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Science Lessons Meet Gym Class at Rox El
Shelley Pulling with exercise ballDec. 20, 2017 -- Roxboro Elementary teacher Vince Nemeth knows that children learn best by doing. That’s why he uses his physical education class not only to teach typical athletic skills but also to reinforce the content material that students are learning in their classrooms.

One excellent example of this interdisciplinary approach was his recent lesson introducing the laws of physics to the building’s fifth graders. Three classes of students gathered outside on the playground to make predictions about which ball would bounce the highest when dropped from a second floor window. Seven balls of various sizes and weights were used, including a soccer ball, tennis ball, kickball and giant beach ball.

The exercise involved concepts such as velocity, mass, gravity, force, and motion, all part of the district’s science standards. Both Mr. Nemeth and classroom teachers agree that some tweaks should be made to the activity for next year, as is often the case the first time a project is attempted. “I’ll definitely hang a banner with measurements out the window,” said Mr. Nemeth. “So we can more accurately determine how far each ball bounces.”

But students got a lot out of it. “The ball drop was a more fun way to learn the laws of physics than just reading a worksheet,” said Olivia Frey. Savannah Holland agreed, pointing out that some balls didn’t behave the way students expected them to. “You can learn new things when you’re surprised by what happens.”

The observation was followed up with a visit from a Case Western Reserve University physics professor who was able to explain the science behind the results. But the biggest hit of the day was the final ball dropped out the second floor window, a giant beach ball, in what Mr. Nemeth has dubbed the “Celebrity Drop.” This year, the surprise celebrity was Rox El’s new principal Shelley Pulling and the students are already making recommendations for who it should be next year.

Fifth graders aren’t the only ones learning content material in gym class. Having recently engaged in an in-depth study of weather that took them outside for observational walks and all the way to WKYC to meet with meteorologists, Malik Daniels’ second grade class quickly became mini-weather experts. Mr. Nemeth wanted them to combine all that new weather knowledge with a PE focus on exercise.

“One of the goals we have in gym is for kids to find physical activities that they can do at home, in school and in the community,” he said.  “But they need to know how different seasons, weather and the environment can impact their ability to participate safely in physical activity.” He adapted a game he had previously created for first graders who were studying the needs of living things to invent “Sprinkle Tag.”

Under a giant paper sun, students were moving about the gym on small square scooters, trying to avoid being tagged by the one student with a ball, a dreaded situation that would leave the tagged students “dehydrated.” Suddenly, little 7-year-old bodies would slump over their scooters, tongues hanging out, depleted of all their energy. Luckily there were three other students running around with watering cans who could re-hydrate their friends and bring them back into the game.

Mr. Nemeth hoped that students would demonstrate their IB attribute of the month, cooperation, while also applying what they’d learned about “how weather is a factor in our activity” to drive home the point about responsible behavior and taking good physical care of oneself. Oh, and have fun while they’re at it. According to second graders Harry Tugeau, Kyndall McCann and Vivian Jones, he succeeded on all fronts.

“It was really fun,” said Harry who likes to play soccer, baseball, basketball and hockey. “It helps us learn things when we play games.”

Kyndall, who likes running, jumping rope and another Nemeth-invention “Pizza Tag,” said, “When you exercise, you have to wear the right clothes and always have water with you, even if you’re inside.”

Vivian, who likes swimming but knows that you can get dehydrated “even in the water,” said, “Playing a game in gym helps us remember our lessons better.”

Which means that Mr. Nemeth achieved his goal. Or, as they say in the sports world, scored a home run.