Connecting the brain and the body in our schools should be directed
by the school Physical Educator. We are the natural link between the
body and the brain since students simultaneously use both in our
classes. The Physical Educator is the natural leader in promoting these
activities. It is this person who should be taking the lead to show how
movement anchors the daily classroom lesson. Twenty plus years of brain
based research supports the move in this direction (Jensen. 2009). We
have a golden opportunity to be on the cutting edge in education.
The following are actual school based programs that are currently
being conducted. These programs are as much a public information program
as they are academic enhancement. Will you accept the challenge? Will
you be your school's educational leader?
Morning Announcements. As part of the Principal's daily,
morning announcements every classroom does three Brain Gym[R] exercises:
Thinking Caps, Hook Ups and Lazy 8's.
Thinking Caps stimulate the auditory brain center preparing the
student to be a better listener.
Hook Ups are a cross lateral, deep breathing exercise to pump more
oxygen into the brain, electrically stimulating both right and left
Lazy 8's are an eye muscle stretching exercise used to warm
the eye socket muscles, which have been found to improve reading speed.
A current research project is underway to see if the faster reading
speed also equates to improved comprehension.
Physical Education Class Warm Ups. Following the daily warm ups
prior to Physical Education class activity, students perform the three
Brain Gym [R] exercises described above. The instructor periodically
reminds students of the exercise value for reinforcement. The value in
Physical Education class is the same value these exercises serve in the
classroom. We want good listeners, a whole brain and loose eye muscles
for improved peripheral vision.
SOL Test Warm Ups. This is a powerful promotion tool for Physical
Educators. As school administrators struggle to meet Annual Yearly
Progress (AYP) and raise test scores this is a brilliant addition to the
school wide effort. And it places the Physical Educator in the spotlight
as an academic leader.
On the morning of a grade level test, all classes come to the gym
at 8:00 a.m. for a thirty minute brain/body warm up. My school has three
to four classes per grade level. Four stations are set up in the gym.
Each activity station lasts five minutes, with rotations between the
stations. At the end of 20 minutes all activity is complete. High beat
music is played during the 20 minutes. The outside perimeter stations
are power walking laps, with two classes beginning here, one at the
north corner and one at the south corner. The other two stations are
located on each half of the gym floor, divided by the center line. These
activities change every time this grade level returns for another test
day. Activities can range from jumping single ropes, juggling, scooter
activities, partner toss and catch. No one ever stands still.
At the end of the twenty minutes of activity stations the students
participate in the final five minute relaxation phase. Students are
invited to sit or lie down, but eyes must be closed. This prevents some
students from acting up or disturbing others nearby, and better insures
they are relaxing. Slow beat music is played for the final five minute
phase. Slow beat music allows for greater relaxation. There has been
much written about the Mozart Effect (O'Donnell, 2009) on the
brain, however, I believe any music that has low beats per minute
achieves the same calming effect for this activity. With 3-5 minutes
remaining the students spread out on the gym floor and begin their three
brain exercises (listed above) when instructed.
This completes the 30 minute SOL Warm Up class. Students are then
dismissed to their teacher for a water and restroom break before their
test begins. The results have been so positive classroom teachers are
asking for a similar program for other required grade level tests.
Brains on the Web. My school's web page is loaded with all
sorts of information and links to inform parents and students. There are
P.E. Newsletters, which also appear in the monthly printed school
newsletter. The Physical Education program is the only Special that
appears in each monthly issue. As importantly, there is a Brain News
column and a Nutrition News column linking the importance of the brain
and body. With our diverse school population the news appears in English
e-Brain News. I research and produce this free newsletter that goes
out to teachers. Besides the entire school staff, it goes to county
administrators, as well as, educators and administrators across the
United States. Wherever I have given brain based learning presentations
those attendees are invited to give their e-mail address to be placed on
the receiving list. Would you like to be on the list? Send me your
While much of the information is classroom related, it is important
for the Physical Educator to remember they should be the key player, the
center of the school universe if you will, for disseminating and
teaching about this connection. Almost none of us have had any formal
education in the brain field, so this is a golden opportunity for the
Physical Educator to show that their program is just as necessary as the
other core academic subjects. We must teach the classroom teachers and
administrators. Movement is a new method of anchoring their classroom
County and School Presentations. One year a colleague and I were
invited to present to all the elementary school Principals. I sold my
Principal so many times he arranged for the presentation with the county
supervisor for elementary education. Again, few of these folks knew much
about the human brain and how the current knowledge base could support
them and their staff in teaching children. We definitely had their
attention! From that meeting several invitations have come from other
Principals to present to school teacher in-services.
