Auburn Middle School students Bria Church, 12, left, and Shelby Dan, 13, work on their balance using Bongo Boards during physical education class on Tuesday. The girls were participating in the “circus unit,” in which students use stilts, Chinese yo-yos and hula hoops, among other things.

AUBURN — In physical education class Tuesday, Zach Hurd led four other seventh-graders in dancing to “Soulja Boy.”

In their line dancing unit, the Auburn Middle School students were assigned with creating their own dance videos.

“It’s worth a lot of our grade,” Hurd said as he and others practiced their moves. Hurd, 13, coached as the boys moved: “Cross over. Back up. Snap. Right leg in front of your left. We can add our own moves, so if you have any ideas, speak up. This video’s got to be two to three minutes long.”

In another gym, Darci Goslin, 12, walked on stilts. Other students in her “circus unit” class practiced their balance on Bongo Boards, which look like skateboards on one wheel, or tried to master the hula hoop or a Chinese yo-yo.

The national trend for today’s gym classes is less competition and more cooperative activities that include everyone, said Nellie Cyr, associate professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Maine.

When Cyr, 47, was a physical education student, “We did dodge ball and things we don’t use as adults,” she said. “People lined up and teams were picked. It was embarrassing if you weren’t that good. All that has changed.”

Maine gym classes still offer a lot of basketball, which is popular in Maine, Cyr said. But team sports have given way to other kinds of activities: rock climbing, Frisbee, weight training, juggling, dance, creative movement.

That’s appropriate, Cyr said. Athletes make up a small percentage of the population. “Our greatest public health problem is obesity, which means the mass of people aren’t doing anything.”

Auburn Middle School physical education teachers Katie Lutts and Ben Caswell hope to change that by introducing their students to a variety of ways to stay active. The focus isn’t on how good students are but whether they are they moving and understanding the connection between being active and healthy, Lutts said.

When Caswell, 29, was in physical education classes, the focus was mostly team sports. Students who were good dominated, “and the teachers let them,” he said. Those who weren’t, himself included, sat back and didn’t enjoy class.

His “circus unit” increases hand-eye coordination and balance, and is great for students who don’t enjoy team sports, he said. Some students say they can’t do it on the first day, but by day four they get excited.

Lutts also hears students complain: “Why do we have to do this?'” when introduced to line dancing. She tells them that instead of running on a treadmill or playing basketball, dancing can be a way of staying fit.

In line dancing, students learn the basic moves of the songs “YMCA” or “Cotton Eye Joe.” Then, using laptops, they get in groups and choreograph their own dance videos, which are graded by teachers.

Dancing seemed weird at first, said seventh-grader Tommy Muse. “But you get used to it.” He said he likes trying a variety of activities. “It gives me a chance to do different things I wouldn’t normally do.”

Brandon Bernier, 12, agreed.

“I’m not too good at basketball,” he said. But he is good at walking on stilts. “I can go the whole length of the gym.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.