The New Tone in Physical Education

by Tom Livingston

The new physical education does more than make PE fun. “The essential difference is it’s about lifetime fitness and wellness,” says John Ray, physical education specialist for the Delaware Department of Education. “It’s providing the knowledge and the skills to enjoy physical activity and to be physically active for life.”

For More Info

National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1900 Association Dr., Reston, VA 20191, 703-476-3410

Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity, 717-948-6315,

Speed Stacks, Inc., 14 Inverness Dr. E, D-100. Englewood, CO 80112, 877-GOT-CUPS,

Activities such as juggling, jumping rope, stacking cups or spinning a yo-yo haven’t replaced sports in school PE programs. But in many Delaware Valley schools, non-traditional activities have found a place in the physical education curriculum, along with devices such as weights, treadmills, pedometers and heart monitors.

“It’s 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. “It’s 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.”

Climbing Walls, Stacking Cups
State educators have honored Garrett Lydic as 2005 Delaware Teacher of the Year. That’s for all subjects, not just PE. Lydic teaches physical education to 2nd through 4th graders at the North Laurel Elementary School in the Laurel School District.

“I like to give my students a number of different activities so everyone can find something they’re successful at,” he says. “We want to get them hooked on physical activities so they’ll 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. There’s a link.”

Kids in Lydic’s classes do warm-ups and play tag games along with traditional sports activities. “We don’t play basketball or hockey, but we practice a lot of the skills and stations, and play games using the skills we are practicing. It’s 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 word’s letters, which are scattered around the gym floor on mats.

Attaining Fitness
“The difference between today as opposed to 35 years ago when I went to Central Bucks is that it’s all about fitness,” says Jeff Evans. The Central Bucks District’s coordinator for health and PE, Evans also teaches at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown. His peers honored him as Pennsylvania’s 2005 Middle School Health and Physical Education Teacher of the Year.

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. Evans’s 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 don’t 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. “There’s a greater emphasis placed on knowing the physiology of exercise and fitness, understanding why it’s 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 it’s important,” he says “We are empathetic to kids who don’t like to be very fit and active, and are willing to work with them and find things they can succeed in. It’s a very positive step in teaching physical education.”

Choice of Activities
At Delsea Regional High School in Franklinville, NJ, in every marking period, PE students have a choice of programs, each with several different activities, says health and physical educator Kathy Williams. In the winter, those choices include team sports (indoor soccer, team handball and football), recreational sports (bowling, horseshoes and bocce ball), or a combination of floor hockey, badminton and fitness.

In the school’s 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 — it’s 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 don’t hear the kids loathing gym or fearing going,” she says. “You don’t have to be an athlete to do well or play. It’s not like when I went to school and we played dodgeball and some kids got beaned. Those days are gone.
“We try to add variety and keep it fresh to maintain enthusiasm. Even when we do tennis in the spring and fall, we have three days of tennis and two days of fitness. Some days we go to the track, run relays or around the perimeter of the school. It’s not the same old same old, where only the athletes tend to want to do it. We get more interest.”

NJ: Strongest State
New Jersey has the strongest physical education requirement of any state. Students at all grade levels must receive at least 21/2 hours of physical education each week. “We have more of a wellness philosophy as opposed to just sports goals,” says Dr. McCall. “We emphasize activities, movement and learning skills. We encourage cooperative project adventures and lifetime sports such as tennis and golf.”

Many New Jersey schools use heart rate monitors and pedometers “so kids make the connection between physical activity and health. They’re getting constant feedback,” he says. “There’s 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 we’ve 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 they’ll have the skills to move forward and lead a healthy, active life.

DE: Under Review
Delaware currently does not mandate physical education, although many schools provide 30-60 minutes of PE per week. “We’re in a curriculum standards review,” says Ray. “We’re seeking a model curriculum design that will put us on the cutting edge.”

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 it’s a perpetual stopwatch. It moves and runs when you move. If you take 5,000 steps in class and you’ve done that in 24 minutes, but your class period was 48 minutes, that means you were only physically active 50 percent of the class. It’s 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? There’s 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.”

PA: Standards Approach
Pennsylvania leaves up to each school district the amount of time spent on physical education. In 2003, the state enacted a set of academic standards for all subjects, including PE.

“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 we’re 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.
“Our job is to turn kids on, not off. We want to help them become lifetime participants,” says Black.

Tom Livingston is Executive Editor of MetroKids.