You're sitting in class. You're cold/tired/hungry/bored. Maybe you're pinching yourself, just to stay awake. Your Algebra II teacher mutters in his monotone, looking as painfully disinterested in the principles of polynomials as you feel.
This wasn't just my experience, was it?
Apparently not. NPR reports this morning that some progressive schools are incorporating movement into classroom education. In Charleston, SC, they're jumping rope while memorizing multiplication tables. They're tapping out the rhythms of poetic refrains on their desks. They're active and moving and loving every second of it. Similar initiatives are in practice in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri.
All I can say is, why didn't they think of this sooner? Instead of banishing physical activity to the sweat-soaked walls of some ancient gymnasium three times a week, we should mingle movement with classroom learning.
John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist and proponent of integrated physical activity in schools, notes that "[With exercise] you're seeing an increase in neurotransmitters … dopamine and serotonin, norepinephrine. These are hormones related to mood regulation, to attention. And, in general, help the brain be in a better state of equilibrium."
My own anecdotal experience supports these theories. A lifetime ago, when I was an undergrad Theater major performing Shakespeare and other verbose classics regularly, I always found that once we were up and moving through our blocking at rehearsals, the line memorization just seemed to happen. If I sat and simply tried to memorize passages of a script, it was infinitely more difficult.
But what about the kids who have real trouble concentrating? It actually seems that they're the ones who benefit the most from moderate bursts of physical activity. Evidence shows that the most distracted children are actually better able to focus after some moderate exercise in the classroom.
I don't know if jumping rope in my Algebra II class would have turned me into a mathematician, but it would probably have kept me from drooling on my desk. That's benefit enough, don't' you think?