Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Kids Aren't Well-Rounded; They're Just...Rounded"

First published March 27, 2008

An Interview with Richard Simmons about His Campaign for P.E. in Schools

SimmonsPict2resize.jpgTank top, striped shorts and all, Richard Simmons is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Washington's education policy debate. He has mounted a major campaign to get physical education into the schools and has caught the attention of key policymakers on Capitol Hill.

Amidst all this activity, he recently found time to talk me about his goals, the dire need for physical education and his frustration with the glacial pace of reform in Washington during an election year.

Richard told me about his advocacy for the FIT Kids Act, which would amend No Child Left Behind to require states, districts and schools to include the amount and quality of P.E. among the "multiple measures" by which schools are judged.

He makes no secret of his impatience with the current presidential contest, characterizing it as a political circus that drowns out calls to address the real crisis in children's health and fitness.

His own ideas for reform:

  • Carve out real time in school for physical activity. The FIT Kids Act sets a goal of 150 minutes/week in elementary school and 225 minutes/week in high school.
  • Enlist Certified Aerobic instructors to help P.E. teachers offer excellent physical education.
  • Ensure that P.E. classes include warm up, cardio, strength training and stretching. Just hitting a ball or running around a field won't cut it anymore.
  • Get kids moving to the music they love.

Calling himself "the black sheep of the fitness world," Simmons speculates that people won't take him seriously. His record so far belies that fear. He has taken his campaign to the major networks, inspired thousands of calls and emails to congressional offices, made more legislative progress than many professional advocacy organizations could even hope for, and inspired respectful coverage of his ideas from normally wonky organizations like Education Week and Education Sector.

But don't take my word for it. Listen to what he has to say:

Determining Your Calorie Needs

Dieting Dangers

As long as there is food, there will be diets. Going on a diet is often spurred by different events, such as looking good for a wedding or reaching a milestone birthday. Instead of incorporating healthy habits to lower and maintain their weight, many people jump on the dieting bandwagon for a quick fix.

dDtermining Your Calorie Needs

Knowing exactly how many calories you body needs can make or break your fitness goals. Guessing may be enough for some people, but most of us need concrete numbers to follow. Here's a "no brainer" way to figure out your calorie consumption using the high-school algebra you thought you'd never need.

Your total calories needs includes your resting energy needs (basal metabolism) and the calories you use during various activities. Your metabolic calorie needs include breathing, heartbeat, food digestion, etc. and count for 60-70% of your total daily calorie needs! These needs vary depending on your gender, height, weight, age and the amount of lean body mass (muscle) you have.

Use the information below to calculate your resting energy needs. Before you start... you'll need to know your body weight in kilograms. You can calculate this by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2. Use that number in the calculations below:

determining basal calorie needs for men
10-1817.5 x weight in kg, then + 651
19-3015.3 x weight in kg, then + 679
31-6011.6 x weight in kg, then + 879
Over 6013.5 x weight in kg, then + 487
determining basal calorie needs for women
10-1812.2 x weight in kg, then + 746
19-3014.7 x weight in kg, then + 496
31-608.7 x weight in kg, then + 829
Over 6010.5 x weight in kg, then + 596

Now that you know how many calories you need for day to day living, you can add more calories for your daily activities. Choose the intensity level that best fits your daily routine and multiply that by the hours you do it. Below are calorie burning ranges for common activities.

determining calorie needs for various activities
Very light80-100Seated or standing activities like: school, office work, driving, cooking, typing, etc.
Light110-160Casual walking (2.5-3.0 MPH), housecleaning, light manual labor (electrician, mechanic, carpenter, etc.), gardening/yard work, golf, etc.
Moderate170-240Fast walking (3.5-4.0 MPH), cycling, skiing, dancing, weight training, etc.
Heavy250-350Running, heavy manual labor (digging, hoeing, etc.), basketball, climbing, football, soccer, etc.
Exceptionally Heavy350 and upProfessional athletic training.

Figure out how many calories you use during other activities throughout the day. For example, if you work at a desk all day... you burn between 80 and 100 calories per hour during your work day. If you lift weights for an hour and run on the treadmill for 30 minutes after work... add another 300 calories. Add the calories from the activities you do to your basal metabolic needs and you have your total daily caloric expenditure.

Adjusting Calories to Reach Your Goal

If your goal is to maintain your current weight, you eat enough calories to fuel your daily needs. If you want to lose weight, you should create a 500-calorie deficit everyday for safe and healthy weight loss. This calorie deficit should be a combination of increased exercise and lowering your calorie intake. If your goal is to gain weight, you should add 500 calories per day from quality foods that will give your body the additional calories and nutrients it needs to add healthy weight.

