This is a story about successful kids (especially boys), common sense, and research. Most of us spend hours each day sitting at work. Science says it’s killing us, and we have developed all kinds of fads to combat it--from standing desks to smartphone alerts to get us up and moving. Armed with that knowledge, however, what do we force our kids to do each day at school? Sit still, for six or eight hours. Now researchers say that mistake leads us into a three-pronged, perfect storm of problems:
1. We overprotect kids, trying to keep them safe from all physical dangers--which ultimately increases their likelihood of real health issues.
2. We inhibit children’s academic growth (especially among boys), because the lack of physical activity makes it harder for them to concentrate.
3. When they fail to conform quietly to this low-energy paradigm, we over-diagnose or even punish kids for reacting the way they’re naturally built to react.
Start with the boys
News flash: Most boys are rambunctious. Often they seem like they’re in a constant state of motion: running, jumping, fighting, playing, getting hurt--maybe getting upset--and getting right back into the physical action.
Except at school, where they’re required to sit still for long periods of time. (And when they fail to stay still, how are they punished? Often by being forced to skip recess--and thus they sit still longer.) It’s not just an American issue. Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland recently tried to document whether boys actually achieve less in school when they’re restricted from running around and being physically active.
They studied 153 kids, aged 6 to 8, and tracked how much physical activity and sedentary time they had during the day. Sure enough, according to a report by Belinda Luscombe in Time, the less “moderate to vigorous physical activity” the boys had each day, the harder it was for them to develop good reading skills: The more time kids ... spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years. [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do math. The results didn’t apply to girls. I know that sounds sexist; the researchers offered a few possible explanations. Maybe there simply are physiological differences--or maybe the girls were just as eager to move around as the boys, but they were better able to set aside that disappointment and concentrate. And for that reason, other researchers say, girls are rewarded more than boys in the classroom. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”
A dystopian, scaredy-cat world.
It’s not just about less academic achievement, however. Many observers and researchers now say limited physical activity leads to real physical and mental harm in kids--even in the short term, before they’ve grown up. Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, interviewed young kids to ask them what recess and play are like in the second decade of the 21st century. Their descriptions sound like a dystopian vision of a scaredy-cat future: “We have monkey bars, but we aren’t allowed to go upside down on them. They think we are going to hurt ourselves. I think I’m old enough to try going upside down.” “We have woods, but can’t go anywhere near them. It’s too dangerous.” “When it snows, we can’t touch it with our foot, or we have to stand by the teacher for the rest of recess.” Restricting kids’ movement like this leads them to increased anger and frustration, less ability to regulate emotions, and higher aggressiveness during the limited times they are allowed to play, Hanscom writes. “Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play a day to maintain good health and wellness. Currently, they are only getting a fraction.”
Expanding the definition
You probably know that ADHD diagnoses in kids are more likely now than they were in years past, but you might not realize that the number of diagnoses is still rising--and at an alarming rate. In 2003, for example, it was diagnosed in about 7.8 percent of kids, but that rose to 9.5 percent in 2007 and 11 percent in 2011. That’s a 40 percent increase in eight years. Why? For one thing, we’ve changed the definition of ADHD to make it more expansive. Many critics argue it’s also because of the pharmaceutical industry, since the leading treatment for ADHD is use of the prescription drug Ritalin. And Hanscom, in a separate article, says it’s also because we’re forcing kids to sit still longer--and they’re simply reacting as nature intended. “Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors,” she writes. “Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.”
Of course, these are complicated issues. Nobody wants kids to fail or develop health problems. But given the trends in science and research, why won’t more schools at least experiment with including more recess and physical activity in their schedule? The most commonly cited explanations are both simple and frustrating. Last year, for example, the New Jersey state legislature passed a law requiring public schools to include at least 20 minutes of recess each day--but the governor vetoed it, calling it a “stupid” idea. Another big adversary is standardized testing, because the time required to prepare for and take tests has to come from somewhere. (“When we have standardized testing, we don’t get recess,” said one of the students Hansom interviewed. “The teachers give us chewing gum to help us concentrate on those days.”) There is also simple inertia. It’s much easier to control a classroom in which the kids have to sit quietly than one where you allow for a little bit of managed chaos. Nobody judges teachers by whether they gave kids enough recess during the day. And as long as we have overly protective helicopter parents, there will always be fear of liability issues. My free e-book, How to Raise Successful Kids, has more insights and advice on parenting.
Play around a bit
There are a few signs of hope. An elementary school in Texas began working four recess periods per day for each child into its schedule, for example. That was a big enough story to make the national news. Result? Students are “less fidgety and more focused,” one teacher said. They “listen more attentively, follow directions, and try to solve problems on their own instead of coming to the teacher to fix everything.” But this approach is the exception to the rule. Until schools figure out how to incorporate lots of movement and play into their schedules, it will be up to parents to compensate. So set a good example with your own physical activity, and maybe side with your son (or daughter) if he or she gets in trouble for moving too much at school. Hanscom reminds us of the stakes: “In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order for them to pay attention, we need to let them move.”
BELOW ARE 15 CHARACTERISTICS OF A 21ST-CENTURY TEACHER:By: Tsisana Palmer
1. Learner-Centered Classroom and Personalized Instructions
As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to “spoon-feed” the knowledge or teach “one-size fits all” content. As students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort -- an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes!
