Dance, Dance Revolution sweeping Margaretville, bringing new moves to physical education classes

By Julia Green
The physical education department at Margaretville Central School has deviated from the beaten track in terms of its curriculum. The newest craze that has taken MCS students by storm and taken technology in physical education to the next level is: a video game.
No longer for couch potatoes, video games are gradually developing into more than a path to childhood obesity. As far back as 1986, video game systems have attempted to incorporate a more physical component than the traditional handheld controller. That year, it was in the form of a controller that would ultimately become the Nintendo Power Pad, a floor mat controller used with the World Class Track Meet Nintendo game, which featured Olympics-style events such as sprints, the long jump and the triple jump.
More recently, the Nintendo Wii has been cited by studies as involving significantly more energy than sedentary video and computer games, though not enough to meet the recommended daily amount of exercise for children.
The video game that has made an appearance in the MCS physical education curriculum is Dance Dance Revolution, or DDR, a music video game that is growing increasingly popular across the country. DDR is played on a dance pad with panels that are pressed by the player’s feet according to corresponding prompts on the screen before him. The arrows are generally in time with whatever song is playing.
The MCS PE department utilized DDR in classes of students starting in third grade and going all the way through high school girls.

Extends to high school
“Predominantly we wanted it third, fourth and fifth, but we’ve used it in middle and high school as well,” said MCS physical education teacher Jim Owdienko. “The third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students are a great age for it – I thought that going in – and I know the high school girls liked it a lot. Actually, the high school girls said, ‘Why don’t we just do this all year long?’ Even one that wasn’t sure whether she’d like it or not, she ended up loving it.”
Owdienko was instrumental in bringing DDR to Margaretville after hearing about a technology grant available last year. “It was brought to our attention that we could apply for it, and we got it and split it three ways [with two other academic departments]. My sister works in Canandaigua School in central New York and I know that her school district was using DDR in their PE classes, and I thought that was a great idea. So when that technology grant came along, I thought it was perfect, because it was kind of expensive.”
At the beginning of the year, Owdienko traveled to Canandaigua to watch the physical education classes and how they utilized DDR and to get some pointers and tips, as well as some advice on where to order it and what exactly would be needed.
All of the effort, he says, paid off when seeing the students’ reactions and the levels of participation that resulted.
“Having a video game in PE, they weren’t sure what to expect,” he said. “But it really engaged them and got their interest. You’d go up and talk to a student while they’re doing it and they wouldn’t take their eyes off the screen. It’s definitely engaging, and the participation was phenomenal – everyone was doing it in the whole class.”
“The way kids love video games, if you could hook them by bringing a video game and get them to move, I thought it was a great idea,” said fellow physical education teacher and MCS Athletic Director Jeremey Marks. “Kids love video games. Unfortunately, they play too many sitting ones – we got them moving.”
Owdienko said there has also been a noticeable increase in participation, particularly among students who are less interested in more “traditional” PE activities.
“It’s one of the better activities for 100 percent participation from the first minute of class to the last minute of class, and everybody’s sort of on the even keel,” he said. “What’s nice with the two-man pads is that one person can bump it up a level if they want, and that rest of the class can decide what level they want to participate on.” He added that there are now fewer students whose lack of physical skill or coordination leads to a decrease in participation.
“Aerobically they’re moving for most of the class,” he said. “In soccer or basketball, you’re running back and forth – it’s not as vigorous as that, but then again you get some sports where kids just stand in goal or they sit back on defense. They get a more aerobic workout out of DDR, and the ones who get into it are going to be sweating.”
“It engages a lot of kids who don’t normally like the traditional team sports,” Marks said. “There are a lot of kids with different interests, so in our curriculum we’re trying to reach kids of all interests. We have things like the climbing wall so they know that eventually we’re going to get to something they do like. Also, we want them to have an interest in activities and sports so they can be healthy, active adults. That’s the ultimate goal.”
A number of stories have been reported regarding DDR’s value as a form of aerobic exercise, and how it has directly contributed to weight loss. Reported cases of DDR as it directly contributes to weight loss have cited losses of anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds.
And, Owdienko said, the popularity of DDR-style technologies in physical education classes and other fitness settings could be the onset of a new trend in terms of video games and other technologies having a greater role in fitness.
Margaretville isn’t the only school utilizing the video game as part of its curriculum; in early 2006, it was announced that the DDR games would be used as part of a fitness program that would be phased into West Virginia’s 765 state schools over the course of two years.
As far as Owdienko knows, no other local school has incorporated DDR into its curriculum.
“I think we’re the only one,” he said. “For now.”