Sunday, March 8, 2015

Using a Classroom Spin Bike to Learn Self-Regulation

I have always liked to exercise and have been a long time competitive runner ever since running  cross-country during high school. I have competed in about 50 marathons and 5 Ironman distance triathlons among hundreds of other races, so I love the challenge and the competition, but there is something more that I gain from exercise. A daily workout of an hour or more helps me solve problems, think creatively, and deal with the stresses and pressure of daily life (particularly when teaching). That appreciation for movement is something I have always wanted to add to my classroom environment, but how do you get your students to understand the benefits of movement and exercise?

Riding the Seacoast Century last fall on my ElliptiGO
A few years ago, I read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, but I put it aside and just tried to encourage exercise by modeling and encouragement. After almost 40 years of competitive running, hip surgery curtailed my ability to run a few years ago. I was pretty lost, trying to find a replacement until I discovered the ElliptiGO. I was back to exercising (over 6000 miles just last year alone) and I felt so much better and my brain was popping with all sorts of creative ideas for life, daily teaching, and for my journeys to teach in the slums of Africa.

My students enjoyed hearing about my ElliptiGO adventures:  100 mile rides, winning races, and just the overall novelty of seeing my ElliptiGO, but still I wasn't sure how to translate my excitement about movement to my students.

Through my ElliptiGO adventures, I met another enthusiast named Luke MacDonald, who lives in Nova Scotia. He helps run an organization called Run For Life that raises funds to place small silent spin bikes in classrooms throughout his region of Canada. They have placed hundreds of these bikes in classrooms with great success. Reading about Luke and the results that teachers were reporting, I became instantly intrigued and my brain started humming about how I could get a spin bike into my own classroom.

Luke provided me with lots of information and he had teachers, principals, and other people send me testimonials and information about how the program works, how they use them in a classroom, and the results on individual  students and whole classrooms after they have been introduced into a class.

I decided this was for me and set up a Donor's Choose project (see my proposal here). With matching codes from my district and Donor's Choose as well as using some money we had won as a class, it was quickly funded. In Canada, Luke calls these bikes Spark Bikes. I found the same bike on Amazon, where it is called the Fitnex X5 Kids Upright Exercise Bike. The bike is kid-sized! It would fit pre-preschoolers on up to fifth graders. All my 5th graders fit on it, although some are getting a bit tall. At first when it showed up, I thought I had been hoodwinked as it looked so tiny, but once you get the seat and handlebars on it, the size is perfect.

Here is our classroom spin bike
The bike is not really an exercise bike in that kids will not get their daily exercise in the classroom using this bike alone. They are just not on it long enough and that is not the point (although it does provide some fitness). The point it that kids learn that exercise can help them focus, calm down, and deal with stress or anxiety so that can be ready to learn. Here is an article from Scholastic on the learning of self-regulation with young children: Self-Regulation: The Second Core Strength. Here is an article on using the spin bikes in schools in Canada: Sparks Fly & Self Regulation in our School System. Here is a news video showing how a fifth grade class in Canada uses the Spark Bike: CTV Live .

Here are a few things I have learned in the few weeks we have had the spin bike:
  • The bike is completely silent (really-it is not distracting at all)
  • If you get one, let the kids help put it together (the tools are provided)
  • Teach the kids how to adjust the height of the saddle (they do this easily)
  • Set it up in the classroom (mine is in the back) facing the front so that kids can be a part of a lesson (don't hide it out of view- very quickly it becomes like a piece of furniture).
  • Set up a schedule for use by all students (not all may want to use it every time). I just have my students go in order and tap the next rider after about 5 minutes (actual riding time may be 2-10 minutes)
  • Keep the bike in use all through the day (they do work, eat their snacks, work in a small group and anything else classroom related while on the bike).
  • Some kids may "need" to use the bike and others learn to let them.
  • Don't use the bike as punishment.
  • I expected students to go full tilt when riding it, but this doesn't happen after the first days, they tend to go very leisurely and that is just right!
  • In less than a week, my students had the routine down and kept that spin bike spinning all through the day.

I also got this mat to put the spin bike on and it is perfect: Supermats Heavy Duty P.V.C. Mat Ideal for Spinning Bkies (24-Inch x 46-Inch).

I think this is a wonderful addition to my classroom. I hope to report further on the positive results. I also hope to see all the classrooms in my school one day having their own spin bikes... and then in my district... and then across America. I think this is a wonderful way to teach in a positive, fun, and life-long learning sort of way the value of exercise, movement, and self-regulation to our students. It will also definitely help the classroom and school's learning environment. I see and know plenty of students in my own school, who definitely would find using a spin bike to their benefit, to the teacher's benefit, and to the whole school's benefit.

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