Move It and Get Smart

A teacher-produced app that gives young students more than a physical boost.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero 

Dori O'Brien of C-FitThe idea came to Dori O’Brien (pictured), an elementary school teacher, while she was reading a book about mind-body connections in which a case was made for exercise as a best defense against everything from depression to Alzheimer’s. Case studies throughout explained how schools and teachers across the country use exercise to help boost their students’ learning capabilities. “As a teacher, I was intrigued,” says Dori. “Aerobic exercise could help my students learn? I thought about how much exercise my students had throughout the days and realized it was not enough – not when a little more could benefit them so greatly!” It was then that Dori began to look around for a fitness program that they could do right in the classroom. Amazingly, she couldn’t really find anything very appropriate for her students, so she simply decided to create one of her own. It would be “a fitness program for kids that I would want to play in my own classroom everyday for a quick physical activity break,” she says. Now, four years later, numerous studies have been released backing up the connection — and Classroom Fitness, or C-Fit, is available to help teachers provide to their students a daily dose of ‘Miracle Gro’ for the mind. Current guidelines mandate that children need 60 minutes of activity throughout the day, but many schools have been forced to reduce Physical Education, or have cut it completely. According to one report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), just 4 percent of elementary schools provide daily PE. “The IOM recommends that we strengthen the schools as the heart of health,” says Dori. From their report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: “Children and teens spend up to half of their waking hours in school and may consume more than half of their daily calories there. This puts schools in a unique position to support students in getting optimum physical activity, eating healthily, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight – not only in the short term but over their lifetimes.” With the prevalence of all manner of screens — from interactive whiteboards, iPads and smartphones to mobile laptops and more — it may be easier to plug in and “veg” like a couch potato wherever one is — but it’s also easier to bring an exercise program through that same device right into view for good use.   

Victor: What does the name mean?

CFit LogoDori: The name of the company is Classroom Fitness, or C-Fit for short. It refers to the fact that this fitness program was created by teachers for use in the classroom.

Victor: What is it?

Dori: C-Fit is a children’s fitness program consisting of three apps for the iPad or iPhone. Each app contains four videos that run approximately ten minutes each. Each app also contains still photographs pulled from the videos with written steps underneath that users can swipe through to learn the steps at their own pace. Users can also play sections of the video that shows one specific move so that users can repeat the move and practice it over and over again.

Originally created for the classroom, C-Fit is also perfect for kids at home. It’s safe, engaging and is something that parents and kids can do together. What better way to establish healthy family habits than a little family workout? Children at home can play two or three in a row if they would like or they can play the same one over and over again until their moves are perfected. The app can be used by parents on days when kids are cooped up inside and have a little energy to burn!

The apps are: C-Fit Yoga, C-Fit Dance and C-Fit Cross-Training. Differentiated for kids at any fitness level, use one app exclusively or mix and match to create a customized exercise program for children.

Victor: Tell me more about your interest in this area of overall student wellness.

Dori: I’m an elementary school teacher and student of health and wellness. Pursuing these two paths has enabled me to help children improve their health and well being.
I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Family and Child Development. I later attended the University of San Francisco from where I received my MA in Teaching. While enrolled in school, I became a certified group fitness instructor.
For the past ten years, I’ve taught all grades from Pre K-3rd. I’ve taught in Integrated Co-Teaching, general education and bilingual classrooms.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

ipad-warrior-529Dori: Childhood is the perfect time to start a physical activity habit. Imagine the cumulative benefits of a lifetime of physical activity. Remember what your body could do when you were younger? Remember when you had no fear, or how you got so excited when you accomplished a new feat? Imagine that we still had these great attitudes about exercise; that we never fell out of those habits.

Adults rarely get their daily activity from sports or play time. Most healthy adults get their exercise from some kind of fitness activity such as running, weight training, yoga or group fitness class. Whatever form it takes, healthy adults have learned to take care of their bodies by fitting in some activity into every day.

I think it’s important to teach children the fitness habit also. In addition to play time and sports, children should learn how to take care of their bodies because it’s important. Children need physical activity everyday, even on rainy days, busy days or days when there is no one else around. Teachers can teach their students this habit in class by squeezing in mini physical activity breaks throughout the day and help their students start a lifetime of good health.

Victor: How is it unique and have you seen any direct competitors?

iphone-screencap-512Dori: I don’t know of anything like this out in the market today. One of the things that makes C-Fit so unique is that it’s created by teachers who are currently teaching students in their own classrooms. This means that they have put their real-time knowledge to work to create a product that all teachers would love to have in their rooms. Many times I find that fitness programs for students aren’t quite right. Sometimes they’re too silly, or too confusing for a large group of students to follow along. Sometime the movements have too large a range of space and that won’t work in a confined classroom either. Often the videos are too long, which isn’t realistic for the packed schedule of today’s classroom. Finally, I don’t know of many video apps that make is this easy for a teacher and at the same time so entertaining for the students.

Victor: When was it developed and what is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Dori: I’m very proud of the fact that teachers created this product for other teachers. The music was created by Katie Traxler, an elementary school music teacher and the set design was created by Shani Perez, an elementary school art teacher. For the videos, I hired children’s fitness instructors who live and teach in the New York City area. Together, we created a product that we’re all very proud of. 

Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now?

our-apps-dance

Dori: Classroom Fitness developed after I saw the need for it in my classroom. I started to do yoga with my students in the afternoons when they would become restless at the end of a long day. Classroom Fitness is available at www.cfitkids.com or you can find it on the App Store and Amazon.

