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SHEPHERDSVILLE - As a Physical Education instructor, Amanda Yarbrough understands team concept and a ‘we-can’ attitude.
In Yarbrough’s classes at Bullitt Lick Middle School, that sometimes also refers to a ‘Wii-can’ approach.
Yarbrough implemented the Nintendo Wii gaming system in PE classes. Over the next year she enhanced her teaching program for use by all students, including those with special needs.
“We try to meet a standard using technology for PE, including TV, VCR, DVD,” she said. “We’re trying to be more creative with the technology and keep (students) moving in the process.”
Wii is a game device allowing players to physically mimic real movements by on-screen characters.
“It’s technology and physical fitness,” she said. “With Wii, what a great way to do both.”
Yarbrough purchased her own Wii system and implemented it each week in her classes.
After initial positive success, Bullitt Lick PTSO members Cindy Rosson and Ruth Anderson donated two more Wii systems and Wii Fit programs, along with extra controllers. Wii Fit includes healthy exercise regiments along with personal fitness charts for each participant.
“It grew into a phenomenal thing,” she said. “Attendance was greater on Wii days.”
Adding to the program’s success, Bullitt County Public School technology coordinator Jim Jackson purchased another Wii and Wii Fit for Bullitt Lick through BCPS’ technology budget.
“We’ve supported and encouraged using Wii,” said Jackson. “We think it’s a great tool for fitness and education. (Yarbrough) has tied the two together.”
Jackson viewed Yarbrough’s classes, helping to decide how Wii tied in with state core curriculum.
“It’s great when you can take a tool kids love to use anyway and then incorporate it into education,” Jackson said.
BCPS previously used a ‘Dance Pad’ which allowed students to read on-screen questions and step out answers. With the pads no longer manufactured, Wii fills the void.
Jackson also provided Mount Washington Middle and Maryville Elementary with a Wii system, using those schools along with Bullitt Lick as pilot programs.
Mount Washington Middle math instructor Josh Meredith has implemented Wii Baseball into a Probability and Statistics class. Jackson said students worked with mathematics via statistical data acquired while playing games.
Maryville PE instructor Dennis Minnis adapted Yarbrough’s program to fit the elementary level.
Jackson said the schools would be evaluated throughout the year, determining the best ways for further Wii implementation into school curriculum. By next year other schools may incorporate Wii.
Bullitt Lick began the school year with five Wii and Wii Fit systems. Yarbrough said her ultimate goal was having all students create characters and track their personal physical progress.
Wii characters, known as a Mii, are created using various physical features, allowing each student to create a self-likeness. Once established, Wii keeps a personal record of each activity.
“It tracks progress,” said Yarbrough. “It includes Body/Mass Index, weight, fitness levels and even advises what to work on, like a personal trainer.”
Yarbrough said part of the goal was allowing each students an opportunity each week to use Wii.
Sixth grader Drew Downs has played boxing, archery and bowling on the Wii at school.
“It took me a little bit of time to get used to it,” he said. “I made my character as Santa Claus, but he was skinny.”
Downs said playing Wii was “really fun” and he also understood the physical benefits.
While Wii curriculum created a positive influence on students, Yarbrough discovered another profound use for students with special needs.
Yarbrough implemented a Wii program with members of Paula Faulhaber’s class. According to Yarbrough, the class serves students needing physical or cognitive assistance with Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome and Autism.
Referred to as adaptive physical therapy, Yarbrough offers individual assistance to students with disabilities ranging from mild/moderate to severe/profound. She said playing Wii increased physical fitness while strengthening many other skills.
“Just the impact on coordination and flexibility shows,” she said. “They follow directions better and they have more focus.”
Christina Murphy, one of Faulhaber’s students, has worked with Yarbrough over the past year. Despite using a wheelchair, Murphy is able to play sports such as bowling. Yarbrough mentioned Murphy’s immense improvement in both physical and motor skills.
“She is now more physically active,” said Yarbrough. “Before she had a hard time handling the remote and taking turns with other students. Now she gets out of her chair for periods of time to play, she is hitting pins rather than throwing gutter balls, and she has learned to wait her turn.”
Yarbrough said Murphy showed substantial improvements in cognitive abilities and social skills.
“Before she would get frustrated with things and didn’t want as many people around,” she said. “Now she follows rules. Participation is big for her. She has fine motor skills. We’ve also seen improvements with some verbal skills in other students.”
“When (Yarbrough) brings parents in, a lot of them are surprised to see their children doing things with the Wii that they never thought they would,” Jackson said.
Yarbrough’s program continues to discover new success. Recently a group of Western Kentucky University PE Teaching students visited Bullitt Lick to view student progress first-hand.
Also attending the demonstration was Teresa Scherffius, PT, OCS, owner of Bardstown Road Physical Therapy Group in Louisville. Scherffius was so impressed with the results she immediately purchased a Wii system for her office.
With more than half her patients at an elderly age, Scherffius said Wii could keep them active after various surgeries or mishaps, aiding with quicker rehabilitation. She also saw an opportunity to transport Wii-related therapy back home.
“Home exercise and fun for the whole family,” she said. “Grandparents and grandkids able to become active together.”
Scherffius was impressed with opportunities Yarbrough’s program provided students to participate in sports and exercise programs they may never personally experience.
“Because of Wii, it opens new doors to something students might not think about,” she said.
Jackson credited Yarbrough for efforts in establishing a positive educational program combining technology with physical fitness.
“Students are engaged in it, they’re having fun and are staying more physically fit,” he said. “(Yarbrough) started this on her own and continued adding to it. She’s been a leader and deserves all the credit.”