I am sitting on a plane on my way to California to speak about movement in the classroom to a group of teachers. I strike up a conversation with a Jewish woman next to me who is reading a book the Talmud. A young man who looks of Indian descent is having occasional outbursts is seated to my right. A Latin X gentleman in front of me is rocking the man bun while a woman of Asian descent is waiting for the food cart to move so she can sit back down. I have officially left my bubble and entered the real world. The past couple of years has forced me to readjust how I look at the world and the people in it.
I received an email from Rich Dixon asking me if I would like to present to a group of educators about movement in the classroom in California. I met Rich at the Cue Nevada state conference last year which the fantastically amazing Heidi Carr had invited Sarah Thomas and me to attend as well as keynote. I have written previously how Rich opened my eyes to what badging should and could be. The idea is that a badge should be linked to the evidence that was created to earn it was definitely a game changer for me.
I responded that I would love to speak about movement let’s get this thing rolling! Rich got me in touch with Michelle, my conference liaison, and I asked her what they wanted me to speak about. She stated they wanted me to address crossing the midline, technology’s role in attention span as well as movement in the classroom. I knew one out of three of these topics extremely well so of course, I said yes! Wonder if this link has anything to do with that!
The first thing I needed to do was find the research about crossing the midline. I knew that Mike Kuczala had a boatload of activities that I could use to show how to cross the midline in his book the Kinesthetic Classroom. That seemed like a logical place to start. The problem is in his book he just states that there is not a lot of research showing the positive effects of specifically crossing the midline. My next step brought me to Brain Gym.
Brain Gym® movements, exercises, or activities refer to the original 26 Brain Gym movements, sometimes abbreviated as the 26. These activities recall the movements naturally done during the first years of life when learning to coordinate the eyes, ears, hands, and whole body. The twenty-six activities, along with a program for “learning through movement” were developed by educator and reading specialist Paul E. Dennison and his wife and colleague, Gail E. Dennison who say that the interdependence of movement, cognition, and applied learning is the basis of their work. Clients, teachers, and students have been reporting for over 20 years on the effectiveness of these simple activities. Link
I ran into a couple of problems when attempting to find results from Brain Gym. In their own words, “Some academics consider only experimental research (statistical research with control groups) to be scientific. You’ll find the studies that most adhere to this standard in our Annotated Research subcategories “Quasi-Experimental Research” and “True Experimental Research”. Link They also publish their own journal and cite evidence there. While I value anecdotal evidence I can’t in good conscience present material that is published by a for profit company by that same company. I also came across some information that directly discredited the company’s work. link
Luckily I had an ace up my sleeve. The man the myth the legend Mike Kuczala himself. Mike is on Voxer and readily gives the #PhysEd and #HealthEd community his time and energy. We had some really cool discussions and I was finally able to come up to terms with this thought process. Crossing the midline falls under that category of bi-lateralization. Bi-lateralization refers to the ability to coordinate both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner.
There are numerous valid and reliable resources that show how important bi-lateralization is for the human brain and body. All crossing the midline activities are bilateral but not all bilateral movements involve crossing the midline. Let me give you an example of this. In the beginning of Mike’s TedX talk, he has us grab our nose with our right hand and grab our right ear with our left hand. He then instructs us to switch our left hand to our nose and grab our left ear with our right hand. That is crossing the midline because our body parts crossed over the imaginary line that divides us into the left and right side of our body. Dribbling two basketballs simultaneously with your right and left hand is an example of bilateral movement because there are no parts of the body that are crossing the sagittal (lateral) plane.
What I can safely say about crossing the midline is that they are fun brain boosts and work on bi-lateralization which improves the brain’s ability to speak to the left and right hemisphere by creating a thicker corpus callosum well as creating thicker myelin sheaths. Myelin allows your brain to send information faster and more efficiently, making it absolutely essential for the optimal functioning of your nervous system. (link) I cannot, however, state that crossing the midline movements are better than bilateral movements that do not cross the midline.
If you thought that my journey on finding research about crossing the midline was difficult I came up with another journey when I tried to find a link between the increase in the use of technology and the attention span of our children. I actually found very little research about attention span at all. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many variables when figuring out attention spans. The same kids we label with attention span difficulties can participate in activities they find engaging for hours. Think about your own attention span. You struggle to listen to a speaker who talks at you yet you can binge watch on Netflix without looking at your phone for hours.
I did stumble across some research that allowed me to form an interesting hypothesis on why our students are so attached to their tech. When you have something that is liked or favorited on social media that activates the same receptors in the brain that eating chocolate or winning money does. (link) Might this include getting a text message or alert on social media as well? We as teachers are forcing students to learn about things they may not necessarily care about and are simultaneously fighting the feelings of winning money and eating chocolate!!
The next logical question is what do we do with this information? Do we only teach things that our students want to learn about similar to an unschooling model? That may be one answer although I don’t know enough about unschooling to figure out its weaknesses as well as the ability for school systems to be able to implement the concept.
My idea is twofold. The first thing we have to do is increase the engagement of our students. There is no doubt about that. The idea that the teacher should stand and talk for 45 minutes or longer is antiquated and ridiculous. We need to involve our students in the learning. Those that do, learn. Have your ss lead and participate in discussions or group work. Play music, allow your students mini-breaks, utilize brain boosts, or show relevant videos and texts that the students can relate to. Figure out a way to stop being boring. A simple stand and turn and talk works wonders!
The second part of this is understanding that students need to build the capacity for doing things they don’t enjoy in order to learn and be able to do the things they do enjoy. An example of this is my friend Rob who is a brew master. He hated reading and only went to college because that was what he was supposed to do according to his upbringing. He now reads textbooks about chemistry and reads anything about brewing he can get his hands on. He is able to do that because he knows that this information is relevant to him right now as well as the future. He also has built up the capacity to get through the “boring stuff” in order to bring more satisfaction to his process of brewing.
Hopefully, the participants at the conference will take away some important pieces of information. The first part is that crossing the midline can only have positive benefits for our learners; however, there is not enough evidence that doing those movements will have more benefit than bilateral movements. The second big idea is that we are fighting the pleasurable feelings of eating chocolate and winning money which affects our students ability to pay attention and stay on task. Both these concepts can help shape your teaching. What will you do with this information?