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Using exergames in the classroom

As part of a research grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Exergames Unlocked team has ongoing research on the impact  and implementation of exergames with different audiences. A central focus of the Exergames Unlocked project was to identify and document what worked and what didn’t in a variety of settings, investigating how exergames could be used more effectively.

Using exergames in the classroom

Learners need activity breaks throughout the day. Activity breaks can be extremely powerful ways to help learners’ focus, concentration and productivity. Exergames can be great for initiating an activity break. Particularly if the equipment is set up at the beginning of the class, with the television or projector turned off, teachers can easily turn the television on and start students moving in less time than it would take to walk outside or set up other equipment. Teachers can engage an entire classroom in physical activity using only one console and a game. For example, several dance games ask players to follow dance moves with an onscreen silhouette character. Up to four players can hold a controller to play in the game, but the rest of the class can still mimic the same movements and dance along. Teachers can facilitate this dance activity in one or two dance increments (or more), as study breaks, before tests or as a transition break in-between subjects throughout the day.

Examples of using exergames in school

Some educators have had success in using exergames for activity breaks before spelling and math tests and in increasing student focus, grades and self-confidence. At one elementary school, educators engaged an entire school in physical activity first thing in the morning by broadcasting the game, Just Dance 2 through closed-circuit television systems in every classroom. After implementing the dance game, school officials noted an immediate change in students’ readiness to start the school day. Additionally, they noticed a drop in tardies and absences, citing the eagerness of students to get to school on time so they did not miss their “dancing” time.

Similarly, a school in southern New Mexico used Just Dance as their beginning morning activity each day to give students extra physical activity. The school’s PE teacher would set up the Nintendo Wii and a projector on a portable cart in the school’s cafeteria, where students would meet each morning for breakfast. The Nintendo Wii and the dance would project on the back wall of the cafeteria’s stage. After dancing to one song, the students would line up in their classroom lines and get ready to go to class. Administrators and staff noticed that students enjoyed participating in the energizing activity.

A teacher at a smaller elementary school created an exergame lab for the school as part of a healthy school initiative. She asked parents to donate older televisions, and set up five exergaming stations in the corners of the room. She used it as part of her PE classes, but also offered it to the school as incentives to end food-based rewards such as pizza parties. When students reached important milestones such as reading challenges, they could earn exergame play in the lab, rather than ice cream or other high-calorie treats. The lab is also used during inclement weather and provides students with a positive model for active gaming at home.

Other schools have also used exergames during parent teacher conferences when parents and students traditionally sit and wait for their appointment time. Educators chose to make this waiting time more active and to alleviate stress and tension that can be a part of these conferences. School officials noticed positive results including parents spending more time with children, actively engaged in physical activity with them.

Other schools have had exergames set up as demonstrations at their heath fairs to show positive gaming behaviors.

Exergames Unlocked recommendations for school implementation

There are specific challenges to using exergames in schools. In schools, exergame users are primarily children, teachers and administrators who are usually already involved with several initiatives and projects. A typical school day is usually crammed for teachers, making it difficult to add something additional to their plate. Exergame programs work best when driven by enthusiastic advocates. Here are some simple ideas to help build their confidence and encourage exergame use in school settings:

  • Do a short training or demonstrate to school staff how exergames can be used in their setting.
  • Share research and helpful resource sites with staff that will help validate the use of exergames in your setting.
  • Give guidance on best practices.
  • Find interested staff members and delegate “ownership” of equipment.
  • Encourage staff members that are using exergames to take equipment home and play during weekends or evenings to familiarize themselves with set up and gaming possibilities.
  • Find parent or student volunteers and train them on set-up and use so they can help facilitate game days.
  • Encourage teachers to be proactive about game choice with their students, particularly younger audiences.
  • Don’t use exergames as a reward, rather, as an opportunity for activity.
  • Keep parents informed. Encourage teachers and administrators to educate parents about their exergame program.

Chamberlin, B., Maloney, A., Gallagher, R. R., & Garza, M. L. (2013). Active video games: Potential for increased activity, suggestions for use, and guidelines for implementation. Serious games for healthcare: Applications and implications (pp. 191–212): IGI Global.

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Funding Information

© 2013. NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Research Initiative (Grant #2008-55215-18837).

About Us

The Exergames Unlocked project includes a multi-state team of accomplished media education researchers, exercise physiologists, medical professionals and doctoral students. Contributing members are researchers in their fields and have helped launch the use of exergames as tools to combat obesity in their communities and beyond. New Mexico State University researchers and their partners have been funded to research the impact of exergames, develop specific recommendations for exergame use, and implement exergaming programs. As part of that project, this website provides access to resources based on research, sample projects, and input from the exergaming community. For more information, contact the project director: Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, Professor, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service
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Why Exergames Unlocked?

Why Exergames Unlocked? Exergames are videogames that encourage physical activity. Here, you’ll find the best and most effective exergames, as well as strategies and recommendations on using them with different audiences and in different locations.