School News

Phys. ed. goes high tech in District 24


Physical education has been the one subject in school where technology has had little impact on teaching. That’s all about to change.

Anyone who visited the William L. Buck School gymnasium last week might not have recognized it. Below the basketball hoops and climbing ropes were video screens, projectors and game consoles. Children were dancing, laughing and competing. More importantly, school officials say, they were exercising.

Phys. ed. teacher Phil Testa brought the iGames to District 24 for the first time, which taught students how they could stay fit doing an activity they love — playing video games. The program was provided by iGame4, a Suffolk County-based interactive fitness company. Last week, the program was at Buck. This week it is at Brooklyn Avenue School and next week it heads to Carbonaro.

Students used the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Connect to play a variety of games. In Fruit Ninja, children used their arms to chop up fruit. Their movements were picked up by a scanner. In Connect Adventures, the kids could do virtual whitewater rafting or complete an obstacle course. “It’s constant movement, using your arms and your legs,” Testa said. “Your heart rate’s up and you’re burning calories. It’s fun.”

Testa said in just five minutes, a child could burn 150 to 200 calories. The students rotated games during each 50-minute session playing the interactive video games, which took the spot of their regular phys. ed. classes for the week.

He noted that video games today are much different than when he was a child, where kids typically sat on the couch with a remote control. There was no exercise that way, Testa explained, and the rate of childhood obesity skyrocketed.

Jason Zucker and Jennifer Reich, instructors with iGame4, said they visit schools throughout Long Island and the goal is to show children that there are ways to get exercise right at home. Reich said the feedback from teachers and administrators has been very positive, and the children love it, too.

“You have kids that have never really done a lot of movement before that now are moving,” Reich said, adding that most of them, even the boys, love the dance games.

Zucker said that he hopes a program like this will encourage students to make exercise a part of their daily lives, whether it is by using these interactive video games, or doing something active outside. “Hopefully it will get them to try other things,” he said.

He added that when children are fit, they feel better about themselves.

Jackson Morton, a second-grader at the William L. Buck School, said he enjoyed playing video games in school last week. He said he plays a lot of fitness related games at home already. “I like to play for hours,” he said. “You keep your heart and muscles working.”

For Jackson, he said that regular exercise can make him strong, and agreed that it is important to be active outside, as well.

Classmate Alexandra Bartolomeo admitted she was a little bit tired after 50 minutes of interactive video games, but said she felt like she got a good workout. She does a lot of the dance games at home.

Testa said that bringing in the program was easy because many students already play a lot of these games at home. He said the students were able to come into the gym and just start playing. Instead of teaching the kids how to use the games, the instructors from iGame4 were able to spend time teaching them what parts of their bodies they were exercising with each game.

Brooklyn Avenue School Principal Dr. Scott Comis, the district’s coordinator of physical education, said he was impressed with the program and hopes to make it a regular activity in District 24. “It’s an amazing way to couple 21st century technology with phys. ed.,” he said. “I hope the children retain the experience of interacting with technology beyond a keyboard and a mouse.”

Testa agrees that he believes a program like this is the wave of the future. “I want to be more creative in phys. ed.,” he said. “We don’t even play dodge ball anymore. We try to do things that the kids can relate to.”