Local educator wins state Teacher of the Year award

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LAPS: Black uses P.E. to stimulate muscles and minds

By Tris DeRoma

If you ever attend teacher Justin Black’s “math” class, don’t stand in the middle of the room.


You’re liable to get trampled.

That’s because Black, who was recently chosen as “Physical Education Teacher of the Year” by the New Mexico Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, has a unique way of exercising the muscles and brains of Chamisa Elementary students, all at the same time.  

It’s something you have to see to understand. For each history section of the class, Black posts images of  historical figures and places all around the walls of the gym at Chamisa Elementary, which is Black’s classroom. Black calls out the name of said figure or place, and the students are expected to run to the correct picture. It makes for an exciting class, as a lot of students get it right, and some don’t. Either way, everyone wins as the physical experience of winning or losing reinforces the right answer in their heads.

Math is set up like a relay race. Black divides his class in two, and each “team” forms a line facing one of the inside walls of Chamisa’s gym. On the walls are large sets of cross hairs with numbers in each of the crosshair’s sections.

Black recites a math equation and whichever team member is up has to think fast for the answer, run to the wall and slap their hand on the right number and run back before the other opposing team member. As if the kids didn’t have enough to think about, Black has thrown a little twist on the game as well. If the number happens to be in the left quadrant of the crosshair, the student has to use their right hand (or foot if it’s in a bottom quadrant) to touch it or vice versa.

“These exercises help with their coordination and it makes both sides of their brain active,” Black said. “I observed people doing similar things with computers and so I borrowed from that for my own program.”
Chamisa Elementary Principal Debbie Smith was excited for Black as well as the school.

“All of our teachers are amazing and teacher-of-the-year quality, but it’s always great when one of them actually gets recognized and ends up receiving this award,” she said, adding that the award is actually a reflection of the school, as a whole.

“The award is not only a reflection on Justin, but his colleagues here because there’s so much collaboration that goes on at our school,” she said.

Black was first nominated for the award through a professor at the University of New Mexico who also attends the same teaching conferences that Black does. Black has been teaching with his techniques for several years at the New Mexico Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, as well as other conferences in the region. Winning the award for the state qualifies him for a chance to win Teacher of the Year for the entire region, when Black attends the Southwest District conference in June.

In the meantime, Black said he’s going to keep doing what he loves the most, teaching young people about the benefits of exercise.

“The less active kids are, the worse they do academically,” Black said, adding that there’s a lot parents can do to make sure they’re kids stay active. “Exercise doesn’t have to be about lifting weights, doing pushups and all those kinds of things,” he said. “I was telling my students the other day to just get on their bikes and go see a friend, go to the park. A lot of times it’s just about going out and doing something.”