U-46 gets students moving during class to improve focus

 
 
Posted1/11/2016 5:40 AM
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  • Tarren Cedillo's second-grade students -- including Riley Gavin, 7, center -- at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett get moving to "YMCA." Sycamore and other Elgin Area School District U-46 schools are using GoNoodle, an online program, to combine physical activity with academic lessons.

      Tarren Cedillo's second-grade students -- including Riley Gavin, 7, center -- at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett get moving to "YMCA." Sycamore and other Elgin Area School District U-46 schools are using GoNoodle, an online program, to combine physical activity with academic lessons. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

It's a universal truth that kids can't sit still for long periods.

The state's second-largest school district is giving students a reason to move around in their seats while in class to help improve focus.

Elgin Area School District U-46 is fighting the sedentary aspect of the school day with a new program aimed at re-energizing elementary students through more frequent activity during classes.

"It gives their brains a minute to decompress," said Tracey Jakaitis, U-46 physical education, health and wellness coordinator. "We are not wired to sit. Sitting is not very healthy, but that's what school is."

This year, U-46 elementary teachers are trying an online program, GoNoodle, which offers creative ways teachers and students can combine physical activity with lessons and avoid sitting all day. The program is being implemented at all U-46 40 elementary schools through a donation from Amita Health and a nearly $1,400 grant from Kane County Fit for Kids. The three-year grant ends in 2018.

The GoNoodle Plus program gives teachers access to a website that provides activities and videos aligned to core subjects, such as mathematics, vocabulary, spelling, science and geography.

"It takes activities and aligns them to those core curriculum areas," Jakaitis said. "You are just reinforcing (material) while moving, and it's fun. Even the (exercises) that are tied to content, you are doing some pretty large gross motor movement with it. We have increased the amount of classroom movement to almost eight minutes a day."

Wiggling, running in place and even jumping around could be part of the activities.

"After my students wiggle, they are more focused and energized," said Tarren Cedillo, who teaches second grade at Sycamore Trails Elementary School in Bartlett. "They are in a good mood and ready to learn again. GoNoodle gives them a break without losing any instructional time."

Typically, students get a 20-minute daily recess for lunch and 40 minutes of gym class per week, but much of their school day is spent sitting. With GoNoodle, the students collectively have moved an extra 30,000 minutes a month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children get at least 60 minutes of activity daily -- including aerobic and muscle and bone strengthening exercises. GoNoodle provides for all three forms of activity, officials said.

For example, the vocabulary exercise allows students to spell out words with their bodies.

Jakaitis recommends students shouldn't sit for more than 20 or 30 minutes without getting up and moving around.

"My philosophy is kids just can't sit that long and focus," she said. "You can teach them all you want, but if they are not listening, it doesn't matter if you're doing math for 20 minutes. We give them a 3-minute break before 20 minutes of math. This really helps those middle, lower (level) kids who just really struggle to pay attention."

Jakaitis said initially convincing teachers to give up precious classroom instruction time was a tough sell because of so much emphasis on testing.

Only 140 of the district's more than 1,000 elementary teachers had registered with GoNoodle at the beginning of the school year. That number has since grown to about 850 as of last month. Students also can use GoNoodle at home.

At Lords Park Elementary in Elgin, students can earn GoNoodle time a variety of ways, including cashing in reward points earned for good behavior, said Scott Park, physical education teacher and movement interventionist.

"GoNoodle has increased motivation and encouraged positive behavior in our students," he said. "By incorporating movement into their everyday lives, we are helping a generation of kids stay healthy and that is an incredible thing."

Teachers who have used GoNoodle before testing have reported higher scores, Jakaitis said.

"Every school is really having a different experience," Jakaitis said. "Generally, all of them will tell you they are more focused, better behaved. Teachers are just a little bit less stressed, if they are not redirecting all the time. It's very exciting. I hope this becomes just what we do. Teachers and parents agree this program is life-changing for our students."

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