Tag: Zach Wahl-Alexander

Physical Ed majors provide ‘structured recess’ programming for Brooks Elementary children

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Recess is fun and games at most elementary school students, but it’s not always without problems.

For one, it’s often lightly supervised. And, says Zach Wahl-Alexander, professor of Physical Education, it’s likely parent-volunteers and not teachers who are in charge.

Meanwhile, Wahl-Alexander adds, small misunderstandings between children can quickly escalate into physical conflict.

But at schools such as DeKalb’s Brooks Elementary, that time on the playground is constructive thanks to the concept of “structured recess.” And it’s NIU Physical Education majors who are making that happen.

“Our students get there around 1 o’clock with some stuff planned to implement a physical activity,” Wahl-Alexander says. “They teach different games and activities the kids can do, they also try to promote some positive, affective behaviors.”

Part of the engaged curriculum for KNPE 344: Elementary School Physical Education/ Methods and Field Experience, the hands-on leadership of structured recess “gives our students the opportunity to be around kids, to build their skills and to build rapport.”

Students in that course also are getting a first taste of teaching physical education lessons to first- and third-grade students at DeKalb’s Jefferson Elementary School.

But at Brooks, the half-dozen Huskies who visit for recess are getting the opportunity to create organized activities outside the academic environment – and it’s thanks to their professor’s willingness and ability to modify the course curriculum.

“The teachers and administrators at Brooks reported an increasing number of students needing support in the area of social-emotional learning,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

brooks-sign“In response to this need, Zach redesigned his field experience model to provide Physical Education teacher candidates opportunities to engage with Brooks Elementary students during their recess time,” Johnson adds. “This model allows elementary students and NIU candidates to focus on relationships, cooperation, motivation, goals and outcomes in an authentic and developmentally appropriate space. “

And it’s flourishing.

“Teachers have reported seeing the transfer of these skills from the playground to the classroom,” Johnson says. “This dynamic field experience model is an example of innovative practice, designed to meet the identified needs of our partner district while providing our candidates an enriched hands-on teaching experience.”

Members of the District 428 site council, which supports the partnership between NIU and the local schools, are in agreement: They recently cited the model of this field experience course as exemplary in responding to the needs of elementary students.

Even though the children are not required to participate, NIU students will encourage them to join in the fun – especially if the children are lingering off to the side or alone.

Games include baseball, three-on-three basketball (or just shooting baskets), capture the flag, tag, soccer, relay races, hopscotch, foursquare and even obstacle courses on the jungle gym.

“The feedback from our preservice teachers is that it’s highly enjoyable for them. They’re learning how to be around kids,” Wahl-Alexander says. “In our Physical Education program, we constantly reinforce concepts of behavior management, feedback, effective demonstrations, pedagogy – with this we’re saying, ‘Just go out there, play with the kids and have some fun.’ I’m not looking over their shoulders.”

Children at Brooks, meanwhile, are receiving multiple benefits.

hopscotch“From a physical activity standpoint, the more structure that’s there to recess, and the more activities they have access to, the more active they’re going to be,” the professor says.

“From an interpersonal standpoint, their teachers are trying to get them to deal with conflict in other ways than yelling or hitting or just storming off,” he adds.

“What we’re trying to do – because conflict is going to come up – is to say, ‘OK, there’s a little dispute. Let’s figure it out, and let’s get back to the game.’ If they don’t learn that from school or from their parents, they’re not magically going to learn those strategies. Play, and especially structured play, offers an opportunity to learn those skills, and might help them with their relationships down the road.”



Collaborating on Outdoor Education

Professors at meeting

Did you know NIU is home to one of the premier outdoor education facilities in the country, the Lorado Taft Field Campus? In addition to this amazing resource, NIU’s College of Education has faculty expertise and an extensive network of partners working in the areas of outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Recently NIU’s Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group, led by the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, hosted a meeting on outdoor education and adventure-based learning. The meeting provided an opportunity to get several area expert collaborators together, including international experts and a local community partner. The PALS Group, represented by KNPE faculty (Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, Jim Ressler, Zach Wahl-Alexander and Paul Wright), is committed to promoting healthy development and teaching life skills to youth through physical activity. Our faculty were joined by three honored guests to discuss current projects and potential collaborations related to outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Dr. Xia Wen, Director of Theory, Teaching, and Research for the Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China. Dr. Xia Wen is a visiting scholar from China spending a year at NIU collaborating with Dr. Jim Ressler of the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department. During his time here, Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen will be developing course material for an Outward Bound class, which is one of the most popular courses for students to take at Yunnan University. Dr. Xia Wen’s expertise is in water safety education and he is currently working on a manuscript for an English journal about training classroom teachers to lead water safety programs.

Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, an organization that seeks to assist youth in overcoming challenges and becoming healthy adults through adventure-based counseling. Adventure Works serves youth ages 6-18 years old, providing individual, family, and group counseling services. The organization is the first non-profit community-based outdoor adventure education center in the US. Adventure Works programs are led by licensed therapists and include prevention programs for disengaged and impoverished youth in the DeKalb area, as well as mental health intervention programs for students struggling with mental health issues. The PALS Group has organized fundraisers in recent years to support Adventure Works and Dr. Ressler is a member of their advisory board.

Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor in the Health, Outdoor, Physical Education (HOPE) program at University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Thirty years ago, Dr. Forsberg obtained his masters in NIU’s outdoor education program and served as a graduate assistant for the Lorado Taft field campus program. He now teaches several outdoor education classes for physical education (PE) majors at the University of Regina. The classes involve several intense outdoor experiences such as the course “Utilization of the Winter Environment” which includes spending five days in Canada’s Moose Mountains during the cold winter season. Dr. Forsberg described, “This is where the magic happens,” referring to students coming together and understanding the impact that outdoor education can have on learning. He also teaches a course in which students design their own outdoor adventure curriculum and he tells students, “Now that you’ve gone through these experiences, you have a responsibility for future generations. Your purpose is to give back through this special outdoor experience.”

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China
Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County
Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

According to Dr. Wright, Director of the PALS Group, “Outdoor education and adventure-based learning are not new topics for the PALS Group. In fact, the Physical Education Teacher Education program in KNPE is one of the only academic programs at NIU that has outdoor education experiences at the Laredo Taft Field Campus built into their curriculum. The same can be said for our Adventure-based learning course. Our faculty have expertise in these areas and a long history of introducing them to NIU students. Now the PALS Group is interested in strengthening our work in these areas by connecting them with our service and research agendas.” In addition to the ongoing curriculum development project underway between Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen, potential action items that came out of this meeting include: supporting an oral history/archival project on the history of outdoor education at the Lorado Taft Field Campus, studying the socialization experiences of teacher education candidates in their outdoor education course, and providing professional development experiences for Adventure Works’ staff in the outdoor environment.

The PALS Group was pleased to host this group of experts and further its mission of promoting healthy development and teaching life skills through physical activity.