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West Virginia funds ‘exergaming’ systems for schools

There is no specific curriculum or suggestions for how teachers should use the Xboxes.

State officials in West Virginia have spent $90,000 on 286 new video game systems in the hope the machines can be used to motivate 21st century schoolchildren to exercise.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources provided the grant to the state Department of Education to purchase new Xbox 360 Kinect systems, said Melanie Purkey, director of the education department’s Office for Healthy Schools.

The systems will be used to help bolster physical education and health classes throughout the state, Purkey said. Players use their own body movement to control the video games, a method Purkey and others believe can help improve student health.

“It all adds up to more minutes of physical activity,” she said.

Representatives from the state Office of Healthy Lifestyles approached Mary Weikle, coordinator for health and physical education, at a January conference. Weikle had students playing with an Xbox Kinect, and she said the representatives were intrigued by the idea.

After working with the office, Weikle said they were able to purchase Xbox bundles, which come with everything needed for teachers to start using them immediately. Each bundle costs about $300, Weikle said.

DHHR spokesman John Law could not confirm the amount of money provided for the video game systems.

The equipment costs considerably more than the kick balls and jump ropes frequently found in gym classes, but Weikle said the Xboxes are a viable way to entice out-of-shape children to exercise.

“It won’t fix what we’ve got right now, but it’s a start,” said Weikle, who spent most of the last 27 years as a physical education teacher.

Every health or physical education teacher who attended a Charleston conference on student health this week received an Xbox bundle, Weikle said. The roughly 100 teachers also learned how to set up the devices and the educational benefits of the video games in a presentation by Dr. Emily Jones, a West Virginia University professor.

Teachers who want to keep the Xboxes must provide Weikle with information every nine weeks. That includes the number of minutes each child uses the system to exercise.

There is no specific curriculum or suggestions for how teachers should use the Xboxes, she said.

“The key is giving them the resources,” Weikle said. “It’s not really to script it for them.”

The accuracy and detail within the reports will also be up to the teachers, Weikle said. A regional wellness coordinator can check in at schools if there is word of a problem, but Weikle said there are not enough to ensure every school is using its Xbox appropriately.

The wellness coordinators will also be in charge of distributing the rest of the Xboxes, Weikle said. She wasn’t sure how the coordinators would hand out the remaining devices.

Using video games for exercise is nothing new.

In the mid 2000s, the education department provided many schools with Dance Dance Revolution machines, video games that encourage players to dance. Weikle said she received a machine for her gym that still works and effectively used other video game systems during class as well.

She and Purkey agree that such teaching methods can make physical activity seem attractive to certain children.

“The exergaming concept engages a group of kids . . . that maybe never wanted to be engaged,” Purkey said. “They had to find [activities] they would actually choose to do on their own.”

The irony of using video games to encourage physical activity is not lost on Weikle. She said “exergaming”—exercising through video games—is controversial and should not replace more traditional forms of physical activity. It’s just another tool educators can use, she said.

“As a teacher, how you motivate kids in the 21st century is different than how it used to be,” Weikle said.

Weikle said only one Xbox can go to any given school, and the devices must be available for student use before, during and after school. She’s not sure how long the equipment will last but said they are under warranty for one year.

Every Xbox should be in a classroom by this fall, Purkey said.

Copyright (c) 2012, the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.). Visit the Charleston Daily Mail online at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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