Shelly Swartz, Physical Education teacher at MacArthur Elementary School identified a need to provide immediate interventions for students with unique academic and behavioral challenges. Her vision was to have students participate in physical activities that would facilitate neurological brain development. The idea was that through participation in specific physical activities, the students would become more successful in reaching their academic and behavioral goals.
This was the beginning of the SIA (Sensory Integration Activities) Lab. The SIA lab is a before-school program where students participate in multi-sensory, cross-lateral, aerobic exercises that require motor planning and visual tracking. Students participating in the SIA Lab begin their day facilitating neurological brain development through movement.
Soon after the SIA lab began, teachers and parents began to notice remarkable academic and behavioral improvements. Soon a grass roots type movement began. The reading specialist, speech therapist, learning resource specialists as well as some classroom teachers began asking for the workout to utilize throughout the day.
With the success students experienced through participation in the SIA Lab, the district administration saw the value of utilizing the concept district wide at the elementary level. When Swartz was approached with the concept of taking this program to the district level, it just made sense to utilize the district’s technology for successful daily implementation.
Thus the Super Brain Workout Videos were developed. In May of 2013 Swartz worked with technology specialists Tyler Fowler and Matt Dixon to produce two workout videos for the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. In August of 2013, Swartz along with her colleagues Pat Amon from Bradley Elementary and Karen Miller from Eisenhower Elementary rolled out the super brain videos district wide as an academic intervention. The physical education department continues to develop more videos and educate parents as the program evolves.
Now all teachers across the district have access to the Super Brain workouts, whenever needed.
“This puts the power of the program in the hands of every teacher. They use it as an educational intervention at the start of each day. In addition many of our educational team members use them at the beginning of flex time, before taking assessments, as well as other times throughout the day to enhance learning. Thanks to the technology provided to our district, it’s there on-demand whenever the educational team members need it. All three elementary schools are using the Super Brain workouts as an intervention to improve learning outcomes daily. This is really a district-wide intervention.”
One of the most exciting aspects of using technology to implement these workouts is the availability for parents to utilize the workouts at home. Parents are using these workouts to help their children complete homework more efficiently. “It really empowers parents to become an integral part of our educational team.”
Swartz explains the 3 pillars of Super Brain Workouts:
1. Aerobic Exercise: Research shows that aerobic exercise influences learning directly at the cellular level by increasing the brain’s ability to log and process information. This occurs because aerobic exercise increases the level of Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the Hippocampus which is one of the primary proteins that facilitates learning. Exercise also increases the production of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters act as regulators, balancing our systems to better attend and retain information.
2. Sensory Integration: Swartz says that all external stimuli enter into the prefrontal cortex and is received and integrated through our sensory neurons. When our neurological response to sensory input is effective our brains begin to process in a well-organized, integrated manner allowing the students to better focus, behave appropriately and learn effectively.
Sensory integration activities promote communication between sensory neurons located in the prefrontal cortex, the left and right hemisphere and the motor cortex. With repetition, these neurons will build stronger connections and begin to communicate more efficiently which allows the prefrontal cortex to integrate sensory input more efficiently.
3. Cross Lateral Movement: There are a number of reasons that one side of the brain processes at a faster rate of speed than the other. Many times genes simply stay dormant and because they aren’t active, the neurons don’t express themselves. When the differences between both hemispheres become too great, the communication breaks down and the weaker side gets tuned out.
Cross-lateral movement activities force both hemispheres to work together at the same time and connect neurons so they can communicate efficiently. This allows students the ability to process information more efficiently, as well as improving visual tracking which leads to enhanced learning.
Success stories keep Swartz and her colleagues moving forward. “I’ve seen the benefits that stems from consistent participation in this program which motivates me to help as many people as I can understand the body brain connection.”
Swartz is eager to continue collecting data on the effects of the program. In addition, plans are in the works to do a study to examine the benefits of the Super Brain workout when utilized throughout the day.
For now, kids at USD 207 continue to enjoy their daily workouts with the knowledge that they are developing a lot more than their muscles!