50 Million Strong by 2029 is SHAPE America’s commitment to empower all children to lead healthy and active lives through effective health and physical education programs (SHAPE America).
SHAPE America has a bold goal. But it’s one that all of us who teach physical education should be striving to achieve. If 50 million sounds like a huge number, it is! And it’s easy to suggest it’s an unrealistic goal. But in honesty, it’s not so impossible to imagine success if we think about this goal one student at a time.
As the school year winds down and we break for summer, it’s a good time to think about our programs and how we can improve. Where can we add things that give our kids the best chance to be a part of 50 Million Strong? All of us who teach physical education do our best to instill in our students the idea that physical activity is good for them and that they can have fun at the same time. So now, we need to ask ourselves “How can we make our programs even more effective?” The film I’ve shared below shows some of the things we are doing at Mott Road Elementary to help our kids join the “50 Million Strong” club.
Like many of you, we have students who get dropped off early before school begins. A few years ago, we had the idea of opening the gym for an activity we called “Exercise for Excellence.” We wanted the kids to see that this wasn’t just free time in the gym. Instead, we wanted students to make the connection between exercise and their brains and help them realize that having fun moving each day can help them learn better.
I have been teaching for 35 years now. I must say that the good has far outweighed the bad by a long shot! I have been very fortunate that I haven’t gone to a job every morning. I have lived a wonderful professional career! But after 35 years and counting, if I’m not careful there are things my students do that can quickly get under my skin. I was reminded of this the other day.
I am a sports public address announcer in my free time after school. Between my local district, section, state and Syracuse University, I call more than 120 games a year. These games are a lot of fun to announce and I look forward to each of them. This is my way to add a bit of a professional sounding touch to these games (at least I hope!).
I was announcing at a recent high school lacrosse game with our varsity football coach who was running the game clock. He is a National Board Certified high school social studies teacher. While he is a tremendous football coach, he is far from the stereotype. He will honestly tell you that he is more pleased with the outcome of a great lesson plan than a great game plan.
Like many coaches and teachers across the country, once in a while I come up with what turns out to be a new and effective teaching strategy. New ideas often come to me while at professional conferences, reading online, or simply talking with colleagues. I then take the idea and modify it to best fit my teaching environment. One such idea I’d like to share with you is a take-home activity journal.
When my girls were in school, I can remember them bringing home a classroom journal. They had to spend time writing about a topic that had been introduced on in class. In physical education, I once heard a teacher talk about giving their students small stuffed animals to play with at home, then encouraging them to write about the experience in a journal. In one instance, the kids were even given permission to take the animal on vacation with them and write about it.
My version of physical education journaling comes from this idea. I call it “Fun With Buddy.” “Buddy” is a stuffed animal. It’s one of those monkeys with really long arms and legs that have Velcro on them. I was able to get these donated to my program and have acquired 12 of them. This covers all of our grade 1-3 classrooms. Our principal was able to find book money to get us grade-level appropriate books that support being physically active. I put together a journal with blank pages. Each page has a space for the kids to write about what they did with Buddy over the weekend. The pages also have a place for the kids to either draw a picture of what they did, or to stick a photo of them in action with Buddy. And to keep all the items secure, our Home and School Association (H.S.A.) donated string bags.
That’s right, you read it correctly. I want to become obsolete – over and over and over again! Now let me explain myself. I teach in an elementary building that houses grades K-4. Our middle schools run from 5th to 8th grade and our High School holds grades 9-12. I want to present my material in such a way that when my students “graduate” from my building, they don’t need me anymore. I want them to know everything that they possibly should to be able to do but especially the following two things: First, I want them prepared to go into their summer vacation able to be physically active 10-year-old individuals. Second, I want to empower them to return to school in September armed with everything they need to be able to build on their skills and knowledge in our middle school physical education curriculum.
I’ve realized I need to keep both the short term and long term in mind when I plan and teach my lessons. In the short term, I need to ask if I am teaching them the skills they’ll need to be able to enjoy being active on their own? I don’t want to create basketball players, soccer players or any other kind of “player.” Rather I want to teach my classes to enable my students to feel comfortable and enjoy using a basketball, soccer ball, or any other kind of equipment; either on their own, or with their friends. Have I taught them how to organize and play something that they made up themselves? Do they know how all of those skills I taught them can fit into something fun to do?
If I were to see one of my students at a playground over the summer with a ball, I’d hope to see them enjoying themselves using it. Maybe they are shooting baskets with their dad, or mom? Maybe they are bouncing the ball as high as they can and trying to catch it? Maybe they are seeing how far or how high they can kick it? If they don’t have anything with them, I hope I would see them creating something constructive and fun to do. Maybe climbing on a playground structure, or a nearby tree? Maybe having fun running and chasing each other? How about something like asking their mom if they can ride bikes together? What I hope I don’t see them doing is sitting still, all by themselves.
By now, many of our New Year’s resolutions have come and gone. Good intentions don’t have the best track record when it comes to longevity. Well meaning ideas don’t always last. That being said, what is it that we can do to keep our students and us motivated for the long haul?
Most of us work hard to present physical activity to our kids in ways that connect with them. Ultimately, we want our kids to take ownership of their own fitness and to find the best way that they can use it to be healthy and productive people, no matter their age. But teaching them to how to motivate themselves can sometimes be challenging.
Few teachers don’t have “go-to sayings” that they fall back on in their classes. These expressions speak to the heart of our programs. Goodness knows that if you are looking for these, a quick Google search will overwhelm you with options. However, rather than risk asking you to do something like that, I’ve found a few phrases that have stood the test of time for me no matter what I happen to be teaching at the time. See what you think.
The first is a staple of mine that I introduce to my students on the very first day every September: