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November 9, 2001

Professor uses 'Potter' power to get kids moving

Not content to conquer the book world and the movies, Harry Potter is headed to the playground, with a little help from California State University, Sacramento professor Lindy Valdez.

Inspired by his daughter's love of the books, the kinesiology and health science professor has developed a series of games that uses the popularity of Potter to encourage physical activity. Valdez hopes the adventures of the young wizard can turn kids on to movement, much as the books inspired them to put down the video game controls.

"I felt I had a great opportunity to reach kids through movement. It's a way to harness the enthusiasm generated through the literature," says Valdez, a former elementary and middle school physical education teacher who now works with aspiring teachers enrolled at CSUS.
It's also a way to increase learning opportunities. "A lot of kids learn better through movement. Their learning style is by doing," he says.

Valdez presented his project at the 25th annual Cal Poly Elementary Physical Education Conference for elementary school teachers. He's also had a successful tryout with a tougher audience - his daughter's sixth-grade class.

The game features a series of challenges, each of which promote both literacy and movement.
It begins with The Sorting Hat where each child draws the name of one of the series' colorful characters and assumes that character's identity. It can be followed by one or more activities, with names like Cauldron Crossword, Magical Names, Sorcerer's Spell, Potion Locomotion Punctuation, Word Wizardry, Scabber's Scrabble, Marauders Map and Hogwart's Tag. All use familiar elements found in common children's games but with a language element that corresponds with the Harry Potter theme.

For example, a couple of games are forms of tag, where children can be "unfrozen" if they spell a word correctly or answer questions about the stories. Others are variations of word games in which the kids use various types of movement - walking, hopping, skipping - to collect letters that spell out words and sentences. Or they physically "punctuate" sentences with actions such as stopping at periods and moving in the opposite direction for question marks.

In addition to his success in getting kids to read books again, Valdez says he also sees value in embracing Harry Potter because he's an imperfect hero.

"He is an ordinary person who rises to the task when faced with great difficulty," Valdez says. "He is an orphan with unmanageable hair, who wears broken glasses and who has a very noticeable scar across his forehead. Kids can relate to a character who is a reluctant hero with many imperfections."

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