Sea View introduces Movement to Learn
by Trish Weatherall, Published in the North Island Gazette, Dec. 2, 2015
In October Sea View School in Port Alice launched Movement to Learn, a half-hour in-school exercise program each morning to help improve student learning, focus, and mood.
The program is part of an official staff inquiry project supported by the school board, to conduct research, implement a plan, and take measurements at the beginning and end of the year to determine whether there was an influence there or not.
The Movement to Learn (m2L) project was initiated by Principal Heather Johnson and teacher Stephanie Boal when they noticed a change in students last year.
“We began noticing the stress of Port Alice’s economic situation starting to affect the children’s learning. The uncertainty was starting to filter down to the kids,” said Johnson. “The children were expressing more sadness, tiredness, and worry. There was a decrease in student focus, and in both their academic and physical stamina. So we wanted to do something for their overall sense of wellbeing.”
Through research, staff found even more compelling reasons to incorporate the program: the connection between physical movement and healthy brain function – specifically concentration, memory, and mood.
In addition to a number of research reports and articles that confirm the exercise-brain connection in similar school programs world-wide, the staff are reading Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In his book, Ratey calls exercise “Miracle-Gro for the brain”. It increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and glucose for heightened alertness and mental focus, and stimulates nerve growth factors. He says exercise builds up the body’s level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), causing the brain’s nerve cells to branch out, join together and communicate with each other in new ways. Exercise also increases serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels — important neurotransmitters that communicate information throughout the body. Ratey cites the example of Titusville, Illinois schools that implemented an active program called PE4Life, and saw standardized test scores rise from below state average to 17 per cent above average in reading and 18 per cent above average in math.
“It’s our hope that embedding movement for the purpose of learning will lead to improved achievement in both literacy and numeracy, and will empower students to self-regulate their bodies, moods and minds for learning, as well as give them a greater sense of well-being,” said Johnson.
The m2L Program
The school is well-equipped to run the program with Boal’s designation as a PE Specialist and fellow teacher Kara McPherson’s training in kinesiology. The teachers developed the program for Sea View School with the intention of adapting it to the students’ needs and preferences.
M2L currently runs from 9-9:30 each morning, with all 36 students from kindergarten to Grade 8 participating together. Led by a staff member and volunteer student leaders, they do a warm up, a core exercise activity, and a cool-down session.
“Favourite activities are the lap challenge (running around the school) and circuit training,” said Johnson. “Boxercise is more popular with the little kids, maybe because they are imagining they are superheroes. The cool-down piece is really important. When the kids leave the gym and come back to class they are very calm.”
Students are informed about the benefits of exercise on their learning and moods. They are also learning about the Zones of Regulation, and to recognize when they are in the optimal “green” zone for learning (happy, calm, feeling ok, focused, ready to learn), as well as identifying when they are not and what to do about it.
Johnson says initially some children were out of their comfort zone about the change to their routine. Writing about m2L in their daily journals, some students felt it was boring or tiring. Most, however, are embracing it.
“We do movement to learn because it helps our brains to wake up and get ready to learn. I think Movement to Learn is a great way to start the morning,” wrote 8-year-old Maddison Jorgensen.
“I like movement to learn because it makes me feel good and awake, and I like doing Zumba and Boxercising. When I am doing movement to learn I feel good and confident,” wrote 11-year-old Mariah McGraw.
At the beginning of the program students filled out a simple baseline survey in the form of graphic questionnaires, by circling a happy, neutral or sad face in answer to three statements: ‘My body feels’, ‘My mind feels’, and ‘I am ready to learn’. At the end of the school year, they will answer these surveys again.
Unofficially, Sea View staff feel the children are already benefitting from increased focus and self-regulation. However, Johnson says, “We were told by our mentors from the University of Vancouver Island that we may not see increased academic achievement in the first year. Partly because as staff we’re learning what’s working and the children are getting used to it.”
In June staff will evaluate the program findings and make decisions on how to integrate it into the future.