SchoolsAlive! uses exercise to give youngsters' brains a boostWEST FARGO – Two hours into Friday’s classes at Freedom Elementary School, Shannon Bartnick sees some of her fourth-graders yawning during math. It’s time for a brain break.
By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM
WEST FARGO – Two hours into Friday’s classes at Freedom Elementary School, Shannon Bartnick sees some of her fourth-graders yawning during math.
It’s time for a brain break.
“Eyes on me, and voices are off,” she declares, before telling her students to pair up.
Bartnick starts them high-fiving, low-fiving, and five-on-the-siding with their partners to help stretch and warm-up.
Then they split into four groups, with each group standing by a number taped to the wall in the corners of the room.
Mixing math with movement, the students have to figure out whether their group’s number is one of the factors of the numbers Bartnick tosses at them.
They also must jump, hop, skip and march around the room to the corners with the other factors – or make for the center when they get a prime number.
In less than four minutes, the game wraps up and the students are back at the last 15 minutes of their math lesson, most a bit rosy-cheeked, a few puffing, and all a little more on-track.
“If I am able at all to tie in curriculum, I try to,” Bartnick said. “I feel it’s beneficial. A handful of students need it.”
‘Off to a great start’
Brain breaks are part of the SchoolsAlive! program, embraced this year by the West Fargo School District to help work 60 minutes of physical activity into the school day for students at the district’s elementary schools.
The program was created by Kristen Hetland, head of the physical education and health department at Concordia College, and Jenny Linker, an assistant professor in the health nutrition and exercise science department at North Dakota State University.
Dakota Medical Foundation gave the pair a grant to start SchoolsAlive! The program includes:
“So far, we’re off to a great start. West Fargo Public Schools has been a champion in this area,” Linker said.
“Those 60 minutes are going to improve health, and help them (students) manage their behavior better in the classroom. And it’s going to improve academic performance,” Linker said.
Hetland said a key to SchoolsAlive! is finding creative ways to use small blocks of unprogrammed time in a school day.
She added that middle and high school students may need extra activity, too.
“For many, as kids get older, they get less physically active,” Hetland said. “Even as adults, if you sit all day it takes a toll. We want this to be sort of the norm for any age of the population.”
Dawn Beil, who teaches physical education and health at Freedom, said the program works.
“It seems to be on our staff’s mind on how we’re going to get 60 minutes of activity during the school day,” Beil said. “And kids are just more alert to trying to get their 60 minutes a day.”
Bartnick usually does two brain breaks a day, once about 10:15 a.m. and again around noon.
The breaks get a thumbs-up from her charges.
“I think they’re kind of fun,” said Emma Jensen, as she digs into her math workbook. “They keep me moving. At home, I’m stuck watching TV.”
Zach Breidenbach agrees. With temperatures below zero outside, he’ll take any chance to stretch.
“You get to move around, and you kind of use your brain,” he said.
And if carving out time to let kids work their wiggles out during the day improves learning, perhaps that’s the best use of that time, Bartnick said.
“The minute or two away from instruction, I feel that I’m getting that back” in their engagement in class “and being ready to learn,” Bartnick said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583