Jay students use tech to exercise


JAY – With a hint of a southern drawl and a tall footballer’s frame, it seems incongruous at first to hear Jay Middle School physical education teacher Mike Methvin talking in the slang of wired seventh- and eighth-graders.

“Who wants to play DDR?” He asks no one in particular, but soon five or six pre-to-young teens melt away from the basketball games going on in the gym and climb up on stage in front of a large TV.

After choosing songs – “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” are two examples – the two girls standing on the pads closest to the TV begin to move their feet into different squares on the pad-grid, staring intently at the directions moving up the TV screen.

When their song ends, the TV grades them on how well they obeyed the game’s commands, and then the next two pick a song and start dancing.

As schools all over Maine incorporate technology at an ever-increasing rate into their curricula, video games are popping up in the oddest places, like Methvin’s gym classes. And as bad as video gaming can be for a kid’s health, DDR stands out as a popular and novel way to get kids moving.

Methvin first learned about the game – named Dance Dance Revolution – at a conference about using technology in gym classes. In addition to that game, he’s also got stationary bikes and treadmills, a snowboarding game and boxing game on TV, and pedometers. But DDR is by far the most popular, Methvin said.

“They’re extremely excited about it,” he said. “In one class, there were 12 people up here and all of them were doing it.”

Recent beneficiaries of roughly $2,400 in grant money, the school gym now has a 46-inch projection TV, a TV cart, a new PlayStation II, new DDR games, two arcade-style dance pads and 16 practice pads, Curriculum Director Joe Makely said.

“We think it’s very important to support physical activity and we’re also very active here in offering new technologies to kids,” Makely said. “We want to make sure that as we increase the students’ access to technology we pay very close attention to their physical activity.”

“We don’t want to be a cause of that robbing of physical activity toward screen time. We want to balance that here at the school,” Makely said.

In fact, he said, DDR is catching on all over the place. West Virginia has a statewide DDR program in its middle schools, he said. “It appeals to a certain group of students. There are students who may not appreciate some of the team activities who can be very motivated on the DDR system.” Jay Middle School also offers a running program, and students can go cross country skiing and snowshoeing as well as playing traditional team sports and doing things like DDR.

Makely explained that giving kids experience doing a wide variety of sports is extremely important. “The No. 1 job (for the physical education program) is that every kid learn a way to be physically active throughout their life,” he said.

Methvin explained that DDR not only gives kids aerobic exercise, but also helps them improve their coordination and agility. That’s on top of getting their hearts pumping at a rate comparable to or above volleyball or other such team sports.

“And the more they do it, the better the workout,” he said.

Back to class. With music pumping the kids wrap up one last dance before lunch.

As they file out, each group of two or three gives different reasons for congregating in the gym during an off-period to exercise.

Students Alannah White, Kourtney Brennick and Ben Hartford say what’s best about the game is they get to dance.

“And it’s very active,” Hartford says.

“Oh, I love it. I love DDR,” Lindsay Couture says. She and Savanna Merrill play it at friend Cassi True’s house all the time, she says.

Levi Knapp and Tyler Gervais are the last to leave. “I don’t know why I like it,” Knapp says. “It’s awesome, even though I stink at it.” It takes practice to learn the moves, he says. But even while learning, it’s fun.