The following ideas are shorter adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens.
1. Help Kids Find Something to Do
Do students ever complain that there is nothing to do where you live? Encourage them to do something about it and promote physical activity in teens at the same time. Begin by having them research existing youth activity programs in your area that include exercise. Students should also take note of parks, neighborhood recreation areas, hiking and biking trails, etc. If more exists for teens than students initially thought, have them increase student awareness of these resources by putting together flyers, brochures, posters, or other marketing pieces that tell about community resources and encourage students to participate. Then, remind students to be good examples and support the resources themselves. If in their research students discover that few resources exist to promote physical activity, have them work with local and/or state officials to set them up. Students can find out who to contact using NOW's Resource Map of state departments of health and education. Local recreation officials would be especially useful contacts. Time with officials will be more productive if students are prepared with concrete ideas and action plans. What types of physical activity would be most appealing to students? (Dancing? Weights? Walking? Basketball? Other ideas?) What facilities and parks are available for such activities? Do any public funds need to be requested to support such programs or facilities? Have students organize their ideas and take action to implement them.
2. Advocate for More Responsible Advertising to Youth
As reported in the October 25, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS report on Kids and Media, the youth advertising market is very large. (Note: A free transcript of this segment is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (http://shop.pbs.org).) It is estimated that American kids see an average of up to 40,000 commercials every year, and a quarter of them are for food. (See additional statistics on kids and advertising at the Kaiser Family Foundation Web site.) Have students each collect 3-5 food advertisements targeted to kids. Look at these ads in groups and ask students to focus on the food ads that encourage heavy consumption of the advertised product. Each group should then present such an ad to the class and list on the board the name of the product and what these ads are specifically encouraging kids to do. Ask students what the result would be if large quantities of these products were consumed? Next, share statistics from the NOW Web site on the increase in overweight youth in the United States. Ask students if they think the companies who promote heavy consumption of their products share any responsibility for the increase in the number of overweight children. Talk about why or why not. Also discuss with students how consumer behavior can influence how business is conducted. Conclude the activity by having students explain their position on this issue in letters to the companies who target kids with heavy consumption messages for their products. Students should support their arguments with data and either praise the company's efforts or request specific changes in the company's advertising strategies.
3. Improve the School's Physical Education Program
The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the number of high school students participating in physical education classes is decreasing. In fact, daily participation in physical education classes by high school students dropped from 42% in 1991 to 29% in 1999. At the same time, the number of overweight youth is increasing. (See the weight statistics for youth on the NOW Web site for details.) What is participation like in your state? Have students find out by examining the general statistics in the CDC Summary of Guidelines to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity. What conclusions can students draw about physical education in their state and/or school district? Next, survey students at school to find out if your school has physical education classes and after-school programs that are attractive to all students. What improvements can be made? Invite the head of your school's physical education department to visit your class and discuss what students have learned. Have your class then work with the physical education department, student council, and other appropriate groups to implement improvements in the physical education program offerings, and to promote increased student participation.
4. Help Someone and Exercise at the Same Time
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, over 31% of high school students haven't participated in the amount of vigorous or moderate physical activity recommended for their age group. While reasons for inactivity vary, perhaps more students would exercise if the setting was nontraditional and they were helping others at the same time. Your class could begin by looking for elderly in the community whose homes and yards may need extra attention. Perhaps a house or a fence needs to be painted, a lawn needs to be mowed, shrubs and trees need to be pruned back, flowerbeds are full of weeds, etc. Have students organize a series of service projects by working with the homeowners, gathering any necessary tools and supplies, and scheduling appropriate workdays. Other service projects involving physical activity could involve walking dogs for busy professionals, collecting trash along the road or waterways, or other needs that your students identify in the community.
About the Author
Cari Ladd is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and Web site development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site, and online professional development services for teachers of mathematics and science. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.