How can we be more effective as teachers? How can we help students cope with ADHD, anxiety and depression?
John Ratey in SPARK cites evidence from an ever growing body of research papers that we can both enhance learning and our ability to cope with daily life by simply getting out of our chairs, increasing our heart rates and getting a bit sweaty.
There are many benefits to exercise:
The most pertinent issue for us as educators is the role that exercise plays in optimizing brain functionality; preparing students for learning.
Proteins For Building The Brain ‘Muscle’
The brain is like a muscle. It’s adaptable and elastic; able to constantly change, rewire (neuroplasticity) adapting from our experiences. Over the last 20 years research has dramatically changed our understanding of how connections in the brain develop and grow. Moving our muscles produce proteins (loosely termed as factors) that travel to the brain and stimulate cell growth (Insulin like Growth Factor 1) and build more capillaries in the body and brain (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor). Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor is what Ratey & Hagerman describe as the Miracle-Gro for the brain; BDNF spurs the growth of new neurons and ‘fertilizes’ them to keep them functioning and growing. Research has since shown that exercise can elevate the amount of BDNF in the brain -- up to three times normal – to create an ideal environment for learning to take place.
Starting in this year at AISB, the Elementary School will be starting the day with a 15 minute timetabled exercise program, similar to the case study of Naperville Central High School in SPARK. The 15-minute session will focus on heart rate, getting students into a daily exercise routine and creating an optimal environment for their brains to learn. SPARK highlights the benefits of high intensity, anaerobic exercise in releasing the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that’s vital to the growth of all cells in the brain and body. Typically, HGH stays in the bloodstream for only a few minutes; however, a study highlighted in SPARK showed that a 30 second anaerobic activity generated a 6-fold increase in HGH, which peaked two hours after the activity. Research suggests this created an optimal learning zone, whereby vocabulary words were learned 20% faster by those who had undertaken two 3-minute sprints as part of interval training (compared to subjects who stayed at low intensity).
During lessons it is important that students are involved and experience as much ‘game time’ as possible, strategies for reducing teacher talk time and transition time become more critical. The benefits of creating this environment for students go beyond increasing heart rates; ensuring students are engaged, have more time to develop skill and in game decision making.
There is an ever growing scientific body of research that physical and mental education go hand in hand. Separating PE and movement from the classroom creates a suboptimal environment for learning. As educators we should be looking at ways to combine physical movement and learning; PE should be daily for the benefit of a students development, not cut to allow more classroom time as is often seen. As Physical Educators we have a responsibility to move the subject towards a progressive future, where our subject enhances and maximises student learning. PE is as important as any other subject, maybe more so.
What is intelligence?
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, highlights the work of Robert Sternberg who proposes that intelligence should be rethought of as an ability to perform and is influenced by context; as opposed to solely the mental processes inside a person's head i.e. the IQ test. Sternberg believes that there are 3 intelligences in human cognition; analytical, creative and practical.
Analytical Intelligence - Sternberg believes analytical intelligence is based on performance and metacomponents. Performance component are the basic operations involved in any cognitive act.
Creative Intelligence - This involves insights, synthesis and the ability to react to novel situations and stimuli.
Practical Intelligence -Adapting to an environment or changing the environment in order to have goals met. (This has been adapted from Wilderdom.com)
How do we structure our environment to support this?
An example of this within PE could be the skill and drill approach where a skill is taught in isolation; students are expected to imitate and repeat the skill in isolation, performing in near total absence of creative or critical thinking. When in a game, do you perform a skill in an isolated setting?
This can compared to a game centred teaching approach where students participate in small sided, modified and structured games (such as TGfU or Game Sense models). This allows for increased student involvement; whilst creating an environment that enables the student to develop a particular skill within the context of a game. This takes the students ability beyond performing a skill in isolation to having to deal with novel situations created by other players (creative intelligence), whilst having the ability to shape one's own environment or playing space (practical intelligence) by the decision made or executed skill.
In Outliers Malcolm Gladwell tries to take our understanding of success beyond a simplistic view of the stand alone genius or the innately talented musician or athlete; to a more holistic view of history, community and opportunity. To do this Gladwell uses many different stories of successful (and not so successful) people, analysing what factors enabled them to achieve such great heights, it’s a fascinating and thought provoking read; if somewhat simplistic in his recommendations at times.
