As their feet bounced on a colorful rug, about a dozen second-graders shouted answers to math problems they saw displayed on a pull-down screen in the front of their classroom at Dann C. Byck Elementary School.
They were following instructions from a math and exercise video produced by Nashville-based GoNoodle, which aims to reduce students’ sedentary lifestyles while improving their cognitive functions, with short videos that require physical activity and mental acuity.
“Mega Math Marathon” required the students to jog in place, answer simple math problems and occasionally sprint in place to test their endurance. Other GoNoodle videos teach spelling by asking students to contort their bodies into the proper letters. Think YMCA for kids.
CEO Scott McQuigg, who co-founded the company three years ago, said its videos are being used in more than 60,000 schools, including 4,600 in Jefferson County. In the last month, 12 million students ran, jumped and twisted their limbs to GoNoodle videos.
A free version of GoNoodle is available to anyone, while a premium version, which costs $99 per year per teacher, has been underwritten locally by Passport Health Plan and Kosair Children’s Hospital.
McQuigg said that 20 percent of the 60,000 schools run the premium version, which, in almost all cases, is paid by a third party.
“We really look for partners,” he said.
In Jefferson County, the effort reaches 68,000 K-5 students in 178 schools.
McQuigg said the company, which was created three years ago, employs almost 70 educators, software engineers and content experts.
The idea, he said, was to restore movement to students’ daily lives, instilling in them that exercise is fun and helping them better absorb the academic lessons.
Local students said they enjoy dancing and running to the videos, while school officials said GoNoodle has improved behavior and performance.
Caniya, 7, a student in Holly Heuglin’s second-grade class, said that she especially enjoys videos that teach her about the United States and encourage her to move.
“We get to jump around,” she said.
One of her classmates, Amarei, 7, said that he likes the videos that prompt him dance.
Heuglin said she uses GoNoodle every day, either to calm down the students after recess, with a meditation-like video, or to get their neurons firing again at maximum velocity if they hit an afternoon mental slump.
Heuglin said that thanks to the physical activity, she has noticed “a huge difference” in the students’ motivation compared to when they just sat in chairs all day.
“It’s just a huge motivator for them,” she said.
The teacher also praised the GoNoodle software for its flexibility. She said she can adapt spelling, math and other videos with materials the students learned recently in her class.
“It’s not just dancing videos,” she said. “There’s a purpose. It really helps the material stick in their heads.”
Principal Tamara Darden said she can see the effects of GoNoodle when she walks through the hallways and into the classrooms. Students are “more settled,” she said.
Darden is so convinced of the videos’ effects that she uses them at home with her 8-year-old son, Xavier.
Michael Rabkin, director of communications for Passport, said the nonprofit health care provider had signed a multiyear contract with GoNoodle to provide the service in 72 Kentucky counties, with plans for expansion.
“We want all Kentucky kids getting healthy,” he said.
Goals of both organizations overlap, health officials said, because academic research increasingly shows a link between physical activity and academic performance.
“Almost immediately after engaging in physical activity, children are better able to concentrate on classroom tasks, which can enhance learning,” according to a research brief from Active Living Research, which is part of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
“Over time, as children engage in developmentally appropriate physical activity, their improved physical fitness can have additional positive effects on academic performance in mathematics, reading and writing,” according to the brief.
Effects on long-term health
McQuigg said that he believes the program can help address the nation’s obesity epidemic.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about one-third of children and adolescents, ages 6 to 19, are overweight or obese. Kentucky has among the highest adult obesity rates in the nation. And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children get at least one hour of physical activity per day, only a third of children are physically active every day, according to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition.
McQuigg said GoNoodle will provide long-term benefits for the nation’s health as families use the videos at home and encourage children to lead more active lives.
If you can teach that physical activity can be fun, McQuigg said, that will set the course for a generation.