As teaching practices and pedagogical approaches change faster than clothing trends, it’s important that as teachers, we be selective in utilizing any of these new ideas and strategies. We should do plenty of research to be sure that the new approach is based on sound evidence that makes sense to us before we try it in the classroom. We shouldn’t change our teaching practices as often as we change our socks just because a new idea that sounds great comes down the pipeline. We need to be sure that this new approach or practice will better help or support our students. Think about how much has changed in regards to literacy instruction over the years. Ideas and practices that were once used got thrown out the window quicker than last week’s leftovers until they came back as new ideas. We shouldn’t jump on the new teaching practices band wagon without inspecting it first. Are all the wheels securely attached to the body of the wagon? Is it safe?
While I do sometimes try new technology tools in the classroom once or twice without too much research or practice, I do take the time to understand and learn about a new teaching practice when making any big changes to how I teach a subject or skill as I want to be sure this new idea will be best for me and my students. Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of research on the Brain Gym exercises developed by the Dennison’s over twenty years ago. At first, I thought the whole idea of exercising in the classroom seemed counterintuitive. I don’t have time in my day to let my students work out in class, I thought. They would probably just become distracted and unfocused anyway. Then, after learning all about the neuroscience of education and learning, I realized that there is great value in this kind of approach to helping students focus and ready themselves to learn and work hard in the classroom. So, over the past two years, I’ve implemented a few of the Brain Gym exercises into my classes. While I didn’t collect any hard data on how the students performed after completing these exercises versus how they performed when the Brain Gym exercises were not incorporated into the class, many of the students seemed to feel as though these exercises helped them be more focused during assessments. Since these exercises seemed to have a positive impact on my students in the past, I decided to try using them again this year in my class.
So, today in STEM class, before the students completed the chapter two assessment, I worked the students through a series of Brain Gym exercises using a Youtube video I found online. I began the activity by explaining the rationale for using these exercises in the classroom. I want to be sure the students understand the purpose of everything we do so that they can see its value and the benefits involved. I explained how these exercises were designed as a way to reduce stress, help people release excess energy, and connect the parts of the brain and body. Increasing one’s heart rate helps to pump blood throughout the body and brain. I then had the students follow along with the video. Most of the boys seemed very engaged and excited by this opportunity. They worked hard and seemed to truly enjoy themselves. Following the exercises, I provided them with some information on the math assessment before having them begin. The students seemed very focused and attentive throughout the period as they solved various math problems. They were much less fidgety than they were during the first math assessment of the year. Perhaps this was as a result of the Brain Gym exercises. At the close of the class, I asked the students to raise their hand if they felt as though the Brain Gym exercises helped them feel more focused during the assessment. Six students raised their hands. I then asked how many of the students felt as though it didn’t seem to have any impact on them during the assessment. Three students raised their hands at that point. One student felt as though the exercises had a negative impact on him. He said, “I felt like I knew the information before we did the exercises and then got all confused during the test.” This was an interesting and unexpected response. I’m not too sure what caused him to feel this way. Maybe too much blood went to his brain and cleaned out all the neural connections he had recently made, or perhaps it was just how he felt.
After grading the assessments, I noticed that only 50% of the students need to complete Test Redos, whereas 75% of the students needed to complete the Test Redo process for the first test of the academic year. Is this outcome because I had the students complete the Brain Gym exercises prior to the boys completing this assessment? Maybe, or maybe it was because yesterday’s review session was much more detailed and thorough. Perhaps the students already felt more prepared for today’s assessment because of yesterday’s review period. As there were many variables between this assessment and the prior assessment, it’s really hard to tell if the Brain Gym exercises had any sort of meaningful or positive impact on the students and their results. I will try to prepare the students for our next math assessment in a very similar way to how I approached this assessment but will not use the Brain Gym exercises prior to the assessment to see what will happen. Maybe the Brain Gym exercises really did help my students feel and be more mentally focused and aware today. Or maybe, they didn’t. However, I do feel as though the exercises did have some sort of positive impact on my students today. I guess I will have to wait until the next assessment to collect more data to find out if the Brain Gym exercises really do help students be more focused in the classroom.