“I want a femur!”
“We need a neck bone!” another student exclaimed as a group of students at Hatch Elementary School worked at putting the bones of a rubber skeleton in proper place on Tuesday.
The students would later work on the skeleton puzzle and nine other activities as part of the school’s Health Expo Day.
The collaborative work of many, Hatch physical education teacher and nutrition guru Sandy Noel was the driving force behind the expo, a celebration of things she’s been teaching the past two years in her District 97 classes.
Ten stations featured fruit and vegetable tastings, learning about bones through active learning, and meeting a farmer who grows produce for Oak Park’s Farmers’ Market.
“Active learning is a way people really remember what they’re learning because it’s in every cell of their body,” Noel said.
Activities in the expo have been practiced extensively by second graders at Hatch, 1000 N. Ridgeland Ave., this school year. They will act as ambassadors to members of other classes, to help them learn the stations.
Two grants have funded special activities for second graders this school year and last, such as healthy food tastings made possible by Whole Foods, Seven Generations Ahead and a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. A Midwest Dairy Council grant has funded yogurt tastings.
Second graders were picked for the programs because “we wanted to get them fairly young,” and because the activities fit nicely with the second grade curriculum, Noel said.
In 2002, Noel earned a master’s degree from North Park University in Chicago. Ever since she’s been working to change how physical education is taught in Oak Park.
“We’ve got the research. We know there’s an obesity problem with kids. Now it’s time to act on it,” Noel said.
Noel always taught healthy eating and exercise to those around her, but never as part of her curriculum. But now she’s working with curriculum leader Nina Gruber to develop new physical education activities to be implemented district-wide.
Games are used to teach or reinforce healthy eating, such as the “Five-a-day” game. Plastic fruits and vegetables are put in the center, and students are in teams. They pick up fruits and vegetables from the center and from each other’s piles until one has five. The activity works on agility and flexibility while raising the heart rate and getting students thinking about nutrition.
Learning theories such as the idea of multiple intelligences, which holds that different students learn differently, make PE class the perfect place to learn nutrition, Noel said. Each station in the expo focuses on a different area of multiple intelligence.
Simple changes, such as replacing oft-repeated phrases such as “line up” with vocabulary words such as the names of bones keeps learning going throughout the gym period, Noel said.
At 56, Noel said many people are retiring, but she feels like she’s starting anew.
“I’m having so much fun,” she said, eyes wide.
Making changes in her curriculum has been something Noel has become passionate about. Talking to a reporter in the Hatch teacher’s lounge, a woman walked by saying, “Here she goes again. Don’t get her started.”
Noel presented “Fit Kids, Smarter Kids,” a lesson to fellow educators about teaching the connections between sleep, nutrition, exercise and hydration to learning, memory and performance, last week at the annual convention of the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
Timing for a change in PE is due, she said, with obesity and diabetes rates in children rising.
“Life has changed, so it’s time physical education gets moving,” she said.