Las Cruces, New Mexico
Video games are often linked to physical inactivity among children. However, increasingly sophisticated and interactive games are challenging this conventional wisdom. Even if you haven’t heard the term “exergame,” it’s a concept you’re likely familiar with. Video games that combine movement and exercise have exploded in popularity in recent years. To participate, users must get up and get moving; it’s not just thumbs that get a workout with exergames.
Conlee Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico has embraced exergaming as a simple way to incorporate more physical activity into the school day. Each morning before classes begin a preselected song from the video game Just Dance is broadcast school wide. Just Dance, a game for Nintendo Wii, features dance sequences choreographed to popular songs. To play, users dance along mirroring the movements. Conlee uses its existing studio and closed circuit television set-up to broadcast the game in each classroom. Older students manage the studio equipment and run the broadcast.
Conlee Elementary developed their exergame program through a partnership with New Mexico State University (NMSU). During the summer of 2009, Conlee PE teacher Celsa Madrid attended a summer course at NMSU that involved exergaming. “It caught my attention because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how video games could truly incorporate exercise, or at least ‘meaningful’ exercise,” said Madrid. During the class Madrid was introduced to Barbara Chamberlin, Ph.D., director of NMSU’s Learning Games Lab. Chamberlain and colleagues were analyzing how games could be used in classrooms, afterschool programs, or other health-related activities. Conlee was offered the opportunity to introduce and experiment with exergaming.
Today, pre-kindergarten students, 3-4 year olds, and students in 5th grade who are 11 and 12 years old all start their day dancing at Conlee. The exercise has helped build a sense of community among Conlee’s students. “It’s something they can all share every morning, dancing to the same song,” says Madrid.
Students are so enthusiastic, in fact, that the program has also had some unexpected benefits. Not wanting to miss the morning activity, students are eager to get to school on time. Tardiness has actually declined as a result of the exergaming program. Staff participation has also been a positive outcome of the program. Not only do teachers also welcome the morning jump start, but it’s valuable for students to see their teachers taking part in physical activity and enjoying themselves.