The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “Physical Education

Back in the Saddle

Many years ago, my wife and I found ourselves without a car. During that time, I rode my bike everywhere I could as often as I could. After nearly passing out from heat exhaustion on a day when the heat index was over 90° F (32° C), I decided that was my upper limit for biking. As winter came, I also discovered that biking when the wind chill was below 20° F (-6° C) was equally a bad idea! On those days, I was fortunate to have coworkers who were kind enough to give me a ride to work. For the most part, though, as long as it wasn’t too hot, too cold, or raining, I was on my bike.

Even after we got a new (to us) car, I continued to bike as often as possible. Cycling was a great form of exercise, it saved a lot of money on automobile costs, it helped energise me in the morning, and it was fun. My students also recognised me when they saw me biking, so they knew that I was setting a good example for the physical activity that we are frequently telling students they all ought to be getting! Then I started graduate school. I still rode my bike a few times, but I quickly realised that biking home in the dark was not particularly safe, even with reflective gear and lights. So I started driving my car again.

I had wanted to get back into the (bicycle) saddle again this year, but it seemed like every day it was too hot, too cold, too wet, or too foggy, and so I was driving my car all the time. In fact, I think I rode my bike once all of the first semester and, until today, not once since then.

But I got back into the saddle again today. It wasn’t too cold, it wasn’t raining or foggy, and I knew I needed to stop making excuses. I woke up earlier than usual, got myself ready, and hopped on my bike, expecting to get to work in about 30 minutes, which is about what I used to average.

I forgot to take into account two important things: one, it has been months since I last rode my bike and two, it was a windy morning. It took me about 40 minutes to get to work, which may not seem like much, but it did mean that I didn’t give myself nearly as much time to get settled in at the start of the day.

All that being said, I am glad I am back on my bike. Graduate school was great for my mind but not so kind to my waistline. I am hoping that cycling 9-10 miles every day will bring back all of those positive outcomes that I saw back when I was biking more regularly. In the meantime, I think I ought to get up about 15 minutes earlier to give myself just a little bit more time in the morning!


Recess is a regular, time-honoured tradition in schools, although I have read disturbing reports of schools and districts eliminating recesses across the nation. As a child, recess was a break from classroom activities, an opportunity to play with friends, to swing, to slide, to run, to jump. My friends and I came up with elaborate stories we acted out while playing, starting with Star Trek stories in which we were the captains on the ships and later our own science fiction story about the USS Aerostar traveling through time in the 4th dimension. (Or was it the 7th? I’m not quite sure…) In many ways, this was our own version of live-action role-playing, although without the costumes. We connected our play to other ventures, including artwork and writing.

As a teacher, I have a somewhat different view of recess. It is still a break from classroom activities. It is still an opportunity for students to engage in play. But it is also an opportunity for them to develop pro-social skills of taking turns. Additionally, recess is a time for physical activity, to move and expend a bunch of energy.

I realised recently that my students were not doing as much of this last part as I would prefer and, as a result, many were getting “squirrelly” or “antsy” toward the end of the day. (They have a 20-minute lunch recess and a 15-minute afternoon recess each day. Our schedule doesn’t allow for a morning recess, too.) I remembered something I did all last year in the mornings (when it was nice out): having students walk or run laps around the front lawn of the school. I decided to put this into place during our afternoon recesses. Before students have free choice for play, they have to do one, two, or three laps.

The early results have been fantastic! The students are getting my physical activity, they are doing sustained, moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, and they are able to focus more during mathing workshop. (Keep in mind, we also do a lot of moving around in the classroom, but it isn’t the same as sustained aerobic exercise!) With the increased focus at the end of the day, we have been able to conclude our core instructional activities for the day, leaving time for my students to once again have free choice at the very end of of the day.

What do you do for recesses?

A Good Day for a Bad Hair Cut

Many friends, family, and regular readers of this blog (all fifteen or so of you) know that, about four and a half years ago, I challenged the Wiley students and community to read 1,000,000 minutes in a single school year. It was an ambitious goal but, with everyone working together, we not only achieved our goal, we exceeded it by 247,277 minutes! The incentive for this goal? I agreed to let my hair grow all year long and then let one of our teachers shave off all of my hair during a whole-school assembly. (more…)

Indoor Recess

One of the realities of living in East Central Illinois is that it gets cold in the winter. Not Antarctica-in-the-winter cold. Not Alaska-in-the-winter cold, and not Siberia-in-the-winter cold, but still cold. Our district policy of staying indoors when the temperature is under 20° F means that we spend a lot of days indoors during January and February. (December, surprisingly, is usually fairly mild.)

Besides the onslaught of cabin fever that comes with the cold weather, students don’t get nearly as much physical activity when we have indoor recess as they do when they are outside. I admit that I don’t blame them. I am frequently expressing a desire to stay inside, wrapped in a blanket, sipping herbal tea, and reading a good book. (Come to think of it, I expressed this very sentiment yesterday when we had our first major snow of the season.) However, as much as I understand the desire to curl up and not move when it is cold out, the reality is that my students need the physical activity. Their bodies are designed to be on the move.

Which is why I am really glad that I finally got around to checking out the Indoor Recess Mega Mixes today from GoNoodle! Instead of spending 10-15 minutes sitting around with their eyes glued to a screen, my students were standing, dancing, high-fiving, and just plain moving. We used one of them today and I was so surprised that all of my students were participating! And then when it was time for Fine Arts, nobody complained about “missing” recess!

