Ole Miss adds fitness emphasis to elementary education program

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Students at Carver Elementary participate in "Move to Learn" exercises led by "Coach" Larry Calhoun in the school's gym in September.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Students at Carver Elementary participate in “Move to Learn” exercises led by “Coach” Larry Calhoun in the school’s gym in September.

By Andrew Abernathy

University of Mississippi

OXFORD – The University of Mississippi is designing a new curriculum to train future elementary teachers who will specialize in integrating health and physical activity into their classrooms to improve student achievement.

The project is being completed with $1.2 million in external support from The Bower Foundation of Ridgeland.

With 740 undergraduates, elementary education is one of the largest majors at Ole Miss. The UM School of Education will hire new faculty next year, and students will have the option to enroll in the new emphasis as early as fall 2015.

“This new curriculum acts on the proven correlation between fitness and improved test scores, a benefit to students and the state as a whole,” UM Chancellor Dan Jones said. “The university is committed to making a difference at the local, national and international level, and this program is just one example of that commitment in action. I am grateful to The Bower Foundation for their support of this program and for their leadership in Mississippi.”

The new program will be exclusively for aspiring kindergarten to sixth-grade teachers and will utilize both physically active teaching methods and recent research conducted in Mississippi that showed a correlation between fitness and student achievement.

The university’s goal is to produce teachers who have both a high level of content knowledge and a keen understanding on how health and activity impacts learning.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com "Coach" Larry Calhoun uses Carver Elementary School kindergarten teacher Daytra Haley as an example during a "Move to Learn" exercise.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
“Coach” Larry Calhoun uses Carver Elementary School kindergarten teacher Daytra Haley as an example during a “Move to Learn” exercise.

“We know that increasing health and physical activity in schools increases attendance, decreases behavioral problems and stimulates thinking,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “But we want to integrate subject knowledge into physical activity. Some might say, ‘You can’t teach mathematics with a physical activity.’ We believe we can.”

UM’s push toward integrating fitness in its elementary education program was born out of collaboration between Rock and the “Move to Learn” initiative, also supported by Bower.

Since 2012, the program, led by energetic spokesman “Coach” Larry Calhoun, has visited elementary schools across the state to get students up and moving during the school day. It also has helped educators adopt similar techniques in their lesson plans using free online videos.

“The important thing for all of us to learn is that when you exercise your body, you’re also exercising your brain,” said Anne Travis, CEO of The Bower Foundation.

Results have shown students are more eager to attend classes each day and are able to better concentrate on coursework after exercising, Travis said. A five-minute “Move to Learn” classroom break helps refuel the brain for more and better learning.

Many teachers who have adopted the program use it as a tool to transition from one subject to another, she said. These free videos can be found at www.movetolearnms.org.

The proposed emphasis will give undergraduates an option to complete 12 to 15 hours of specialized coursework built into UM’s existing elementary education degree. By 2015, the courses will be offered online to allow education students outside Ole Miss an opportunity to specialize in kindergarten through sixth-grade health and physical activity.