Numerous studies have shown that regular physical exercise promotes healthy growth, strong muscles, decreased risk of illness, But in addition to the physical benefits, physical activity helps kids manages stress, make connections to different parts of their brain, and even improves sleep among others. But it's rare that physical activity gets integrated into the school day outside of PE class. Peter Hede saw that as a challenge he wanted to take and began partnering with schools to make it a reality. Here's his story of how the Pulse Program came to be...
In 2014 the Danish public school system was reformed. That meant longer school days, new subjects, and interestingly, 45 minutes of daily physical activity (PA). Not more PE but PA integrated into the teaching routines as a means to better learning. Research has proven the effects, but the big question remained and still does to some extent: HOW?
A trip to a conference in Stockholm, Sweden, changed all that. In 2016. I met Paul Zientarski and David Sladkey from Naperville Central High School, Chicago. This high school has worked systematically with PA for more than ten years and introduced the term "Zero Hour" - PA just before academic class combined with active classrooms.
My mission laid ahead of me. I work as an administrative leader at Langhøjskolen in Hvidovre, Denmark. I introduced my team to these ideas that I got at the conference; to use the opportunities in the school reform to systematically move the kids every day for 20 min and organize their classrooms with big whiteboards, standing desks, wobbleboards, etc. My team loved it, and in a heartbeat, I found three teachers who loved the idea as well. Planning began, and we picked two test classes; 5c and 9c. We bought equipment like heart rate sensors and whiteboards, desks. We invited one of my colleagues from Sweden, who had been working with this concept for two years at the time, to introduce my Pulse teachers to the science and do´s and dont's.
Within five months we began seeing results. Grades went up and social behavior improved, especially for 5c. Pulse had gotten off to a very good start. Since Pulse is different than PE but still takes a lot of physical space, we had to be creative with organizing the daily workouts. Various locations around the school were used, and we quickly found out, that having Pulse class with 5c and 9c were two very different things. 5c wanted to play a lot more since they were younger. We also realized that this kind of project required a great deal of time for planning and reflection - time we really didn´t have but "stole" from other assignments that we thought were "less" important.
Many of the other teachers didn´t know much about Pulse since we were just a little group of people who started it. Because of that, we took some time at staff meetings to inform the rest of the staff what we were doing and why. We had staff meetings in one of the active classrooms; just to let the rest of the teachers experience first hand what it felt like to work on the boards.
9c graduated last year after having a whole school year of Pulse. Result: Best performing class in 5 years on Langhøjskolen and came out with a significantly higher average score than any other classes and well above national average. We couldn´t be happier.
With these amazing results, we decided to expand the program to nine classes this year in year two of the Pulse Program.
Data is a key element. Why? Because it drives quality decisions and makes it easier to inspire and motivate others to follow your example. Because of that, we began the school year with baselines on fitness and self-evaluation. The same tests will be done at the end of the school year. That will hopefully indicate progress compared to the individual students' commitment to the Program.
It all comes down to educating our kids to become as smart and happy as possible, and the Pulse Program is an effective way to get there.
To learn more about the Pulse Program, visit www.peterhede.com.
Peter Büchner Hede is the founder of the Pulse Program in Denmark. He is a professional social worker with a degree in Public Leadership and has specialized in working with movement and learning since 2001. Hede is also the author of Educational Sports, a professional treatise about learning and movement in school and leisure time. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter @BuchnerHede.