Tantrums, meltdowns and irrational behaviour can all come from a child (and in a relatively short space of time) What triggers this? How can I use these moments to help the student to develop or understand? The Whole Brain Child is an easy to read book that gives the reader greater understanding of what the student is dealing with on the inside, how to connect with them and provides practical strategies to turn tantrums, meltdowns or irrational behaviour into a teachable moment.
The book provides great insight into the workings of the brain, without feeling like a scientific text book. In the opening chapter on integration; Siegel and Bryson use the analogy of the body consisting of many organs that work together to remain healthy, with the brain consisting of many components that work best when working together.
An example of this; with the brain split in two halves the left (logical, linguistic and literal) and the right side (emotional, non verbal and experiential). When integrated we are able to achieve more intricate and sophisticated tasks. Problems arise when the left and right side of the brain are not integrated and working together. There are times that students (or teachers and parents) can allow their left side to dominate; not connecting with the other person emotionally and just dealing with them using only logic. Just as there are times when we allow emotions to take over, divorcing logic from our decisions and feelings. Siegel and Bryson help you to identify when this happens and provide simple and practical examples of how to integrate (or re-integrate) the two halves of the brain.
Throughout The Whole Brain Child there are comic strips and real life and relatable examples. The clenched fist example (Brain Model) on page 62 provided a visual and practical example that will help students to identify their emotions, understand why they're feeling a certain way; helping them to calm their feelings.
I would recommend The Whole Brain Child for anyone who regularly interacts with children, though as an adult it has helped me to reflect on how I deal with my emotions and the impacts that this has on my decisions and the people around me. It is an easy to read and practical resource; that shows us the most difficult situations can provide us with the greatest teachable moments, that enables a child to identify their feelings and empowers them to respond to them in a positive way enabling them to lead happier, healthier lives.
Newly released research from the UK shows that physical activity rates are on the decline for boys and girls from the age of 7. As highlighted in my blog post on Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom, a move towards a more sedentary lifestyle has a big impact on a child development impacting among other aspects of life, attention skills, controlling emotions, balance, decreased strength and endurance and a weakened immune system. Whilst a move towards a swipe culture and a decrease of outdoor play areas should be looked at, the research suggests that the decline happens early into a child's school life. Could this be because there has been a shift towards a more school-ish view of child development? Emphasis moving towards classroom and away from children learning through free play. This could be supported with the decreases currently made to recess times around the world. What does this also mean to me as an Elementary PE teacher? Is the curriculum that I'm delivering only engaging students during our contact time? Should we not strive to inspire kids to play outside of school time? How do we do this? What are the prohibiting factors?
In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics released research results indicating the average child spends 8 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, smart phones, video games, computers etc). In the UK 75% of children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. What are the effects of this sedentary childhood life style, need we be concerned?
Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom (founder of Timbernook) highlights how child play has changed over recent decades from playing outside freely with other children in nature or within man made play structures that would be deemed a health and safety (or lawsuit) risk to the sedentary lifestyles of immediate entertainment in a swipe culture of tablets, tvs and video games. Hanscom highlights the effects that we are currently seeing in children with health and cognitive difficulties.
Hanscom references a lot of research highlighting the increase of children having difficulty with poor attention skills, controlling emotions, balance, decreased strength and endurance and weakened immune system. Hanscom believes their is a correlation between these and and changes in play among children. To counter act this change in culture Hanscom is not just advocating a more active lifestyle, but more free play (play which is not led by an adult, so football training for a local team does not count).
When initiating free play children need to come up with play schemes, present their ideas to others in a way that makes them want to play and once a few children are involved they start to negotiate their play and create a more elaborate form of pretend play. This process of play helps to develop creativity, independence and social skills which help them relate to and understand others. Through regular free play children are able to learn their abilities, likes (and dislikes) how to regulate their emotions and become flexible, resilient and capable. Whilst these skills could be be developed in an adult led activity, the child has a greater sense of ownership and sees that they have been able to cope with these situations helping children become successful wit relationships, school and work experiences in later life.
Balanced and Barefoot reads like a manifesto and a manual, using scientific research to highlight issues with child play, whilst also providing a framework for how much play children should have and how to support this.
Daniel Pink gave this twitter sized summary at the end of his thought provoking 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The book focuses upon our developing understanding of motivation and how current practices are ‘outdated, unexamined and rooted more in folklore than in science.’ Pink highlights that human motivation has evolved from primitive forms (survival) to carrot and stick and now to what Pink calls, ‘Type I’, or Type Intrinsic.