Keeping track of your eating habits and calorie intake is more effective than just "watching what you eat." Most people are surprised at how unhealthy their "healthy" diets really are. Try keeping track your exercise and diet (be honest!); then make changes so your eating plan can help you reach your health and fitness goals. Over time, you'll get used to the keeping track of what you eat and will be able to do it without much thought. It's a small price to pay for health and fitness, and you're worth the effort!

Yours In Good Health,
Denise Sarver
Master Trainer

Teaching Your Kids About Change

Teaching Your Kids About Change

If you’re a parent, one of the most important things you can do is to teach your kids about change. You aren’t doing them any favors by insulating them from this inevitable part of life.

During a speaking engagement at, I was asked, "how much does our fear of change have to do with the negative connotation of the word change?" I immediately thought of the tendency in this country to keep kids going to the same school, living in the same house, eating the same foods, etc. By protecting your children from change, you’re actually teaching them to avoid it, and ultimately, to fear it.

I’ve met people who say they don’t want to move because they don’t want to take their kids out of school, but it’s the parents who are scared. Kids aren’t as fragile as you think. They’re actually very good at handling change, provided they’re allowed to experience it.

© 2009 The First Thirty Days,

Fitness Myths Busted

By Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief - Posted on Tue, Jan 20, 2009, 5:26 pm PST
Happier, Healthier You
by Lucy Danziger, SELF Editor-in-Chief a Yahoo! Health Expert for Women's Health

Shoehorning your workout into a few days a week is challenging enough—don't make it tougher by buying into those nagging exercise misconceptions that may divert your attention from pursuing your better body goals.

SELF went to the pros to poke holes in these popular fitness myths that pervade gyms, pools and exercise classes. Arm yourself with the facts to keep you slim, strong and even smarter.

MYTH: Muscle turns into fat
REALITY: Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues that have different functions, so it's physiologically impossible to turn one into the other. If you stop exercising, your muscles atrophy, so you lose the tone you worked so hard to create. And if you eat more calories than you burn, you'll gain fat.

MYTH: You need to exercise 30 minutes straight to get fit.
REALITY: Three 10-minute cardio stints offer the same healthy payback as a single 30-minute one. If you are trying to peel off pounds, of course, the more you do, the faster you'll succeed. But don't feel guilty if all you can squeeze in is a few minutes here and a few minutes there—it all adds up.

Short on time? Ratchet up the intensity of your workout: Go hard for 30 seconds on the elliptical or jog for a minute in the middle of your walk to maintain your fitness level and your habit. And remember, anything you do—whether it's a brisk 5-minute walk or carrying heavy groceries to your car—for any period of time, provides some benefit.

MYTH: Overweight people have a sluggish metabolism.
REALITY: Though some folks do have metabolic disorders that slow their metabolism, fewer than 10 percent of overweight people suffer from them. In fact, the more you weigh, the more calories you'll burn during exercise at the same relative workload as a slimmer person. If you notice the scale climbing higher, worry about your activity level, not your metabolism. Try this fat-burning workout to really see results.

MYTH: Lifting heavy weights make women bulk up.
REALITY: Women don’t have enough of the muscle-building hormone testosterone to get bulky, even using heavy weights. The truth is, some people will gain muscle faster than they lose fat, so they may look bigger until they shed some of the flab and reveal the slim, toned muscles underneath. Shape sleek muscles with this workout from The Biggest Loser's Jillian Michaels.

MYTH: You can’t lose any weight by swimming.
REALITY: OK, it’s true that long-distance swimmers who navigate colder waters tend to retain body fat for insulation. But ask anyone who laps it up while training for a triathlon: You will sizzle off pounds in the pool, since swimming burns 450 to 700 calories an hour! One reason you might not shed flab doing freestyle? If you throw in the towel and cut your workout short. Keep it going with this full-body water workout from gold medalist Amanda Beard.

MYTH: Stretching before exercise prevents injuries and enhances performance.
REALITY: Researchers are still scratching their head over this one, since studies have yet to show conclusively that limbering up has any effect on staving off strains and other injuries. But they do know that stretching regularly can make bending, reaching, twisting and lifting easier. Best move: Save your stretching for post-exercise, when muscles are warm.

MYTH: You burn more calories exercising in chilly weather.
REALITY: If you shiver through a long run in the frigid winter air simply to experience the extra calorie burn, you might want to come in from the cold: You do torch a few extra calories during the first few minutes, but once you get warmed up, the caloric expenditure is the same whether you’re exercising in Siberia or the Sahara. Try a treadmill circuit workout with a great playlist to keep you going!

MYTH: When your body gets used to an exercise, you'll burn fewer calories doing it.
REALITY: Unless you've adjusted the intensity, you'll burn as much jogging or cycling today as you did last week, last month, even last year. Experts say that this principle only applies to exercises that we're naturally inefficient at, such as using the elliptical machine: After five to six sessions, you'll be smoother in your movements and expend fewer calories—but the difference is only about 2 to 5 percent.

