The New Tone in Physical Education|
by Tom Livingston
The new physical education does more than make PE fun. The essential difference is its about lifetime fitness and wellness, says John Ray, physical education specialist for the Delaware Department of Education. Its providing the knowledge and the skills to enjoy physical activity and to be physically active for life.
Its more of a wellness philosophy, as opposed to just sports goals, says James McCall, PhD, coordinator of health and physical education in the New Jersey Department of Education. Its not just developing skills, but increasing the amount of physical activity, keeping students moving as much as possible.
Schools are really changing, trying to adhere to quality physical education, says Shirley Black, health/physical education advisor in the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) is setting the tone. The NASPE calls its model curriculum Physical Best and defines it this way: Physical Best was designed to educate, challenge, and encourage all children to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes for a healthy and fit life. The goal of the program is to move students from dependence to independence for their own fitness and health by promoting regular, enjoyable physical activity. The focus of Physical Best is to educate ALL children regardless of athletic talent, physical and mental abilities or disabilities.
I like to give my students a number of different activities so everyone can find something theyre successful at, he says. We want to get them hooked on physical activities so theyll make the choice to be physically active at home and outside of class.
Lydic has successfully applied for grants to buy equipment such as a climbing wall by linking physical activities to academic skills. Youngsters climb up the wall searching for letters to form words or numbers that match math problems.
During his planning periods, he has organized jump-rope and cup stacking clubs. We have 80 sets of cups, along with stacking timers and mats, he says. The company that sells these cups, Speed Stacks, has turned its product into a competitive activity it calls Sports Stacking. Students stack and unstack 12 specially designed cups in pre-determined sequences. The activity promotes hand-eye coordination, concentration and focus, among other skills.
We have a lot of fitness-type activities, and during them, students learn about their hearts, bodies, muscular strength and endurance, says Lydic. An activity like juggling promotes cross-lateral movement and uses both sides of the body. That helps the brain to build bridges from the left to right sides, which helps with content areas and critical thinking. Theres a link.
Kids in Lydics classes do warm-ups and play tag games along with traditional sports activities. We dont play basketball or hockey, but we practice a lot of the skills and stations, and play games using the skills we are practicing. Its a lot of fun, he says. For example, while students practice dribbling, they choose a word on flash cards, then dribble a ball to their words letters, which are scattered around the gym floor on mats.
Evans says when he went to school, kids played basketball in January. Today, he says, We teach all kinds of activities through the skills in basketball. We have drills going up and down the court, such as dribbling and shooting, so kids can improve their cardiovascular fitness. Evanss classes use heart monitors to make sure kids are raising their heart rates to a beneficial level.
All Central Bucks secondary schools have fitness rooms. We dont use free weights as much as machines, says Evans, treadmills, ellipticals, and specific pieces of equipment to work on the arms, chest, legs, abs. The idea is to encourage them to continue, as they become adults, so that they can keep in shape.
Health and physical education classes are integrated in the Central Bucks schools. Theres a greater emphasis placed on knowing the physiology of exercise and fitness, understanding why its necessary to maintain a strong heart, how the nutritional guidelines fit in and what it takes to stay healthy, says Evans. Guest speakers discuss sleep, nutrition, fitness, stress and health risk factors.
I think for the most part the kids recognize why its important, he says We are empathetic to kids who dont like to be very fit and active, and are willing to work with them and find things they can succeed in. Its a very positive step in teaching physical education.
In the schools extensive fitness center, students alternate weight training with exercising on eight pieces of cardiovascular equipment such as a treadmill, stair-stepper, elliptical machine and traditional and recumbent bikes.
They focus on building strength, but also power, speed and agility, says Williams. We also use yoga, pilates, circuit training, jump-ropes its a fitness circuit. We like to have kids take fitness at least one marking period, though we also want them to learn individual and team sports.
I dont hear the kids loathing gym or fearing going, she says. You dont have to be an athlete to do well or play. Its not like when I went to school and we played dodgeball and some kids got beaned. Those days are gone.
Many New Jersey schools use heart rate monitors and pedometers so kids make the connection between physical activity and health. Theyre getting constant feedback, he says. Theres a strong focus on students developing their own wellness goals, including fitness, nutrition and physical activities.
To accommodate a wide range of student abilities, the focus is more on individuals, on their abilities to work at their own levels, make progress moving forward, says Dr. McCall. In the past it was more competitive. Now students see where their weaknesses and strengths are, and develop a plan that will help them.
But for all the emphasis on fun and fitness, sports skills are still a major component, he says. But it used to be that was all that was addressed. Now weve expanded to a wider, more diverse scope and sequence that meets the needs of more of the students. When students get out of high school, we hope theyll have the skills to move forward and lead a healthy, active life.
Selected school districts will field test the new Delaware PE program in the 2006-2007 school year. It will be implemented statewide the following year if plans hold.
Ray says many Delaware schools already are using pedometers. It shows the number of steps a child takes in class, plus its a perpetual stopwatch. It moves and runs when you move. If you take 5,000 steps in class and youve done that in 24 minutes, but your class period was 48 minutes, that means you were only physically active 50 percent of the class. Its very valuable feedback.
We want students to understand what fitness and nutrition are. Also relationship skills and sportsmanship what is it really, shaking hands after a game? Theres more to sportsmanship than just shaking hands. We want students to really understand, not just learn. Lifetime wellness means the knowledge and skills to enjoy physical activity.
Before then, there were no real standards. We had 501 districts doing their own thing, says Black. These standards promote the achievement of personal fitness goals and support the concept of lifelong physical activity. Because were standards-based, rather than activity-based, there is a specific reason why each activity is chosen. We also recommend from our end, she says.
A public-private coalition, Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity (PANA), has developed a model school nutrition and physical activity plan. More than 1,100 schools now subscribe to its Keystone Healthy Zone Schools Program, which includes standards for health education, PE, health and food services, and other related areas.