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Get Up and Learn (without chaos!)

As the mother of a Middle-School boy, I keenly appreciate the need of students to be able to move around during class — especially with so many schools doing away with recess and cutting lunch short.  Kim Marshall who edits the Marshall Memo, summarized this great article “Get Your Students Moving” by Kim Campbell in AMLE Magazine.

As a 20-year veteran middle-school teacher, I learned very early in my career that if you don’t physically move middle-school students sometime during your lesson or class time, they will move you in ways you wish you could forget,” says Minnesota teacher Kim Campbell in this thought-provoking AMLE Magazine article. Campbell believes students can actively listen to a teacher for about as many minutes as they are old, meaning that most middle-school students are good for less than 15 minutes of seat time before their attention flags. Her colleague Mark McLeod puts it this way: “When the butt goes numb, the brain goes dumb.” Here are Campbell’s guidelines for managing movement for the greatest instructional gain:

  • Plan carefully when and how movement will happen, how long it will last, and how it will end.
  • Anticipate potential problems: Is there enough space for this activity? Can you see all students as they move? Who needs to be watched especially closely?
  • Plan how to get students focused back on you and the lesson when the activity is over.
  • Have a back-up plan if the activity doesn’t work out as planned.

And here are Campbell’s favorite movement activities:

Board games with exercise – Get students working on laminated, curriculum-linked board games with instructions printed on the back, and ask them to do 10 pushups or 10 jumping jacks at specific intervals.

Flip it – Begin the class with a 15-minute lecture on the topic of the day with students taking notes. Then have them work with a partner writing a 20-word summary of what they learned. Finally, have students make a video of their summary using an iPad, cell phone, or flip camera, strictly limited to 20 words.

Come and give it, come and get it – Campbell has her students walk up to her when they hand in papers (she asks them if they have a compliment) and positions assignments and materials around the room so students have to walk around to get them.

Brain breaks – As a change of pace, students thumb wrestle or take another fun break – for ideas, see

Varied responses – During question-and-answer times, students respond in different ways, for example: If you agree with this statement, point to the ceiling. If you disagree with this statement, pound your desk. If you agree with this statement, stand up and switch seats with someone.

Let’s talk – Divide the class into two groups and have students stand face to face with another student, introduce themselves, shake hands, and take turns answering questions posed by the teacher – for example, “If you had a chance to fly a plane, fly a helicopter, or pilot a submarine, which would you do and why?” When both students have answered a question, they switch partners and repeat the process.

Movie time – Pause an instructional film every 20 minutes and have students walk seven steps away from their desks and back. According to brain expert Eric Jensen, this short walk is enough to get the brain ready for new learning.

Pacing – “Kids today want material presented to them in four ways,” says author David Walsh: “Fast, fun, easy, and more.” Campbell takes this as one more reason to create fast-paced lessons mixing up brief lectures, partner share, independent work, and short video clips.

“Get Your Students Moving” by Kim Campbell in AMLE Magazine, March 2014 (Vol. 1, #7, p. 12-14),; Campbell can be reached at [email protected].

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