Victor: How much does it cost? Options?

Dori: Each app is extremely affordable and only 99¢ and contains forty minutes of video. Differentiated for kids at any fitness level, use one app exclusively or mix and match to create a customized exercise program for children.

The Dance DVD, Yoga DVD and Cross-Training DVD are available through Amazon for $19.95.

Victor: How about some examples of it in action?

our-apps-yogaDori: If you’re interested in testimonials, there are reviews on the app store from teachers that have used the app in their classroom with great success. If you’d like to see some sample clips, I have trailers available for you to watch, including one for the overall program C-Fit Dance trailer; C-Fit Yoga trailer; and C-Fit XTrain trailer.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who isn’t it for?

Dori: These workouts give teachers the chance to give the gift of health to their students everyday. For 10 minutes, students will follow a safe and fun exercise routine that will leave them feeling strong and confident by the time they’re finished. The suggested age range for C-Fit is grades K-3.

our-apps-xtrainThere is no special space or PE experience required. This program has been specially developed for the busy and crowded classroom. The only thing that teachers have to do is play the video and watch their class exercise and learn.

After watching one of the twelve ten-minute videos in this program, students will:

  • learn how to do a push up, sun salutation or grapevine
  • get their heart rates up
  • be excited about exercise
  • relax in a non-competitive, non pressure environment
  • feel energized after moving and stretching their bodies all around
  • have a break from their studies and have a chance to clear their heads 

As magical as exercise is, it’s pretty simple. The kids move around and have a great time. Some will learn a new word like chataranga, learn a new skill like how to do a push up, maybe some will even find a passion or a future career!

Overall, a fitness program for kids that develops self-confidence, increases knowledge of their bodies and movement, and encourages them to take responsibility for their own health and wellness. Not all children are athletic or enjoy competition, but all children have the need for regular physical activity. C-Fit will teach them tools that they can use for a lifetime of fitness.

Victor: Your thoughts on education these days?

Dori: The Common Core standards are helping us reach a point where we can work together, become deeply involved and remain consistent. Up until recently, standards varied widely from school to school and state to state. They also varied from year to year. Standards were constantly shifting and teachers were always trying to catch up. Finally, we can focus on the how to teach the students in the best way possible, instead of on the what.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating C-Fit?

Dori: Besides my experience as a classroom teacher for ten years, I’m also a former group fitness instructor. I taught classes for a couple of years while I was in graduate school and carried many lessons with me from that experience. One of the biggest ones was that teaching people how to take care of themselves is an incredibly rewarding experience. I loved leading workouts that people enjoyed and helped them feel better.

In the classroom, I was reminded about how much fun it is to help someone feel better. As I would go through the steps of a sun salutation, all of my students started to smile. Shy kids came out of their shells and serious kids started to giggle. Kids, much like adults, love accomplishing new feats and they love to feel that they’ve figured something out on their own. Watching a student hold a balancing pose or watching them do a push up for a first time is such a thrill. I love seeing the look on their face or answer them when they say, “Look at me!”.

Victor: How does C-Fit address some of your concerns about education?

Dori: Unfortunately, children have less time for physical activity and more sedentary time than ever before. In addition to sixty minutes a day of sustained activity, children need physical activity breaks for ten minutes throughout the day to reverse the effects of being stationary for excessive amounts of time.

In school, PE classes and sports programs have been reduced or cut altogether. Schools have now scheduled less active time and more sedentary time into the student days than ever before. The nation-wide implementation of the rigorous Common-Core standards and the prevalence of state exams in elementary school will increase the amount of serious study time in the schools. Combined with budget cuts and intense pressure to increase test scores, administrators are at a loss as to how what to do.

On the days when students do have PE, they rarely spend the whole time engaged in vigorous activity. Often, PE classes focus on learning a sport, which while worthwhile, doesn’t always translate into real exercise. When kids don’t get the chance to be active, they become sluggish and lethargic or restless and anxious. Either way, it’s hard for them to pay attention in class.

If the students do have a great athletic program, they still need a fitness program. Not all kids are athletic or enjoy competition, but all kids have the need for regular exercise everyday. Students who don’t excel at sports for whatever reason begin to think that they just aren’t good at any kind of physical activity. Not being good at sports as a child can eventually translate into not enjoying any kind of physical activity as an adult. In fact, only 3% of adults stay in shape by playing sports.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Dori: Bright and sunny! The push toward a common set of standards for the country will eventually lead to higher quality materials from both publishers and teachers. All kinds of industry will be focused on the same set of standards and then true progress can be made on trying to figure out the best way to teach those standards. From that point, parents will begin to understand the material better and therefore students will too. 

Victor: Got a quirky story or funny anecdote having to do with your experience developing the product?

Dori: Quirkiness abounded every time I interacted with technology. There is a steep learning curve for teachers these days when it comes to technology. With iPads and Smartboards being introduced into the classroom, many teachers are looking for new, exciting and accessible ways to make the most of these new tools. Fortunately, everyone from my husband to my web designer was very patient and helpful.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of C-Fit?  

Dori: I put my heart into this project and I play it in my room every chance I get. The videos are the perfect length: long enough to get the heart rate up and start feeling good — but short enough to keep students absorbed and fit into the busy classroom day. The videos are also the perfect blend of fun and educational. They’re animated and colorful, but they also teach proper form and fitness vocabulary words.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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