Of course, they still like to have time to just chat and play, but we will definitely be using the Indoor Recess Mega Mixes in the future to make sure we are getting in our much-needed physical activity when we can’t go outside because it is too cold!

How do you encourage physical activity when the weather doesn’t cooperate?

New Schedule

I admit, I sometimes get in a rut when it comes to doing things a certain way at a certain time. I like schedules, I like consistency, and I like to keep things the way they are if they are working.

Of course, sometimes things aren’t working and I keep trying to keep them the way they are, anyway.

This is kind of silly, especially because one of my personal mantras is a quote from the movie “Australia.” After two of the main characters have discussed something they both view as a problem and one says that it should be changed, the other responds, “But that is just the way it is!” The first then makes brilliantly simply yet profound statement:

So after nearly three months of trying to find a better way to get some better control to our end of the day routines in our classroom, I realised that one of the problems has been a direct result of having P.E. scheduled from 2:15-2:45. That time just has not given us enough time to return to the classroom, get packed up, and ready to go without a lot running around and chaos.

As a result, I was finally able to look at the P.E. schedule for the building and found that another teacher recently moved her times, which opened up the spots from 1:00-1:30 on Monday and Wednesday. I checked with the various interventionists who work with my students and decided to take the spots. Moving our P.E. times allowed me move our literacy block forward half an hour and move my daily read aloud to the very end of the day. So this is what my new schedule looks like:

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We started working with this new schedule last Friday but we had a lot of changes in the day so today was our first time really trying to follow it. The day worked fairly well until it got to be time to pack up (Today’s Topics on the schedule). Things were still a bit chaotic and so we were not able to read more of Fablehaven. We did have a brief class discussion about it, though, and it seems like the students are willing to give it a go again. I am hopeful that this schedule will be better once we work out the kinks.

But if it doesn’t, that just means I have to do something new!


Giving Students Choices

First off, a quick apology: I left my computer at school yesterday and didn’t realise it until nearly 8 pm. I have tried writing blog posts on my phone and on my tablet before and it just doesn’t work the same way. It wasn’t until I went to bed that it occurred to me that I had a Chromebook at home that I could have used. My apologies if you were looking forward to a post from me!

Getting on topic…

I am a big proponent of giving students choices, albeit always with age-appropriate limits. Allowing students to choose, I have found, increases engagement and buy-in to the activities we are doing. While there are certainly times that I cannot provide choices, such as when we are doing a math benchmark assessment and every student is required to do the same test at approximately the same time, I have discovered that it is usually possible to provide some sort of choice.

Sometimes those choices are between something desirable and something that is not desirable. In those cases, providing choices is a matter of letting them know that while they may pick what they do, the may not be able to pick the outcome. For example, if a student is not following directions in the classroom and it is causing a disruption, I may tell her, in a very matter-of-fact way, that she has two choices: follow directions and be able to participate with her class or speak with the principal and miss out on a preferred class activity. (When such a choice is presented, the student then has to wait until the principal is available and, in the meantime, misses the activity she wanted to participate in.)

Other times the choices are between two desired outcomes or there are an infinite number of choices but a limit placed by how the choice is carried out. During P.E. this afternoon, I gave my students such a choice. After doing our warm-up stretches, they were randomly placed into four groups (I use a set of playing cards for when I need four groups because there are four suits that are easily identified by shape and colour.) Then each group was given a large rubber ball and told that they had 15 minutes to come up with a game or activity that involved the ball.

Like I said, an infinite number of choices limited only by the fact that they had to incorporate the ball. Interestingly enough, I had four separate activities going on; no group chose to combine with another group (or groups) to use two (or more) of the balls. Two groups played Hot Potato. One group played basketball. One group played kickball, or a bizarrely shrunken version of the game. Each group stayed in their quadrant of the gym, assigned at the start simply to identify the four groups.

What I found most interesting was what happened when a student expressed that he did not like the activity chosen. I simply said, “But your group picked that activity and you helped them come up with the idea.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “Oh, right!” and went right back to working with his group.

I was really impressed by how well the four groups worked together. I will do a similar activity with them on Friday, although the groups will change as they will once again be randomly assigned. I will also use a different kind of P.E. equipment. But I am confident that the students will find a way to be successful as I give them choices and allow them to make decisions for themselves.

Hosting Nursing Students

I’ve mentioned several times on this how much I love the resources available to our school through our community, whether it is access to world-class museums, music, and dramatic productions, or just amazing professionals and researchers who can come in as special guests/presenters. Another resource we have comes because of our close relationship to the University of Illinois.

The nursing program at U of I includes a class called NURS 355: Clinical Concepts and Processes in Children’s and Family Health. (Technically, the program is run out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, with the students in our area enrolled in the Urbana Regional Program. This is similar to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in Peoria.) A part of this course requirement is for student nurses to do practicum experience in local schools for six weeks, and Wiley is one of those school that gets to participate.

This is why my students got to meet Miss Joan this morning. She will be in our classroom each Thursday morning. Today she came to observe but quickly jumped in with the class and was helping students with our review of adding, subtracting, and comparing fractions. After Spring Break, she will be presenting health lessons when she is here, and then will be helping in the classroom wherever needed.

My students and I are very excited to have Miss Joan with us!