MYTH: The calorie readout on machines is accurate.
REALITY: If only! Research has shown that some types of machines can be off by as much as 70 percent. The culprit? Contraptions such as the elliptical machine haven’t been around long enough for exercise scientists to develop the appropriate calorie-burn equations. On the upside, stationary bikes and treadmills, the grandfathers of the gym, generally give a fairly precise reading, particularly if you enter your age and weight.

Rather than swearing by what the machine says, use the calorie readout to monitor your progress. If the tally climbs during the same workout for the same duration, you’re working harder and getting fitter. An online calorie calculator can give you a sense of which activities burn the most.

Parents Giveth, Parents Can Taketh Away

Parents Giveth, Parents Can Taketh Away

If your kids fight you tooth and nail about bedtime, cleaning up after themselves and doing simple household chores, rest assured, they’re totally normal. Like adults, kids want to do what they want to do.

Unless there’s something in it for them.

Not that you should start showering them with lavish gifts every time they clean their rooms, but think about their favorite activities—watching TV, playing video games, using cell phones and so on. These are privileges, not rights. Instead of handing them to your kids, make it an even trade.

Parenting experts like Dr. Phil recommend setting up a system where kids earn privileges by meeting basic expectations—i.e., putting clothes away, finishing homework, getting to school on time, whatever. They won’t like it at first, but in the end, they’ll gain a healthier perspective on the give-and-take nature of reality.

They’ll argue that it’s bribery, but stay strong.

© 2008 The First Thirty Days,

Community Schools in the Pantheon of Innovation

Secretary Duncan gives community schools a central place in the Pantheon of education innovations. He made that abundantly clear in his recent appearance on Charlie Rose.

He advocates for keeping schools open 12 or 13 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, and 12 months out of the year. He sees schools as centers of learning and community well-being. He calls for stronger partnerships between schools and non-profits. He supports stronger investments in students health, nutrition and safety. He champions a vision of accountability that includes "traditional educators, parents, students, the business community--all of us." And he links these strategies to student learning:

The more we open school buildings to the community, the more we work together--not just with our children but with the families--the more we create an environment where students can maximize their academic potential.

The Secretary sees community schools as a central piece of his agenda to "push innovation, push change"--words some commentators reserve for a much smaller array of reforms that seldom include very much about school/community partnerships.

For a sampling of schools that are already "pushing innovation" in this way, check out our community school success stories.

Hat tip to the Coalition for Community Schools for bringing the Charlie Rose video to our attention.

Moving Beyond Letter Grades?

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story on a New York state school district that has adopted "standards-based report cards." These report cards differ from the more traditional variety in that they aim to measure mastery of knowledge and skills more faithfully:

In Pelham, the second-grade report card includes 39 separate skill scores — 10 each in math and language arts, 2 each in science and social studies, and a total of 15 in art, music, physical education, technology and “learning behaviors” — engagement, respect, responsibility, organization. The report card itself is one page, but it comes with a 14-page guide explaining the different skills and the scoring.

Dennis Lauro, Pelham’s superintendent, said that standards-based report cards helped students chart their own courses for improvement; as part of the process, they each develop individual goals, which are discussed with teachers and parents, and assemble portfolios of work.

Effort and extra credit are not part of the equation, and the report cards do not measure students against each other.

Some years ago, the Chugach, Alaska public school district took the standards-based reporting system a good deal farther. In Chugach, each student works at her own pace, advancing to the next grade level only when she can demonstrate mastery of material through portfolios and other assessments. Some students progress to the next level in the middle of a school year. Others may take considerably longer.

Chugach leaders credit their system with the district's astonishing improvement after years of dismal scores and high drop-out rates. Now, students in the district consistently score above state averages in reading, writing and mathematics, and more than two thirds of graduates go on to college. (For more information, see our story about the Chugach model or our interview with Chugach educator Lee Ann Galusha.)

Any change in how we report students' progress requires strong community support. On this point, the Times article quotes Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals:

I think the present grading system — A, B, C, D, F — is ingrained in us. It’s the language which college admissions officers understand; it’s the language which parents understand.

A cursory review of readers' comments on the Times story bears this out. Readers interpret the system in Pelham, New York as a shell game, a hare-brained scheme to obfuscate actual results, a cash cow for education consultants, a distraction from sound instructional practice, a bureaucratic burden on teachers, etc.

As unfair as these judgments may be, they underscore the importance of engaging parents and other community partners in any effort to change how we grade students. In her interview with Public School Insights, Chugach educator Lee Ann Galusha cites strong parent engagement as an important reason for the success of the district's efforts:

You need to let parents in on this and have it be a group decision.... The students, the parents and the school need to come together and make a commitment to this.


