You may have seen videos online critiquing the state of our current education system. There is the widely viewed TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” in which Sir Ken Robinson argues that “creativity is as important in education as literacy, and should be treated with the same status.” He states, “we are educating people out of their creative capacities” in a system “where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.” Then, there’s Prince Ea’s powerful spoken word piece “I Just Sued the School System” reminding us that the education system was originally built to suit the needs of the industrial era. “In literally over a century, nothing has changed,” he points out, comparing a picture of students sitting in rows of desks from the early 1900 to a modern day classroom that looks exactly the same. Prince Ea so eloquently preaches that “the world has progressed, and now we need people who think creatively, innovatively and critically with the ability to connect.”
I am a kinesthetic and holistic learning specialist, and since 2010 my team at Moving EDGEucation has worked with thousands of students and teachers from over 750 schools across 35 boards/districts in Ontario and beyond. This has given me a lot of insight into the evolution of childhood development and the education system’s inner workings, leading me to agree with many of the compelling arguments put forth by Sir Robinson and Prince Ea.
Young people are growing up in a digital world where our bodies are more sedentary than ever, our attention spans shorter than ever, and our sense of connection to ourselves and others expressed through screens and devices. With obesity and behavioural issues rising, and engagement and mental health declining, there is a growing disconnect between what today’s students (and teachers) need to nurture—healthy minds, bodies and spirits—and the requirements of our siloed system. Through my work, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many talented, passionate, and forward-thinking educators across all levels who recognize these gaps and want to see them filled. Hope is not lost! While overhauling the entire system may be challenging, teachers are well-positioned changemakers and the ground floor classroom offers a lot of potential.
As we know, guidelines dictate how much time in the week is allotted to each subject, with the majority devoted to “academics” where students are generally sitting at desks. Minimal time is dedicated to physical education and the creative arts, with very little time (if any) for social/emotional skill building. This subject allotment is quite “brain” heavy and neglectful of the “body” and “being” despite growing evidence that all these domains of the self are interconnected and a key factor to academic success—not to mention healthy development. So how do we even this out?
Although teachers may not be able to control “what” they’re required to teach, they can certainly control “how” they teach. What if classroom teachers had the mindset and tools to deliver the required curriculum expectations while engaging the body, brain and being simultaneously? Perhaps we can draw inspiration from one of the oldest forms of celebration across the world—dancing! I don’t mean choreographed dancing and perfect technique. I mean the kind of dancing we do for play and connection that everyone is capable of when we allow ourselves to let go and have fun. Imagine a classroom where students explore different math concepts, reading, science, and social studies up on their feet and moving to music. Their bodies and classroom community becoming the manipulatives to show fractions as breakdancers, angles inside a Pac Man game and geometric properties as martial artists. In this classroom, learning core subjects is active, creative, expressive, and interactive all at the same time. Could this be a possible solution to the concerns of Sir Robinson and Prince Ea while staying on-task within our required subject blocks?
By creating opportunities to explore curriculum actively and interactively, we are not only getting more physical activity into the day but also offering a new and fun way to engage different types of learners— a difficult task that teachers face with so many varying student needs in one classroom. Kinesthetic learning provides a deeper understanding of concepts and encourages problem solving, risk taking, personal expression, confidence, and healthy peer interaction. These social/emotional skills and sense of belonging are proving to be increasingly important for student success. Not to mention the well-documented benefits that movement has on cognition, attention span and focus. Even five to ten minutes of kinesthetic learning incorporated into your lesson can offer great results. It’s a win-win for learning and well-being while fostering a mindset that movement, creativity, and connection are natural and important parts of being human and don’t have to be reserved for the gym or arts classes.
Teachers are not only deliverers of curriculum but also curators of positive and engaging environments for learning to take place. Let’s start thinking about our classroom environments in terms of equal engagement of the entire self and community. Let’s make it the norm that physical activity, creativity, and interaction are not “add ons” to the day, but just how things are done. Movement is not separate from learning— it is the learning!
Now, of course, this makes teaching a little different from what we are used to, but change only happens outside of our comfort zones. Give yourself grace, time, and permission to try new things and even experience failure. I can’t think of a better way to model the type of growth mindset that we want for our students, and our own children, than stepping (or dancing) outside of the box together!
Try incorporating movement into your classroom with an example activity called “Fraction in Action” where students become breakdancers to explore quarters, halves, equivalent, mixed number fractions and more! Visit https://youtu.be/8TyC5ikOZJo to give it a try.
Robinson, K. (2006, February). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/ talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity?nolanguage=en#t-154774
Ea, P. (2016, September 26). I JUST SUED THE SCHOOL SYSTEM!!! Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8
ParticipACTION. The Brain + Body Equation: Canadian kids need active bodies to build their best brains. The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2018. Retrieved from https://participaction.cdn.prismic.io/participaction/38570bed-b325-4fc8-8855-f15c9aebac12_2018_participaction_report_card_-_full_report_0.pdf
Mullender-Wijnsma, M. J., Hartman, E., Greeff, J. W., Doolaard, S., Bosker, R. J., & Visscher, C. (2016). Physically Active Math and Language Lessons Improve Academic Achievement: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. Pediatrics, 137(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2743
Suttie, J. (2011, September 20). Does SEL Make the Grade? Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/sel_make_the_grade
Jensen, E. (n.d.). Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2nd Edition (2nd ed.). ASCD; Revised 2nd edition (June 1 2005).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Tepperman became engaged in public education in 2010 facilitating movement workshops with thousands of students and teachers. She is now a kinesthetic and holistic learning specialist, resource author, TEDx Speaker and founder of “Moving EDGEucation,” an organization that supports schools and teachers in transforming their practice to create wellness focused, kinesthetic classrooms where students are physically active, creative and interactive while learning different subjects. Her work and teaching philosophy is being practised in classrooms across Canada and presented at many of the industry’s leading conferences including The “Canadian Principals Association,” “Ontario Math Educators,” “Global Physical Literacy Summit,” “Global Youth Leadership Summit,” and “SXSW Edu 2019”. She also sits on the steering committee for the Ontario Healthy Schools Coalition. Visit www.movingedgeucation.com for more information and follow Amy Tepperman on social media: @moveedge.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2019 issue.