In schools today students who engage in antisocial behaviors are a real challenge forteachers and administrators. Too oftenthese behaviors diminish a student’s ability to learn and often interrupt theeducation of others. Many times teachersand schools apply restrictions to privileges, more seat time, anger management strategies, and suspensions as a remedy for these behaviors. A few months ago I assisted a middle school with initiating an alternative to these traditional approaches for serving kidswith a history of emotional, behavioral, and compliance issues. The strategy was based on recent researchshowing that targeted exercise and physical activity could reduce aggression,increase focus, and improve learning. What is unique about this strategy is that it taps into the brain’smotivational system by using technology – and specifically Exergaming – topromote daily exercise for these students.
After twomonths of executing this intervention, I wanted to get a picture of the impactexercise using Exergaming had on this special education classroom. I asked the social worker (who also teachers)to give her impressions about how this combination had impacted this classroomenvironment and these students. Below isher narrative report on the impact and overall effect that this strategy hashad on her, her colleague, and most importantly, the students.
We began integrating movement intoour instruction during October with short movement breaks using just our bodiesor balance boards that involved students standing on a plastic board thatincluded a maze and moving a ball through the maze by changing their balance onthe board. The students enjoyed thisactivity and seemed to focus better after the activity. Even when I timed students to see how many jumpingjacks (or similar activities) they could do within a set amount of time theywere engaged and wanted to do more of this type of activity.
By November, we had integrated twoXaviX into the classroom and implemented scheduled movement breaks throughoutthe day. As a class we took 3-4 movementbreaks throughout the day that gave each student about 5 minutes of exerciseeach movement break. In addition,students could request additional movement breaks throughout the day asneeded. As we gained more equipment andhad more choices for students (in January we added two iSTEP DDR pads, two ExerbikeGS’s, and a Kinect), we expanded so that each student could have a scheduled 30minute movement break during the beginning of the day and two 5 minute movementbreaks later in the day.
When I think about the impact ofimplementing exercise in our program, I think particularly about one studentwho has always had the need for more movement than other students. He can often be seen walking around theclassroom when other students are seated, using fidget toys at his desk,standing at his desk, and having a difficult time focusing. Since beginning the movement breaks(especially the 30 minute scheduled break), this student hasn’t brought ANYtoys to school to fidget with, is much less distracted, has earned fewer officereferrals, and is able to participate in class more fully. He is able to stay in his seat for longerperiods of time and is completing more of his work.
I once watched a video clip ofJohnathan Mooney, a graduate of Brown University diagnosed with ADHD, talkabout how when he was in school teachers viewed him as “crazy, lazy, andstupid” because his need for movement was different from that of studentsaround him. He said that as he grew uphe learned that he only had a disability when he was placed in an environmentthat made him look disabled. To me, thisis what offering movement breaks is all about. Students in our program are often viewed this way by adults who don’tunderstand their needs. Allowing themaccess to movement in a way that makes movement normal and expected takes awaysome of this stigma and just lets them meet their needs. Dan also brought in a video clip of a schoolthat implemented movement breaks first thing in the morning and saw a decreasein negative behaviors and an increase in participation. In all my years of working with students withemotional and behavioral issues, this intervention of exercise through exergaming has had the most significant impact on improving behaviors ofanything else I have tried. This hasallowed my students to access their education, improve their mood, and make fora completely different learning environment.
Please feel free to contact me foradditional information and observations.
Integrated Services Teacher
Lincoln Middle School
Fort Collins, CO
What an inspiring testimonial about how the combination of exercise and Exergaming works for students with behavioral issues. The strategy has definitelyimproved behaviors, fostered better relationships, and created a feeling ofcaring for all involved. Mostimportantly, however, is that this unique approach has given students betteraccess to their own education by increasing focus, decreasing aggression, andimproving the overall learning environment. Rather than struggling to have these students, who are naturally lookingfor stimulation, be anchored to their seats all day, educators need to makesure that part of the students’ daily schedule includes aerobic exerciseutilizing Exergaming which will sustain motivation and commitment to thisunique strategy.
I hope that people realize, from thisletter, the possibilities that exist for kids in similar situations all acrossthe country. If I could wave a magicwand, I would put this intervention in every school that works with kids wholearn differently and behave in ways that interfere with their success. We know that using exercise through Exergaming will not fix every issue, but it can open up opportunities to help kidsin ways not previously recognized.
The research is clear that exerciseimproves mood and behavior. What’s novelabout this intervention is the introduction of Exergaming as the medium to getstudents (many of whom are reluctant to be physically active) motivated toactually exercise on a regular basis. Rarely,in my 30 years as a principal, have I witnessed something that has had such animmediate and positive impact on both students and teachers. If you are working with kids similar to thosementioned in this article, I would encourage you to give this interventionserious consideration.