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.