Norwich students learn by teaching
thanks to partnership with local school © May 7, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications

Sophomore Latoya Phillips participates in a physical education program with children at Barre Town Elementary/Middle School. Behind her is student Adam Bradford. Norwich students run the program.

photo by Stefan HardSophomore Latoya Phillips participates in a physical education program with children at Barre Town Elementary/Middle School. Behind her is student Adam Bradford. Norwich students run the program.

Joe Gumbrewicz, a physical education major at Norwich University, faced a group of students at a local middle and elementary school and tried to explain a game called “mat ball.”

Instead of bases there are gym mats, he told the group of fifth- through eighth-graders from Barre Town Middle/Elementary School. It’s a lot like kickball, he added, but you have to circle the mats twice to score.

As Gumbrewicz went through the rules, kids chatted and laughed. When the game started, it was clear they didn’t understand what they were supposed to be doing.

“It didn’t go as well as I planned,” Gumbrewicz confessed later. “I needed to do a better job explaining the rules. I needed better classroom control. The kids were arguing about the rules.”

While he taught, Gumbrewicz was learning. This after-school activity is an integral component in Secondary Methods of Teaching Physical Education, a class required by all physical education majors. In this partnership, Norwich students organize a program for Barre Town while gaining hands-on experience.

Every year, Barre Town students take a fitness assessment that measures muscular strength, flexibility, body-mass index and cardio endurance. Children whose levels indicate a need to focus on strength areas are invited to join “Moving for Fun,” which meets twice a week for seven weeks. During spring break, they visit Norwich’s Northfield campus and use the athletic facilities.

Typically schools don’t offer this type of program. We have developed something that is quite unique.

~ Susan Yesalonia
physical education professor

For the kids, it’s a chance to discover joy and motivation in exercise. For Norwich sophomores, it’s often their first chance to practice what they’ve learned in the classroom.

“It’s an opportunity for our sophomores to teach and lead for the first time with real students,” said Norwich Assistant Professor Susan Yesalonia who, with Barre Town physical education teacher Susan Barnard, created the fitness intervention program five years ago. “We battle kids going home after school, not having the opportunity to go out and play. Typically schools don’t offer this type of program. We have developed something that is quite unique.”

“It’s a really nice partnership,” Barnard agreed. “It’s great that our kids are exposed to the Norwich students. Our Barre Town students look up to them ... and education majors need more practical teaching. As sophomores ... they are in the process of developing their skills.”

The main goal, Yesalonia tells students, is to “make them move and make it fun.”

The two-hour session began after school on an April day. Student Latoya Phillips started with a warm-up activity.

Four laps around the gym, she instructed. The 20-odd students took off strong, but after one lap most started walking. A couple of students stopped and leaned over to catch their breath. No one made it to Lap 4.

After stretching, Phillips divided them into two teams and explained the next activity.

“Everyone listen up. Stop talking. This is the name of the game. It’s called Scoot Ball.”

For the activity, kids sat on a scooter—a foot-square piece of wood with a wheel on each corner—and used their legs to propel themselves around the gym. The goal was to throw a ball into the center of a Hula Hoop taped to the wall.

The children donned orange and yellow bibs and the game started. Some quickly figured out that backwards was the fastest way to move. A few kids dominated. A few stopped moving. One child leaned against a wall and watched.

Phillips changed rules: “You must pass three times before shooting.”

This involved a few more kids, but it was clear the game was not succeeding. Phillips consulted with Yesalonia, who sent half the children to another part of the gym for other activities. Phillips donned a yellow bib, plopped onto a scooter and started playing. She made sure all were involved, throwing the ball and encouraging them.

“What didn’t go so well [was that] there were too many people on the court. Not everyone could get exercise,” Phillips said after they broke for a snack. “I had to divide them up. Communication is better with fewer people. And it worked better when I played with them.”

Yesalonia’s help was crucial, she said. “She sees things I don't see; tells me how to modify things.”

The last game, designed by sophomore Peter Margotta, went well. Children used eight small disks as stepping stones to maneuver across the gym floor as a group. Through trial and error and close cooperation, all succeeded after 30 minutes of effort.

Students were videotaped as they led the activities. They also keep a journal to reflect on the experience.

“I’ve learned that it’s a little harder than you think,” said Margotta.

“Some kids ... find out they love teaching, and some find out it has its challenges,” said Yesalonia. “We’re putting them in real situations, so they learn what they want to do with their career.”

Students get the lesson. “You can read all day long but until you actually do it, you won’t fully understand how to apply it,” said junior Adam Bradford.