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What STEM teaches us about Exercise

Posted: August 06, 2015

I had the chance to take a very interesting STEM seminar in Bloomington, IL recently. STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. 

The point of the training was to provide schools with another resource to help students gain an understanding of the science behind human movement. This is a growing trend in education around the country, as teachers and administrators look for ways to bring real life examples of how science works into the classroom. 

Education experts have been noticing that kids today are having a harder time than kids just a few years ago. Test scores aren’t improving, and we’re falling behind in science and technology. Hence the emphasis on STEM.

One theory is that the information age has eliminated our need to memorize things. As strange as this may sound, our children’s brains may be developing differently than generations before. Experts point to some countries where the Internet is restricted, yet their test scores are higher. 

They go further, suggesting that the mind is like a muscle, and needs to be exercised to retain its capability. We already know that actual exercise has an effect on brain function. 

One study in 2011 showed that regular exercise kept a vital part of the brain from shrinking in seniors who had the e4 gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though they had the gene, their hippocampus was the same size as healthy people without the e4 gene. 

In contrast, control groups that didn’t exercise showed significant atrophy of their hippocampus in just 18 months. Clearly, exercise had a positive effect.

But what about the exercise of thinking, like the mental gymnastics of learning new things? Kind of like a mind muscle workout. This matters too. Educators say that our kids aren’t memorizing things like they used to. But neither are adults. 

All you have to do is Google something, and the whole internet is at your disposal on your phone. We have huge contact lists, dictionaries, and unlimited information at our fingertips. That’s a good thing, but it has made us a little lazy. As just an example, how many phone numbers do you have memorized these days?

The traditional training methods of teachers lecturing and students sitting and listening are also being challenged. More and more schools and teachers are moving to active learning through experience, in informal learning sessions. 

That’s what the STEM seminar was all about. Instructors from across the country learned ways to use simple, basic exercises that demonstrate the science of human performance to children as young as Kindergarten through 5th grade. For the older kids, we went a little deeper into the science. 

Next week, we’ll take a look at some examples of how the STEM based fitness program takes concepts like Newton’s Laws of Motion, and makes them easy for even young kids to understand.

Note: Tom Dolan is owner and operator of Tom’s Fitness and Martial Arts, and a 6th Degree Black Belt. He also holds an M.A. Degree in Exercise Physiology and Sport Biomechanics.