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Thursday, October 7, 2010

New gaming systems allow DC SCORES students to exercise in the classroom

The DC SCORES elementary school soccer season is set to kick off this afternoon, with 36 boys and girls teams ready to play games at nine schools throughout the city. Students will get great exercise running up and down the field in pursuit of that golden goal.

Soccer, however, isn’t the only way DC SCORES’ poet-athletes are breaking a sweat this season. As Elementary School Director Cory Chimka has seen, a rainy day – and there have been a few lately -- isn’t keeping students at our 25 schools from exercising:

I’d never seen the lively Wheatley Whales sit so still and quiet as they did during a spring afternoon when I arrived as they thoughtfully crafted letters about their community for the likes of President Barack Obama, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, and DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. I whispered to a Wheatley writing and soccer team captain, “Hey man, why’s everyone so quiet?”

“Ms. A. says if we finish our letters, and they’re really good, we get to play the game you’re giving us,” he replied in an enthusiastic but measured whisper, and got right back to work.

With his cue that I should get to work also, I began fiddling with the RCA jacks in back of the television that hangs in the corner of Ms. A.’s room, and initiated my first experiment into “extertainment.”

As childhood obesity rates soar nationally, so does the success of the $12-billion-a-year computer and video game industry. A whopping 83 percent of American children ages 8 to 18 have a video game system in their bedroom.

But as technological gains are made in “extertainment,” video games are becoming far less sedentary, and the relationship between video gaming and childhood obesity is rapidly changing. “Extertainment” is a term being used for the relatively “recent active gaming concept that allows players to experience various activities (bowling, fishing, tennis, golf) in a virtual world.”

A study out of the Institute of Human Performance at the University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, measured heart rate and calorie expenditure in 18 kids ages 6 to 12 during a 25-minute gaming protocol, and was published by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

“Participants rested for five minutes, then played a seated computer bowling game, an active bowling game and the action/running game for five minutes each, with five minutes of rest between active games.

“Compared with resting, children burned 39 percent more calories per minute playing a seated game, 98 percent more playing active bowling and 451 percent more during the action/running game. When compared with seated gaming, they burned 0.6 more calories playing active bowling and 3.9 more calories per minute playing on the action mat.”

The study showed that kids playing active games increase their heart rate significantly and burn four times the calories of young people playing seated games.

The systems used so successfully in the study are called XaviX systems. The XaviX system, developed by an upstart of former Nintendo employees, is garnering strong reviews and giving the likes of Sega and Nintendo a real run for their money.

Furthering the credibility of the relative newcomer XaviX is its desire to move away from the violent brand of video game that has been so popular of late, and focus on getting its educational “extertainment” games in schools, homes and community centers around the country.

In a unique partnership between XaviX, DC SCORES and The Century Council, each DC SCORES school has received a XaviX system for use on rainy days during and after school.

The system comes with an interactive electronic mat, and when the student runs and jumps or slides on the mat, the coinciding on-screen avatar they’ve created mimics their movements, hurtling virtual obstacles and racking up accurate statistics of steps taken, miles run and calories burned.

While nothing can beat actual exercise – in our students’ cases, playing or practicing soccer -- DC SCORES is excited to be at the forefront of using technology to encourage young people to live healthy, active lifestyles when they’re stuck inside.

And on that rainy Wednesday, the Whales did “finish their letters, and they were really good,” and they did “get to play the game,” and they broke a sweat, and they raised their heart rates to aerobic levels.

And they loved it.

-- Written by Cory Chimka, Elementary School Program Director

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