The lights in teacher Teysha Murray’s classroom at East Side Elementary School went out, and a screen lit up. Within seconds, students were standing and dancing along with kids on the screen. After three minutes of dancing around, they quietly did yoga movements and breathing exercises with an animated monkey named Maximo.
These video “brain breaks,” are GoNoodle, a tool designed to get fidgety students to release some energy to get re-focused for their next lesson.
“During the day we take about 10-15 minutes to get the kids up and moving,” says Murray, who teaches third grade. “GoNoodle has helped decrease some issues with student behavior, because they have burned off all that energy so they can focus on their learning.”
GoNoodle is used in classrooms around the world. But, it was developed here in Tennessee by Nashville-based Health Teacher Inc. In January 2015, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation made a $3 million investment to make GoNoodle available to every public elementary school teacher in the state, at no cost to local school systems.
“We know that when kids are more active, they are healthier,” says Dawn Abel, director of community relations for BlueCross. “Grownups make time to work out, and we’re working with schools to give kids more opportunity for active play.”
Since 2015, GoNoodle has brought an additional 77 million minutes of movement into classrooms in Hamilton County. The tool is being used in every local school and more than 40 percent of teachers are using GoNoodle as a regular part of their school day.
In 1,100 elementary schools across Tennessee last school year, children logged more than 100 million minutes of GoNoodle activity.
There are at least 100 different brain breaks, and new ones are added all the time.
GoNoodle can also combine movement with learning. In the Body Spell exercise, teachers type their current spelling words into the program and an animated robot onscreen leads students through spelling the words by twisting their bodies into letter shapes. Mega Math Marathon is another GoNoodle video that teaches arithmetic.
And students don’t look at GoNoodle as exercise, they just know it’s fun. “When they get finished, they beg me to do more,” says Murray. It doesn’t replace recess, but on a rainy or cold day, it can be a substitute. “My students enjoy doing GoNoodle during recess on those days we are not able to go outside,” she says.
Getting Tennessee’s kids in better shape
The GoNoodle sponsorship is part of a program the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation created called Shape the State. The program started with physical education grants for schools that serve middle grades students.
The first Shape the State grants were issued in 2011 and there have been 120 grants awarded, including at Skyuka Hall, a private school in Chattanooga whose mission is serving kids with learning disabilities. The grants are worth $10,000 and provide the proven Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) curriculum, along with 800 pieces of equipment that range from sports balls to rubber chickens.
The SPARK curriculum is designed to be effective for students of all levels of athleticism. Rather than focusing on competitive games, such as basketball or soccer, it uses games that any kid can enjoy.
Recently, Skyuka Hall PE teacher Taylor Yother was teaching his sixth graders how to dance the electric slide. Yother says he appreciates the variety SPARK provides, so that his students don’t get bored doing the same activities over and over. “There are 180 lessons in the curriculum book and even more online,” says Yother.
Teaching PE has science behind it, Yother says. He’s trying to get his students to raise their heart rates for 50 minutes during class, so they get the most physical benefit from his class. SPARK teaches the kids about the science of exercise, too. “I’ll ask them if the activity we just did was moderate or vigorous and they know,” Yother says. For the students, though, the beneficial activity comes in the form of fun play.
SPARK was developed in 1989 by researchers at San Diego State University and has earned wide acclaim from teachers. “The SPARK curriculum is a well thought out and field-tested manual for educators,” Yother says. “It has really helped me a lot.” That’s a sentiment that has been heard over and over since the Shape the State program was started.
“Teachers at the Shape the State schools have consistently told us that the SPARK curriculum and equipment has let them take their PE programs to a new, higher level than they had before,” says Abel. “The positive feedback has been gratifying, but has also affirmed the program is working to make students healthier. That’s the most important thing.”
While the curriculum and equipment are designed for middle school students, Shape the State schools that serve younger students use it for those kids, too.
One morning, Yother led kindergarten boys through races using sit-on scooters, taught them to dribble basketballs, and showed them how to bounce a ball using a paddle.
In addition to the exercise, using the equipment and playing the games helped the students socially as well, Yother says. They teamed up and cooperated to participate in two-person scooter races. They shared the equipment by changing activities every minute or so.
The ability to use the equipment with younger students isn’t the only flexibility SPARK brings, Yother said. “It gives you the freedom to get creative and add your own touches to the activities, or make up your own,” he says. “The Shape the State grant has been a real blessing to us.”
Locally, in addition to Skyuka Hall, Shape the State grants have also been awarded to Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Orchard Knob Middle School, Red Bank Middle School and Silverdale Baptist Academy.
Want to know more?
The application period for Shape the State grants opens in April. For more information, contact program coordinator Ashley Williams by email at Ashley_Williams@bcbst.com.
By Gary Tanner for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee
Photos by Sergio Plecas and Gary Tanner for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee