Happy New Year! The promise of a new year always brings about the promises of personal and professional resolutions. Fitness, exercise, and weight loss often top the list. In other words, movement into the classroom is essential. What’s on your 2017 list?
Research shows that “regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills” (Harvard Medical). When we exercise we pump oxygen to our brains which improves brain function, yet we force our students to sit still and sit quietly and then complain when their “brains” aren’t “on.” If we know that movement improves brain function then why do we continuously build a practice that completely disregards the needs of growing brains? A static body creates a static brain, so it is time to get our students up and moving! Here are three ways to incorporate movement into the classroom:
Plan Brain Breaks
Ideally, students should not sit still for longer than about 20 minutes. Not only can prolonged sitting create health issues, but the longer they sit still the faster they zone out. Planning brain breaks into your lessons can be easy by simply getting students out of their seats. For example, after sitting for a mini-lesson, have students apply their new knowledge by creating. This can be creating a visual representation on chart paper hanging in the room (that they have to get up to write on), have them get into groups and create a tableau (the original mannequin challenge) with peers, or have them “reteach” by taping a tutorial of the new information. Even if you don’t “plan” the brain break into your lessons if you notice students starting to get lethargic, have them move. This can be as simple as having them stand up and switch seats with a peer. While they are “visiting” their peer’s space, have them comment on their peer’s notes by adding something they forgot or creating a question. They can even write a little note of appreciation to their peer. After two minutes, have them return to their seats. Even though it is only a couple of steps, it will increase the heart rate, and pump oxygen to their brains. If you need some more ideas on planned brain breaks, check out these resources:
An easy way to incorporate movement into the classroom is by altering the space to fit the needs of the instruction. It will take some practice and very clear procedures, but it is very doable to have students reconfigure the movement into the classroom strategy and make the space conducive for the type of learning that is occurring on any given day.
Here are 5 ways to get students up and incorporate movement into the classroom strategy by rearranging their space.
The theatre environment is the traditional high school set up, rows of desks facing front. This setting can be used when you need to impart knowledge that students can’t get anywhere else (which isn’t much so you shouldn’t have to use it very often).
Groups and pairs are great for everyday work. They don’t have to be actually doing group work in order to be in this setting (in fact don’t do group/pair work unless it has a purpose).
Debate style has rows facing each other and can be used as debate, but also as an everyday setting.
Discussion is set in a circle, sometimes a double circle and again, doesn’t have to be used only for discussions.
Away, literally no desks. This is great for stations, gallery walks, 4 corners, walk the line, or any activity where you need space.
Partner with PE and Dance
When you are ready to take brain breaks to the next level, consider partnering with your PE/Dance departments. This is a great way to create school wide brain breaks. Have the PE/Dance departments create and film mini movement segments and then send them out to the staff. If there is at lease one “go-to” video per week, then any time you class is loosing steam, play the video and have your students move!
New Year’s Resolutions are inevitable, so why not make yours both a personal and professional goal to get up and move!
Typhani Harris is a dance educator and mentor teacher who has been on the boards of both the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CAHPERD) and California Dance Education Association (CDEA). Recently, she has made a cross-country move and is now an instructional coach in Brooklyn, New York. Having begun as a high school English teacher, it has been her mission to bring theory and research into the traditional dance class, and in 2009 she won the Music Center’s Bravo award for excellence in Arts Education. Typhani is currently on a mission to help teachers Stop Teaching and Start Reaching their students, check out the unTeacher Lab at stopteaching.org