr’s third grade classes were also given a three-week period to adjust to wearing the pedometers. The students were then told the two classes were competing for the highest total step count.
From the first day of the three-week experiment, step counts jumped substantially—as much as 20 to 30 percent, Mitchell said. Students moved even when they didn’t have to.
For example, students who were tagged out during a game of color tag would jump up and down and walk around as they waited for the next game to begin.
“Usually, they just stand around,” Mitchell said.
However, he acknowledged that constant competition isn’t a good thing for elementary school kids, so he also focused on refining the management of his classroom to save time.
Previously, students would arrive for gym class, stand for attendance, perform warm-up exercises, then stand in line for equipment.
Now, Mitchell sets the equipment in hula hoops near where the students warm up and he conducts attendance as students exercise. He found the adjustments saved about 30 seconds at the beginning and end of class.
• In addition to Mitchell, six other teachers—Beth Fruchey, Beth Morr, Jessica Burgermeister, Ruby Leininger, Kylie Rufenacht and Amy Herman—are close to completing the Marygrove College master’s program.- March 7, 2007