Students in Fort Mill, South Carolina, are playing their way to a healthier lifestyle, and a local Planet Fitness® wants in on the action.
Over the summer, five teachers from Springfield Middle School attended a one-week training at the College of Charleston in order to bring a program to their school that embodies the convergence of science and technology with a fitness focus.
TECHFIT, which stands for Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists, is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation and is in its second year. The program, which aims to spark interest in the STEM fields, revolves around teachers and students creating technology-based fitness games.
Springfield Middle School, which boasts roughly 60 TECHFIT students, has coded and designed two games, one a spinoff of Monopoly and the other of Battleship. These “exergames” are designed to be life-size games dedicated to getting people up and having fun.
“At GNT, we felt that this program was a great fit for us in our local community and our desire to help people,” said GNT Holdings franchisee Gerald Kennedy. “According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, 17 percent of children in the Unites States are obese, and overweight children have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. We want to get children involved in fitness at a younger age when it is easier to develop fitness as a habit.”
One of the teachers working with the TECHFIT program reached out to the local GNT Holdings Planet Fitness club hoping to get help paying for T-shirts and transportation to a competition. The club donated $1,500 to cover the entire cost for both program needs.
“It was extremely helpful to have to funds from Planet Fitness. Because of their generosity, we did not have to ask students to provide funds for the competition. This allowed students to participate and travel without the strain of finances,” said Laura Merk, one of the Springfield Middle School teachers working on the program. “Additionally, it helped us all focus on the task at hand and allowed us to spend more time using the technology and learning about fitness. It is rare and was particularly valuable that our time could completely be devoted to our goals instead of fundraising and collecting money.”
In addition to the funds for shirts and transportation, Planet Fitness also donated some branded goodies such as a drawstring bag and water bottle.
The TECHFIT students met two times a week after school until 4:45. The trained teachers first used that time to teach the students programming, coding, fitness concepts and fitness activities, but soon the time transitioned to students actually creating the programs and animations.
In Exercise Empire, the Monopoly-inspired game, a large dice is rolled and players move around the room with the corresponding number of spaces. Once they land on a space, they must follow the instructions for the space – typically a set amount of pushups, situps, stretches and other common exercises. In this game “free parking” means you get to take a water break, and “going to jail” entails holding a plank until your sentence is up.
In the second game, Tech-Ship, one team tries to keep a member of the other team from knocking down their bowling pins. In both games, points are tabulated by a machine programmed by the students.
“TECHFIT was an extremely successful club at Springfield Middle School this year,” said Merk. “I highly recommend TECHFIT to any middle school or any program that teaches technology concepts and fun fitness concepts. It is really a great opportunity.”
The school sent two teams to the College of Charleston to showcase their games and compete against six other South Carolina middle school teams. Although the Springfield Middle School students did not claim first place, they did receive an award for excellence in math and data and another award of excellence in graphics.
“Our students did a phenomenal job presenting at the competition at the College of Charleston. They confidently explained our games, the programming and all of the components of our after school club without hesitation. It was an incredible opportunity for students to showcase their efforts and hard work in front of college professors with doctoral degrees in technology,” said Merk. “One of the judges even commented that our middle school students breeze through the programming concepts in which college students struggle to explain. Our students were also able to see other school’s games and gained ideas of how to incorporate technology in different ways.”
The National Science Foundation’s grant for TECHFIT is managed through professors at Purdue University and the College of Charleston.
“As a company, we feel it is important to not only give back to our local communities, but to make connections with the people in those communities,” said Kennedy. “We consistently look for opportunities to make connections when giving back, and TECHFIT was a great opportunity for us to help bring fitness to the local community.”