THE pupils were cheering. 'Whack it!' said one. 'Shake your hips, good,' their teacher encouraged.
The Primary 2 pupils of North Vista Primary School were practising their forehand and backhand tennis strokes yesterday, but not on a tennis court, or even outdoors.
Instead, their Physical Education (PE) lessons were spent 'working out' on a Nintendo Wii video game console, in a special galaxy-themed space at their school in Sengkang.
The school, which opened last year, is one of the first here to incorporate technology into its PE curriculum.
Sports, like tennis or basketball, are taught over five weeks, two of which are spent on the Wiis, where players use a motion-controlled remote in each hand and move their bodies to make their onscreen personas react.
The eight Wiis and 32-inch high-definition television sets, which were installed two weeks ago, cost the school about $10,000.
While waiting their turn, the children are encouraged to find out more about sports on the Internet using their mini laptops.
The school had wanted to connect on the same level with the children, who are 'digital natives', said principal Phua Kia Wang.
'The usual games concept in PE seemed insufficient, and may not be relevant when the kids go home.
'For instance, when they go home, does everyone have a basketball court (to play in)? Will they have the people to make up the teams to play with?' he said.
'We don't want what we teach in school to be so isolated from real life,' he said.
North Vista's subject head for PE and co-curricular activities, Mr Ahmad Zohri, added that while the Wii games were no substitute for real physical outdoor activity, they helped to simulate environments and places like tennis courts, bowling alleys or boxing rings, where he could not bring his pupils.
'Think of it like Formula One training - a driver also uses a simulator to learn a route,' he said.
The indoor Wii stations also solve the very real problem of scheduling PE classes. Schools generally do not schedule PE lessons between 10.30am and 2.30pm because of the heat. This limits North Vista to holding two PE classes each morning.
Eight-year-old Sarah Lim said she liked the 'cute' characters. She has learnt to strategise, by picking strong assistant characters to support her.
Eugene Hirose, also aged eight, said the Wii games made PE 'seem like it's playtime'.
Besides the video game consoles, the school has invested in special heart rate monitors for classes with older pupils.
The monitors - similar to those used by professional athletes - make sure the pupils are not over- or under-exercising during PE class.
Separately, researchers from the Nanyang Technological University have been studying how video games can influence children's attitudes towards exercise.
A pilot project has been completed, while a fuller study has been scheduled for next year.
The Nintendo Wii, which made its debut in 2006, has set off a new fitness fad where people exercise using the consoles with resistance bands, and a balance board. Dumb bells and a stationary bike are on the way.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.