MORAINE STUDENTS BALANCE FITNESS & LEARNING
In 1992, Japan required that unicycling be taught as part of the nation's PE curriculum in the primary grades. Unicycle riding is a physical activity that gets the heart rate elevated, requires balance, muscle exertion and coordination, which can support positive academic outcomes. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. The endeavor of riding a unicycle requires grit, rigor and a growth mindset.
This is why Kurt Bartel, a physical education teacher at Moraine Elementary, sought and was awarded an Innovative teaching Grant from NEF. Kurt's grant enabled him to purchase 20 unicycles for his fourth and fifth grade students. After surveying these students and discovering there was much interest in learning how to ride a unicycle, Kurt investigated it further. He realized that to best teach the students, lessons would need to be in smaller groups with no more than 20 students. This meant that students would need to sign up to come in before or after school on their own time to learn. The students still did not mind and many signed a commitment to do so.
After the unicycles were received, students started out riding up against a wall and walking their hands along the wall to help them keep their balance. After they began to feel a better sense of balance and gain confidence, students began working in teams. Two students would walk along both sides of the rider and help them maintain their balance as they pedaled. Next, only one student would walk alongside them, and finally, the students were able to ride solo.
Overall, the students participated for six weeks on Tuesdays before school and at lunch on Thursdays, and nearly all of them became avid unicycle riders. They developed confidence and stronger self-esteem, and learned to work in teams, encouraging each other along the way. Learning something new and challenging like this required critical thinking, astute self-awareness, recognition and response to internal feedback, as well as external (coaching/teaching) feedback. It also required analytical thinking and problem-solving skills in order to make progress.