Jay Mathews Yields to Persuasion

You have to admire Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews for his openness to persuasion. Unlike so many education commentators, he is willing to budge an inch or two in the face of compelling arguments.

The latest example of this pliability came on Monday, when he responded to a young teacher's concerns about the effect of testing and accountability pressures on teaching and learning. He was willing to concede two problems the young teacher raised:

  1. With its all-or-nothing focus on passing state tests, No Child Left Behind turns a blind eye to much excellent work in schools.
  2. Current accountability policies encourage schools to focus on "bubble kids"--students just under the passing bar. Meanwhile, those schools leave other children behind.

Mathews' instinctive reaction to the "bubble kids" phenomenon is fairly common: "A good principal...would put an end to such nonsense." This response certainly carries genuine emotional weight. Still, it puzzles me that so many DC policy wonks invoke it in defense of No Child Left Behind in its current form.

What, after all, is the point of a policy that creates poor incentives and encourages perverse behavior? If we can rely on everyone to do the right thing regardless of consequences, then we hardly need accountability systems in the first place.

As Mathews realizes, even good principals succumb to pressures to focus on "bubble kids" when the stakes are so high. When he learns that the founder of DC's much-admired Cesar Chavez charter school does it, he concludes that it is "a bigger problem than I thought."

Sure, many schools offer all children rich instruction in the liberal arts and still manage to reach their performance targets on state assessments. This website celebrates many such schools. But is such courage always or even often rewarded? Are impressive achievement gains always recognized in AYP determinations?

Mathews recommends broader, fairer and more accurate measures of school and student success. Like many, he calls for measures that gauge students' academic improvement over time. He also seconds his young teacher's call for a more comprehensive vision of success:

It would be better to credit the school for important successes outside of testing, Fine wrote, such as "when a teacher energizes a reluctant reader to tackle a novel, when a struggling math student starts coming after school for tutoring, when an administrator finally gets a troublemaker to reflect on her actions."


There should also be a way to honor Fine's request for an extra dimension, such as reporting a rise in students doing scientific experiments or writing analytical papers. Some monitoring systems, such as those used by International Baccalaureate programs, do that. It is part of good teaching and should be available to everybody.

Using richer and more accurate measures for accountability purposes won't be easy. But many more people now agree that it's important.

In Honor of Dr. Seuss and Budget Cuts

The author of this is unknown. Enjoy!

I am Sam,


Do you like budget cuts with a slam?

I do not like budget cuts with a slam,

I do not like them Sam-I-Am,

Would you, forego a raise?

Would you, could you work for praise?

I would not, could not forego a raise,

My creditors want money, they don’t accept praise,

I do not like budget cuts with a slam,

I do not like them Sam-I-Am,

Would you, could you suggest a position cut?

Would you, could you – we want YOUR in-put!

I would not, could not cut a soul,

That is not the way to plug this hole,

I do not like budget cuts with a slam,

I do not like them Sam-I-Am,

Would you, could you take a cut in pay?

Would you, could you work a little longer each day?

I would not, could not take a cut in pay, I already work 25 hours a day!

I do not like budget cuts with a slam,

I do not like them Sam-I-Am,

Would you, could you work for free?

We’re short 102 million dollars you see, I would not, I could not work for free, I’m broke and tired, please let me be,

I do not like budge cuts with a slam,

I do not like them Sam-I-Am!

Why Schools Can't Be Run Like Businesses

Larry Cuban's book, The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can't Be Run Like Businesses starts off with an anecdote that can't be told too many times. It's about an ice-cream tycoon, who makes the best blueberry dessert in the country, exhorting teachers to do better. "If I ran my business the way you people run your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long!" He scoffs. Then a teacher stands up and asks him what he does when bad blueberries arrive on his loading dock. He sends them back, of course. But you can send back students, can you? And that's just one reason public schools can't be run like businesses. (NEA Today, October 2008)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Teachers vs Moms in Parenting Magazine

I'm a little behind in my reading since being a new mom and full time school teacher. I was reading your September 2008 issue and there was a small poll on page 55 asking who had it harder, teachers or moms. I was disappointed that so many moms felt that teachers have it easier and stop worrying about their students when they go home. Being a teacher and a mom I can say this is very untrue. Many teachers work past their contract hours to prepare for their students the next day. Teachers take home papers to grade, write-up lessons on their computers at home, create posters and worksheets, buy supplies at the store on their time off, and some teachers even make phone calls home in the evening to accommodate parent's work schedules. I know many jobs allow parents to go home and leave their work behind, but the majority of teachers do not have the same luxury.