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South Bend Tribune (Indiana)
SOUTH BEND -- Patricia Morton asked her second-grade gym class to pause after a vigorous round of jumping jacks, instructing them to place their hands on their chests and feel the "lub-dub" of their quickening heartbeats.
But on this Wednesday morning at Perley Fine Arts Academy, the exercise itself wasn't the hard part. The greater challenge for most students was remembering what Morton taught them about how blood moves between the chambers of the heart and the lungs.
In one game, the students ran between spaces on the gym floor that represented the heart's atriums, ventricles and the lungs. When the game ended and Morton quizzed the students on the lesson, hands shot up to answer the questions.
Why were they so eager to learn -- and show what they learned? They were having fun.
"I like that we get to do fun activities, and we're always active," said 8-year-old Ariana Butler. "We always do something fun, but we're also learning."
From AB: Rethinking PE Class
The lesson, using fun and physical activity to get kids engaged with learning, showed the approach that earned Morton, Perley's physical education teacher, the title of teacher of the year for the South Bend Community School Corp.
The corporation surprised Morton with the award during a ceremony last week, heading a group of more than two dozen teachers who were nominated. The honor also allows Morton to compete in the Indiana Teacher of the Year program later this year.
Morton knows some people may think of a gym teacher as someone who simply supervises kids while they jog or play dodgeball. With the shift in focus toward high-stakes testing, she said, some have targeted gym and recess as wastes of time.
But she began blending academic subject matter into her lessons more than 20 years ago, finding that the combination of physical and mental activity helped students to retain what they learned.
"At a young age, kids learn by putting their bodies in motion," she said. "I can tell them on the whiteboard how blood moves, but it works better if they experience it through movement."
At Perley, a fine arts magnet school that focuses on experiences with visual arts, music, drama and language, Morton's approach is key because specialists -- such as music and gym teachers -- are expected to integrate language arts curriculum into their own classrooms.
Perley Principal Jill Vandriessche said Morton builds relationships with her students, and learning through movement that makes the kids more confident in their grasp of the subject matter.
"The kids are totally absorbed in their environment," Vandriessche said. "When you have a teacher who takes the kinesthetic component and integrates the content, it really empowers the students."
Other teachers said Morton's lessons seem to carry over beyond the gym.
"Her lessons address way more than the physical fitness of her students," said general education teacher Jennifer McDaniel. "Countless times, she has embedded math, science, history, reading, culture, writing, speaking and listening into something as simple as a childhood game."
Another general education teacher, Christina Govorko, said Morton always tries to create gym lessons that fit into other classes' reading units.
Morton began her teaching career 27 years ago and has taught at Perley for 10 years. In her role teaching physical education for all five grades at Perley, she said, she has the opportunity to bond with students from the their first day of class in kindergarten to their fourth-grade "graduation."
All the while, she tries to instill not just a value for health and fitness, but also qualities like sportsmanship, problem-solving and conflict resolution. That's because, even though she loves the kids, she sees her real job as preparing them for lives and good citizenship beyond her classroom.
"My responsibility," she wrote in an essay for the district's teaching awards, "is to help them as they grow to be successful adults in a democratic society."
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