Without spending too much time on Carrot and Stick, Pink provides numerous research based examples that highlight the archaic carrot and stick method of motivation, or extrinsic rewards such as bonuses and trophies, method can in the long run have a negative effect on not only motivation, but also creativity.
Pink puts forward his research backed alternative, the ‘Type I’ drive stating that ‘human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated people achieve more and live richer lives.’ Type I is dependent upon 3 ingredients; autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is from now, in this blog post and beyond that I will have to consider how this will impact, among other aspects, what I plan and deliver at school.
‘Autonomous motivation involves behaving with a full sense of volition and choice’ – Deci and Ryan 2008
Pink goes on to explain that autonomy is different from independence and it means ‘acting with choice – we can be both autonomous and happily interdependent with others.’ Pink also highlights several behavioral science studies that show ‘autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades and enhanced persistence in school and sporting activities.’
The PYP gym at AISB is placed between our Early Childhood classrooms and Elementary school. When starting my professional development program at the end of the last academic year, (one of my goals is creating an environment that supports self directed learning, or autonomy among my students in PE) I started to observe some of the Early Childhood classrooms and I noticed a disconnect between what was happening in EC, students moving freely around different stations working on specific tasks at their own pace to a more structured environment within ES. Is this because of the expectations of the curriculum? Are parents and leaders within the schools different? Perhaps it is a reflection of how us, as teachers, ‘manage’ classes to coerce, control or direct learning?
Working within the PYP, an inquiry based curriculum, lends itself to student autonomy well. After initial conversations with fellow PYP PE teachers at AISB, our conceptually driven PE curriculum can also support this. At the end of last year, following on from what I had observed in EC and from a key note speech from Andy Vasily at the ECIS PE conference, during a net/wall games unit we gave students the choice to choose between activities that they’d want to participate in for example Tennis, Table Tennis or Badminton (we are supported in doing this as our timetable enables team teaching). I have tried to take this further, this year allowing students the first 15 minutes of a 80 minute lesson to work on skills that they themselves believe they need to improve. Students can choose who they work with, activity ideas with QR codes support and teachers as needed. Students are accountable for their own learning, which can be shared with the class, the teacher, through an exit ticket or through them developing further questions after the session.
Pink defines mastery as the desire to get better and better at something and as autonomy leads to engagement, this is a natural progression. Pink highlights the work of Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’, which has now been added to my list of books to read. Flow is described as the optimal, most satisfying experiences and for Flow to be effective Csikszentmihalyi states that there must be set structure to the activity. There must be:
● a clear goal
● immediate feedback
● challenge well matched to ability
When designing activities for students, teachers should have them aligned to the learning objective and ensure that they are differentiated to match the class's varying needs of students' abilities; also considering the speeds at which students work or develop can be irregular and unpredictable. The focus upon this stage, for me at least, is immediate feedback. Dylan William talks about the importance of formative assessment and it being the ‘bridge of teaching and learning’ and the differing types of feedback (ego involving or task involving ) and how these affect learning.
These videos were shared during a PYP faculty meeting last year. I have thus been critically reflective upon the feedback I give as I try to ensure feedback is improvement based; leading students to think about the activity and where they are in their own learning (self-assessment) and how they need to do to improve, leading to purposeful practice.
Feedback can also be more powerful when received from a peer, benefiting the person receiving the feedback and also the person giving the feedback, as they need to think through what the success criteria is for an activity and what they need to do to get there. This is something that I have become more aware of when planning learning engagements. Enabling students to become student teachers enables the idea of ‘immediate feedback’ to be a realistic expectation when leading activities or during self-directed/ autonomous learning time.
The final stage of the Type I drive is ‘purpose’, which provides the context for autonomy and mastery. The purpose or role of PE within a school curriculum is widely discussed, particularly by people whose experiences of PE were similar to those shown in the movie, Kes. (Even just look at the description of the video ‘a poignant snapshot of all those PE teachers we had’) PE was perhaps seen as an accessory to the school day, a side note to where the learning took place, in the classroom. Through research, a change of focus and more recently social networks ( most noticeably #physed on twitter), PE teachers are sharing good practice, making PE a relevant component of 21st century education, with a focus upon developing social and emotional skills as opposed to just physical, game specific skills. A PE program ensuring ‘Physical Literacy’ is an outcome and students are able to go beyond school and participate to help others lead active and healthy lifestyles; this must be an aim shared and made explicit with students so PE is relevant to the students and education going forward.
