Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A SPARK to Start Your Morning

It has been a while since I've blogged. It's not that I haven't had anything to say, I've just been missing one simple ingredient - time. So now that I've made some time, I'd like to write about one thing I've added to my classroom schedule. I guess you could say it's the SPARK that has always been missing.
SPARK stands for Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids. It's a new initiative that I've started this year and I don't think I'll ever go back.

How it Works: 
Every morning we begin out day with 20 minutes of physical activity. Why? Well, physical activity has many benefits - increased energy and focus being the two major ones that I've seen. Along with that, participating in fun physical activity with others is also a great community builder. By participating, I am building my rapport with students and having fun. If you want to read some of the science behind this, then check out John Ratey's book called SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

The goal in our class is to spend the first 20 minutes each morning engaged in aerobic exercise. We have SPARK three times a week because the other two days we have Physical Education first thing.
This is how it works:

Monday - PhysEd class (a.k.a. Gym Class)
We always start our PhysEd class with cardio games and fitness activities. 

Tuesday - Tune Tuesday
During this time we move and dance to music. We use a combination of different resources for this. Sometimes we dance to videos found on YouTube or on gonoodle.com. Other times we just play upbeat music and create our own dances. One of our favourites is to form a dance circle and have different students lead us in creative dance moves.

Wednesday - Wednesday Work-Out
I've created a work-out circuit in my classroom using work-out cards that I have place around the room. Students work with a partner to complete these exercises for 30 seconds and then rotate to the next one. As long as the music is playing, they are moving. When the music stops, they rotate to the next station. I've pretaught all the exercises and we are continually going over the moves so that students focus on proper form and technique.
Some of the exercises we do are planks, burpees, jumping jacks, step-ups, skipping (in the hall), lunges, squats, donkey kicks, triceps dips and planks.
Following this work out, we always end with stretching. I take this time to talk about all the muscles that we've used and we work on stretching out each one.

Thursday -  PhysEd class (a.k.a. Gym Class)

Friday - Friday Frolic
On this day we try to go outside for a light jog. Usually I walk and they jog to keep up. I love this because we have a wonderful path around our school that takes us through trees, by creeks and past a community garden. We talk, laugh and work up a sweat all at the same time.
If it is too cold outside, which happens these days, we do another active game in class or another day of dance. 

As I mentioned already, I've noticed an increased attention span in my students since taking the time to work out. They are more engaged in the morning and seem to be ready to learn. The first day we had SPARK, one of my students sat in the reading corner right after we finished and said, "Well now I feel ready to listen to a story." Most students enjoy this time. There is the odd child who complains, but the more we do it the more they start to look forward to this time.

As always there are limitations or challenges to anything new. At first I was sceptical of whether or not it was worth the time it took from our schedule. Three days a week we are taking an extra 20 minutes from curriculum time. That's a total of 1 hour a week. With so much to cover and so little time, this can be tough. The honest truth is that SPARK helps focus kids, so in the end they are more productive. The hour that we 'lose' is quickly made up.
Getting into a routine and teaching the routine is also a bit challenging. I had to spend time finding resources and then thinking about how to teach and implement them. There were some activities that seemed like they weren't going to work, but the more we practised and stuck with it, the better it got.
The last challenge I've faced is keeping some students moving and engaged. Most children are excited to be active, but there is the odd student that doesn't seem to be participating like the rest. Whatever the case, I just keep encouraging and hope they will come around.

Final Note:
Modelling is probably the BEST way to get students on board. I do all the activities with my students. Yes, I still wear my dress clothes, but change my shoes. Some teachers in my school will change or bring a change of clothes. I think if kids see you dancing, lunging, jogging and even sweating, they will be more inclined to participate. And let's be honest, physical activity helps teachers stay more energetic and focused as well. 

- https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/dpa/pdfs/k-9_physical_activities.pdf
- gonoodle.com
- YouTube - dance videos