Movement as a 21st Century Skill

The first session that I went to last weekend at Educon was run by a colleague of mine, Betty Ann Fish, @bafish10. She is the head of Physical Education at my school and is deeply committed to including PE in our thinking about 21st century learning. She works mainly with elementary students but has lots of ideas for how movement and activity can enhance curriculum. I got so excited as I listened to her. While I have already been using movement, having my students take short, brisk walks, to get the blood circulating and revive their energy, I had not made the connection to how activities like relay races and scavenger hunts could support the learning goals in my class.

One activity that Betty Ann talked about was a relay race where the students ran down and turned over one of 8 cards. The cards each had one of the stages of butterfly development, which was the topic their class had been studying in homeroom. If the card that they chose was the next one in order, the student got to bring the card with her as she ran back. If it was not the right one, the card was left. The movement and the learning were combined. What struck me, especially for a middle school classroom, is that this sort of task would support one of my primary goals which is to teach collaboration. The entire team is working together to remember the sequence of events as well as the placement of the cards. As they run back and forth, shouting encouragement and advice, they have to work together to reach their goal.

Another activity that Betty Ann discussed was for learning US state names and locations. The first step was to place cards with the states all over a playing field. The students have to run around and pick up  a card. They then need to find the people who have cards with states that adjoin their state. There are all sorts of ways that this could be adapted. All of the states along the Mississippi need to run and touch the goal post. The Thirteen Colonies need to stand together. The list is almost endless, but with each activity, the students are interacting with the curriculum while also running and sharing together. Again, full of collaboration and while reinforcing the learning.

These kinds of activities also support a variety of learners. We all know that most of us are kinesthetic learners to one degree or another. We learn well while using our bodies as we do it. It is not just the “smart” ones who can help their partners. It is the fast ones; it is the ones who have good visual memory; it is the ones who already learned the sequence of events; it is the ones who encourage their classmates. Together they all master the challenge, review the material and learn the curriculum, and most importantly have a sense of achievement. .

One aspect of this that stuck me is that it calls for careful preparation. This is not, like most effective teaching, simply grabbing last year’s worksheet off the shelf. It needs thoughtful consideration about what you want them to learn. This sort of work for the students is going to make an impression; they are going to remember what they learned while running around. It will take time to organize and build it successfully,  making cards or setting up scavenger hunts that don’t disturb the rest of the school, but it so clearly can and should be done. The students will love it, for the exercise and the total shift from what they expect to happen in “class.”

So I am off to do some dreaming! It will be interesting to see where these ideas take me!

Thank you to Educon and to Betty Ann!

7 responses to “Movement as a 21st Century Skill

  1. I love your idea about the state game. It seems like such a natural match to put physical geography with a physical learning game, and yet, I’ve never done it. My school has been on a big push this year to have the students up and moving. We are on a 90 minute block which can be a nightmare if you don’t let the kids get up and move around some. I will be stealing your state game even if it is just for a five minute transition activity. Thanks for the post!

  2. Wow, I love the creativity!!! I think this is a perfect example of really trying to engage the students and not just doing what all the other teachers do. I would’ve loved to play the game with the United States, it sounds like so much fun. I think movement/pe etc doesn’t get enough credit in education, because its seen as a period of time where kids are slacking because they’re having fun. Who said fun couldn’t be part of education? I went to a middle school that didn’t have the resources for much physical activity besides pick-up soccer on selected Fridays.

    This also reminds me of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theories. It takes it to another level by stimulating one intelligence to get to another which is critical and something that I think needs to happen more often.

    Thanks for this blog post!!

  3. Hello again, Hadley! When I read your blog title, I had to chuckle a bit inside…”a 21st Century Skill.” Movement and learning has been around since well, creation! It’s unfortunate that it can legitimately be considered a new revelation. But, I suppose that’s what we’ve made of ourselves; human beings not humans doing. I wonder how much money has been spent on scientific research to investigate the link between physical activity and brain function. When I was in grade school, we were allowed two breaks in our school day. You may remember the old-school term for that was “recess!” We would go outside and run, climb, play Red Rover, Hide and Seek, etc. I vividly recall using sticks to rake neatly patterned squares on the ground to form the rooms of our pretend homes; early architects we were. We were encouraged to dream, to IMAGINE. The bell rang to signal the end of recess. After a brief stop at the water fountain, we returned to class with oxygen in our lungs and energy and focus for the tasks at hand. Fast forward a decade and I hear my daughter say, “Mom, our breaks have been taken away because my teachers have to cover more material for testing and there just isn’t enough time in the school day to take breaks.” We scratch our heads and wonder why we are dealing with ever increasing attention deficit “disorders”, childhood obesity, increased depression and anxiety among children, behavioral therapy, etc. Just yesterday, in a conversation with a friend, I learned that she will be paying over $1500 for a new therapy to treat her daughter’s ADHD. The program involves intensive physical activity to increase focus. Shocking! I applaud Betty Ann Fish and educators like her! Let’s get back to where we came from, moving to learn, moving to live! It’s an oldie but a goody and a valuable lesson we’ve learned “the hard way.”

  4. I really connected with the idea that these activities incorporated every student’s strong point. There needs to be more teachers who encourage their students to cooperate with each other and more importantly to find out about their fellow student’s personality/strong points. I think that the relay races or the scavenger hunt would be a good ice breaker for connecting with students in the first week of school, and also allowing them to make connections with each other.
    You mentioned that the students would feel a sense of achievement after doing these activities, and I agree, but I also think that the teacher would feel that they’ve achieved something as well. I personally would be because I got the students to work together in order to learn a topic. I admire when people work together for a common cause. I don’t have the experience nor the learning yet in order to become a teacher, but I hope to feel this way in the future. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. Hadley,
    I love the state idea and am going to pass it on to the 4th grade team as they study Colonial and US history. I’m now thinking of how to adapt something for my class. The order of butterfly development example could be used to any sequential process. My brain is working already. Thanks for sharing the ideas from your session. It’s as if I got to go to an extra one!
    Where shall we meet up next?

    • I am going to work with BA to come up with some Middle School activities. I will let you know when I do. Edcamp Phiily is coming in May. We are still waiting on confirmation of the date. See you there, I hope!

      Have a good day! Hadley

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