2. Students as Producers
Today’s students have the latest and greatest tools, yet, the usage in many cases barely goes beyond communicating with family and friends via chat, text, or calls. Even though students are now viewed as digital natives, many are far from producing any digital content. While they do own expensive devices with capabilities to produce blogs, infographics, books, how-to videos, and tutorials, just to name a few, in many classes, they are still asked to turn those devices off and work with handouts and worksheets. Sadly, often times these papers are simply thrown away once graded. Many students don’t even want to do them, let alone keep or return them later. When given a chance, students can produce beautiful and creative blogs, movies, or digital stories that they feel proud of and share with others.
3. Learn New Technologies
In order to be able to offer students choices, having one’s own hands-on experience and expertise will be useful. Since technology keeps developing, learning a tool once and for all is not a option. The good news is that new technologies are new for the novice and and experienced teachers alike, so everyone can jump in at any time! I used a short-term subscription to www.lynda.com, which has many resources for learning new technologies.
4. Go Global
Today’s tools make it possible to learn about other countries and people first hand. Of course, textbooks are still sufficient, yet, there is nothing like learning languages, cultures, and communication skills from actually talking to people from other parts of the world.It’s a shame that with all the tools available, we still learn about other cultures, people, and events from the media. Teaching students how to use the tools in their hands to “visit” any corner of this planet will hopefully make us more knowledgable and sympathetic.
5. Be Smart and Use Smart Phones
Once again -- when students are encouraged to view their devices as valuable tools that support knowledge (rather than distractions), they start using them as such. I remember my first years of teaching when I would not allow cell phones in class and I’d try to explain every new vocabulary word or answer any question myself -- something I would not even think of doing today! I have learned that different students have different needs when it comes to help with new vocabulary or questions; therefore, there is no need to waste time and explain something that perhaps only one or two students would benefit from. Instead, teaching students to be independent and know how to find answers they need makes the class a different environment! I have seen positive changes ever since I started viewing students’ devices as useful aid. In fact, sometimes I even respond by saying “I don’t know -- use Google and tell us all!” What a difference in their reactions and outcomes!
I have written on the importance of both student and teacher blogging. Even my beginners of English could see the value of writing for real audience and establishing their digital presence. To blog or not to blog should not be a question any more!
7. Go Digital
Another important attribute is to go paperless -- organizing teaching resources and activities on one’s own website and integrating technology bring students learning experience to a different level. Sharing links and offering digital discussions as opposed to a constant paper flow allows students to access and share class resources in a more organized fashion.
Technology allows collaboration between teachers & students. Creating digital resources, presentations, and projects together with other educators and students will make classroom activities resemble the real world. Collaboration should go beyond sharing documents via e-mail or creating PowerPoint presentations. Many great ideas never go beyond a conversation or paper copy, which is a great loss! Collaboration globally can change our entire experience!
9. Use Twitter Chat
Participating in Twitter chat is the cheapest and most efficient way to organize one’s own PD, share research and ideas, and stay current with issues and updates in the field. We can grow professionally and expand our knowledge as there is a great conversation happening every day, and going to conferences is no longer the only way to meet others and build professional learning networks.
Connect with like-minded individuals. Again, today’s tools allow us to connect anyone, anywhere, anytime. Have a question for an expert or colleague? Simply connect via social media: follow, join, ask, or tell!
11. Project-Based Learning
As today’s students have an access to authentic resources on the web, experts anywhere in the world, and peers learning the same subject somewhere else, teaching with textbooks is very “20th-century” (when the previously listed option were not available). Today’s students should develop their own driving questions, conduct their research, contact experts, and create final projects to share all using devices already in their hands. All they need from their teacher is guidance!
12. Build Your Positive Digital Footprint
It might sound obvious, but it is for today’s teachers to model how to appropriately use social media, how to produce and publish valuable content, and how to create sharable resources. Even though it’s true that teachers are people, and they want to use social media and post their pictures and thoughts, we cannot ask our students not to do inappropriate things online if we ourselves do it. Maintaining professional behavior both in class and online will help build positive digital footprint and model appropriate actions for students.
While this one might sound complicated, coding is nothing but today’s literacy. As a pencil or pen were “the tools” of the 20th-century, making it impossible to picture a teacher not capable to operate with it, today’s teacher must be able to operate with today’s pen and pencil, i.e., computers. Coding is very interesting to learn -- the feeling of writing a page with HTML is amazing! Even though I have ways to go, just like in every other field, a step at a time can take go a long way. Again, lynda.com is a great resource to start with!
I invite you to expand your teaching toolbox and try new ways you have not tried before, such as teaching with social media or replacing textbooks with web resources. Not for the sake of tools but for the sake of students! Ever since I started using TED talks and my own activities based on those videos, my students have been giving a very different feedback. They love it! They love using Facebook for class discussions and announcements. They appreciate novelty -- not the new tools, but the new, more productive and interesting ways of using them.
15. Keep Learning
As new ways and new technology keep emerging, learning and adapting is essential. The good news is: it’s fun, and even 20 min a day will take you a long way!