We presented to both general education and physical education
teacher county-wide fall teacher in-service meetings. We have presented
to over 200 county summer school teachers in April 2009. The county
supervisor for this group heard us speak at the elementary
A Physical Educator at a large middle school convinced her
Principal to have me present the SOL program to his administrative
Staff Development sessions have been given every few years to both
update returning staff and initially inform new staff. This year I am
presenting at each monthly staff meeting.
Public Information. The SOL Brain Warm Ups have been featured on
the county web page, with pictures and articles in both local papers and
the Washington Post Newspaper. The key is for the Physical Educator to
literally brain storm (defined as a Transitory Agitation of the Mind)
every possible way to sell the brain/ body connection. I have yet to
meet a teacher or administrator who is not receptive to wanting to
improve a child's ability to learn. Never before has our
opportunity been so strong as to be the educational leader.
Brain Research. Two approved research projects have been conducted
and a third is underway at my school. The research question is can an
eye muscle exercise (Lazy 8) improve reading skills? The first year one
class of 24 students was selected for the research study. I met with
each of the nine students individually before school (7:50 a.m. upon
arrival) and sat with each one in the hall outside their classroom. The
classroom teacher gave them an appropriate reading level book based on
their tested reading level from the Developmental Reading Assessment
series (DRA). Students were instructed to read aloud for one minute. I
used a stop watch and a Running Record Form to record the total words
read aloud in one minute. Students were instructed to skip over words
they could not pronounce. At the end of the timed minute they performed
a series of Lazy 8's.
Beginning where they left off in the book they began to read aloud
for another timed minute. In 100% of all reading trials (2 per student
over the course of about two months) every student improved the number
of words read per minute after the Lazy 8 exercise as compared to before
The conclusion was that loosening the eye muscles allowed the eyes
to flow more freely during reading. The second year the study was
replicated using one class per grade level, 22-25 students, to check for
consistency over a range of ages and reading abilities. Again, similar
improvements were achieved when comparing the first and second readings.
The range of words per minute were from the high teens to the high fifty
words per minute. The average was approximately 25 words per minute
increase after the Lazy 8 exercise.
The 2009-10 study takes another step forward by also checking for
comprehension of what is read faster. The principal has been an integral
part in the design, which includes one of the school Reading
Specialists. This year a select group of nine "Struggling
Readers" in grades three and four make up the study group. The
Physical Educator and Reading Specialist are working together with these
students once a week before the morning bell. The Lazy 8 exercise will
be used again along with a set of comprehension checking questions the
student will be asked at the end of the reading passage.
Loudoun County Public Schools has a Research Office. One of the
provisions of this office is to offer approved, guided teacher research.
Monthly meetings are held to assist teachers as they set up and conduct
their research. The Research Office must approve all such research
studies on children. Recertification points are also awarded to the
teacher researcher. Each spring the Loudoun County Teacher Researchers
are invited to attend and present at the annual Fairfax Teacher
Can you see the important role the Physical Educator can play in
the connection of the brain and body throughout the school? You are
urged to take on this role, to promote Physical Education as the core to
Could your county use a teacher in-service on brain based learning?
As another means of advancing the research and including movement
activities into the core curriculum, present this information to
administrators in your school and your county. They would include not
only the HPE supervisor, but the administrator in charge of elementary
education, summer school teachers, or even the administrator in charge
Keep in mind all of these activities did not happen overnight.
Selling sometimes surfaces skepticism at worst, and curiosity at best.
Small bites make for better digestion, so pick one of the ideas listed
here and give it a try. The author strongly recommends the SOL Brain
Warm Up for the greatest initial impact in your school. With the
abundant amount of brain research available to support our curriculum,
it is my opinion that it is time to re-write the elementary P.E.
curriculum to include integrated movement activities that helps anchor
the core subjects. We are in the brain business, and we now have the
research that shows movement is important to all learning. Anchor away!
Jensen, E. (2009). A fresh look at brain-based education. Phi Delta
Kappa International, 89 (6). http://www.pdkintl.org. Retrieved 2009 from
O'Donnell, L. (2009). Music and the brain. Retrieved January,
2010 from http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n15/mente/musica.html.
Mark Pankau, Physical Educator, Guilford Elementary School