ENGAGE THE BODY: Wii Get Fit--Together!

Copyright 2009 Miguel Guhlin

"Miguel," my Dad asked me when I was about seven years old, "what did you do to Grandpa's telephone?" I stared with some fear at the old telephone--an heirloom--I had dismantled, seeking to take it apart and put it together again so it would work. Now, after years of surviving class where I have had to sit still and use my imagination rather than my hands, "bodily-kinesthetic" is not a term I would use to describe myself. Yet, while that term does not describe me, it does describe a large population of our students. These learners want to "jump in" and play, preferring to pull stuff apart rather than look at diagrams about how it all works.

When someone says, "I have to walk to think," that's exactly the wrong kind of approach for me now. Yet, what if we could engage bodily-kinesthetic learners in school using new technologies? Some Texas school districts, like Gainesville ISD, are using video games like Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Wii Sing It, Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, as well as considering the use of Wii Music for use with autistic students who have an affinity for music. But, does this really work?

The WII comes with a balance board that can do a variety of things, including calculating your body mass index, weight, as well as measure shifts in your balance. You can choose from short workouts that run from a minute to 10 minutes. These workouts include strength training, aerobics, yoga, jogging and balance, push-ups, and Hula Hoops. Many are using the Wii as an alternative to outside physical exercise. If you are using a Wii in your school district, please write TechEdge and let us know!

"I use the Wii in my Physical Education classes," shares innovative educator Christopher J. Cain, Panther Run Elementary Physical Education. "Primarily, I'm using it on rainy days in the classroom that I am provided." The Wii is even finding its way into adaptive Physical Education classes, shared Kari Rhame, Deer Park ISD. Yet, is the enthusiastic embrace of the Wii for Fitness modelling bad habits or attitudes about exercise? Cain suggests otherwise, sharing that the Wii "...allows for students of any fitness level to be able to participate and have fun doing so. We've even had our principal in the classes playing against the students. Kids really enjoy it. We all find it to be a greater use of PE time than watching the old magic school bus videos w/ everyone sitting down."

According to Gainsville ISD's Instructional Technology staff member, Jennifer Coleman, "Criteria to measure success is participation, classmate cooperation, and skills improvement and progress." Perhaps the main benefit of using the Wii for Fitness isn't a focus on fitness, but rather, use of technology to encourage adaptive Physical Education students cooperation. Attendance also appears to be up, though Coleman is unsure of whether it's because of the technology use and students' desire to participate.

While the Wii has generally been perceived as a new way to get fit while remaining indoors, there may be some health challenges. A recent Fox News (12/23/2008;http://tinyurl.com/7xdbyx) story shared these points:
  • There has been a sudden increase in injuries resulting from Wii use, especially those playing tennis or running games. These games are particularly injurious because they may result in stretching or tearing your tendons as a result of quick, unexpected movements.
  • Some fitness games on the Wii are also bringing about knee injuries.

Research is increasing on the use of games. One study sought to "compare the energy expenditure of adolescents when playing sedentary and new generation active computer games." The results?

Playing new generation active computer games uses significantly more energy than playing sedentary computer games but not as much energy as playing the sport itself. The energy used when playing active Wii Sports games was not of high enough intensity to contribute towards the recommended daily amount of exercise in children.
Source: British Medical Journal - http://tinyurl.com/cvry5g

Several Japanese companies--such as NEC, Panasonic, and Hitachi--are considering launch of a Wii Fit Check Channel in April, 2009 (Source: Nintendo NonStop; http://tinyurl.com/aqr3us). This would enable Wii Fit users to send data to a central server. Health care professionals would then offer custom suggestions on how to improve users' fitness level. In the face of the British Medical Journal's research study, could these types of technologies be a disruptive innovation that moves us beyond reliance on school-based health and physical education experts?

The combination of technology and exercise, gaming and cooperation with increased participation on the part of children could yield benefits beyond cultivating new fitness habits.

Christopher J. Cain, for example, emphasizes that all his students participate when they are shadow-boxing with the Wii. "If we are boxing," shares Chris, "one student holds the remote and boxes one round, while the other students shadow box in their personal space. I rotate the students at the end of each round. At the end of the class – students have basically shadow-boxed for 30 minutes…great workout. I do the same simulation of activities w/ Wii Fit."

This kind of workout can translate into, according to the British Medical Journal study, to an equivalent of around 27 pounds per year, or 1,830 calories burned for 12 hours of play-time per week.

Is it possible to network Wii devices to achieve a more collaborative approach to getting fit? Could we one day be playing World of Warcraft--with all its benefits of fostering leadership and team skills needed in the business world--using our Wii Fit devices? Only time will tell whether technology convergence will affect traditional student achievement goals in physical education, fitness and learning.