This was the question asked by Brad Stulberb in a very interesting article that uses sport as it's focus though can be applied to other areas of life and society including education. The article references a case study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, which looks at 'Super Champions' or world class athletes and 'Almost Champions' athletes who had performed well at youth level, but were now performing in lower leagues now they are adults.
Reading this article brings me back to Carol Dweck's work on Mindset, particularly where Brad Stulberg states 'super champions were characterized by an almost fanatical reaction to challenge.” They viewed challenges in a positive light — as opportunities to grow...' and later Stulberg highlights a difference between Super and Almost Champions in their goal focus; self improvement, comparing themselves to prior versions of themselves for our Super Champions, where our Almost Champions had a focus upon external benchmarks like rankings and comparisons to rivals, which affects motivation during dips in form.
A closing statement of the article, referencing previous research, that talented athletes (for this you could also read learners/educators/business leaders) can often benefit from a variety of challenges, which then builds resilience and mental toughness and aides to develop performance to a top level.
I have just returned from a MS Girls Soccer team building weekend, which was fantastic. These are 15 of the most active female students from our Middle School. The weekend in Curtea De Arges, a picturesque area of Muntenia, Romania, consisted of three 2 and a half hour training sessions and a hike and even with this select group of competitive athletes I had a conversation about the amount of screen time that students had/wanted. The photo below was taken on a boat ride just before our hike.
I shared an article on 10th September on this very subject. Yet it is becoming more apparent, that active play is not happening as frequently in the face of a competition with ipads and other technologies competing for the attention of students in the 21st Century.
A challenge for parents and teachers alike is to encourage students to go outside and away from these screens. The benefits can be wider reaching than just the obvious physical and health benefits. A 2009 study in the Journal of School Health, found that the more physical activity that children undertake, the more likely they are to succeed in academic tests. Another study, this time led by the University of Essex highlights that just five minutes of 'green exercise' can have rapid improvements in mental well being and self esteem.
Patrick Lencioni, also the author of '5 Dysfunctions of a Team', believes he knows. Whilst he uses a fictitious case study of a business to highlight the 3 key traits of the ideal team player, he applies his theory in a variety of situations which can be as applicable for myself, as a member of the American International School of Bucharest community, as it could be to helping students understand how to cooperate together effectively.
The ability to work together as part of a team is a necessary skill, which can be applied to almost all aspects of our daily lives. Lencioni highlights three character traits that form the ideal team player; Humility, Hunger & Smarts. Whilst this may seem three obvious and straight forward traits, as we look at how they interact they can become more complex. Lencioni is ready to highlight that ideal, does not mean perfect. Everyone has the ability to improve in one or more trait.
Lencioni believes that humility is 'the single, greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player. Humble members of the team emphasize the team over themselves, share credit of any successes and define success collectively instead of focusing upon their contribution. They lack excessive ego, or concerns about how others perceive them.
"Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less" C.S. Lewis
Hungry members of a team are self motivated, conscientious and will look to take on more responsibility within the team, but in a humble manner.
Lencioni describes this as being 'people smart', to demonstrate good inter personal skills, including listening, asking questions and engaging within the group dynamics with an understanding of how words and actions can impact upon others.
The book is clearly aimed at adults, and it gives practical advice on how to work with people who want to develop in one or more of these areas. Individually these three traits are obvious and Lencioni agrees, however he believes with just the absence of one it can make teamwork significantly more difficult. A focus for the AISB PE department is working on sportsmanship displayed by our students, and throughout the book I was thinking how this could be applied to benefit our students.
PE provides various opportunities to specifically look, try and reflect upon teamwork with our students and this is the main focus of our Adventure Challenge unit. In October we will be starting this unit with our Grade 3 students, and I plan to use these three traits as a central theme of the unit and the basis of students self and peer reflection. I will post an update of how this looks when the unit is underway.
Do you agree with the emphasis placed upon these traits? Would you add or take away any? How would you use this to help develop teamwork skills among your students?
Finland, and its highly regarded education system, is now recommending that its children participate in physical activity for 3 hours per day, reports the BBC. The Finnish Minister of Education believes their is a correlation between their highly regarded and successful education system and how active their students are.
The benefits of outdoor play go beyond physical development. Their is much research to suggest that outdoor play supports children's problem solving skills and nurtures their creativity, whilst also increasing a child's attention span. Having children play outside together, in unstructured play aides the development of social and behavioural skills, as was discussed in my September 7th blog post.