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UM to Incorporate Fitness into Elementary Education Program

New emphasis combines physical activity with learning in the classroom

Junior and senior elementary education majors get up and moving during a special Move to Learn presentation hosted at UM in October. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communication
Junior and senior elementary education majors get up and moving during a special Move to Learn presentation hosted at UM in October. Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Communication

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is designing a new curriculum to train future elementary teachers who will specialize in integrating health and physical activity into their classrooms to improve student achievement.
The project is being completed with $1.2 million in external support from The Bower Foundation of Ridgeland.
With 740 undergraduates, elementary education is one of the largest majors at Ole Miss. The UM School of Education, Mississippi’s largest producer of teachers and educational leaders, will hire new faculty next year, and students will have the option to enroll in the new emphasis as early as fall 2015.
“This new curriculum acts on the proven correlation between fitness and improved test scores, a benefit to students and the state as a whole,” UM Chancellor Dan Jones said. “The university is committed to making a difference at the local, national and international level, and this program is just one example of that commitment in action. I am grateful to The Bower Foundation for their support of this program and for their leadership in Mississippi.”
The new program will be exclusively for aspiring K-6 teachers and will utilize both physically active teaching methods and recent research conducted in Mississippi that showed a correlation between fitness and student achievement. The university’s goal is to produce teachers who have both a high level of content knowledge and a keen understanding on how health and activity affects learning.
“We know that increasing health and physical activity in schools increases attendance, decreases behavioral problems and stimulates thinking,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “But we want to integrate subject knowledge into physical activity. Some might say, ‘You can’t teach mathematics with a physical activity.’ We believe we can.”
UM’s push toward integrating fitness in its elementary education program was born out of collaboration between Rock and the Move to Learn initiative, also supported by Bower. Since 2012, the program, led by energetic spokesman “Coach” Larry Calhoun, has visited elementary schools across the state to get students up and moving during the school day. It also has helped educators adopt similar techniques in their lesson plans with free online videos.
“The important thing for all of us to learn is that when you exercise your body, you’re also exercising your brain,” said Anne Travis, CEO of The Bower Foundation. “For us, this grant is an upstream effort. We’ve worked with school nutrition and fitness initiatives in Mississippi public schools for years; now we hope to make an impact much earlier in the career of an educator when they themselves are in school to become classroom teachers.
“UM is to be commended for their vision and leadership on this initiative.”
Results have shown students are more eager to attend classes each day and are able to better concentrate on coursework after exercising, Travis said. A five-minute Move to Learn classroom break helps refuel the brain for more and better learning. Many teachers who have adopted the program use it as a tool to transition from one subject to another, she said. These free videos can be found at http://www.movetolearnms.org.
To kick off the partnership between Bower and Ole Miss, nearly 300 junior and senior elementary education majors took part in a Move to Learn presentation Oct. 25 at the UM Jackson Avenue Center.
“At first, I was a little skeptical,” said senior elementary education major Blake Schrouf, who is student teaching at Batesville Elementary School. “But the movement and energy in the room was so much fun. I went to my placement the next day and got my first-graders to do it. My clinical instructor and I are excited to see if we can see an improvement with this.”
The proposed emphasis will give undergraduates an option to complete 12 to 15 hours of specialized coursework built into UM’s existing elementary education degree. By 2015, the courses will be offered online to allow education students outside UM an opportunity to specialize in K-6 health and physical activity.
Besides recruiting new faculty and designing courses, the School of Education has long-term plans to partner with school districts to place multiple graduates of the new program into individual schools with mentors. The goal is to establish educational wellness programs designed to engage children physically and intellectually.
“We have to focus on the health and wellness of our children; it has to come first,” Rock said. “We want to train teachers who understand this and can impact whole grades and change the culture within their own schools.”
Founded in 1996, The Bower Foundation is focused on the development of strategies to improve the health of Mississippians. As a funder of important projects and initiatives throughout the state, Bower has made the development of healthy lifestyles for Mississippi children a core priority. For more information on The Bower Foundation, visit http://www.bowerfoundation.org.
–Andrew Abernathy, Ole Miss News Desk

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