Get Moving: National Physical Education & Sport Week
Each May, the nation celebrates National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Across the country, physical education teachers, fitness instructors, coaches, nutritionists, and others concerned with human health and wellness promote the advantages of physical exercise. The benefits of proper exercise and nutrition are well known for both older people as well as for children, and the month-long awareness campaign prompts many people to make healthy lifestyle changes. An offshoot of the campaign is National Physical Education and Sport Week on May 1-7, which focuses on physical education and activity for K-12 students.
PE classes have evolved a great deal over the past few decades, and phys ed teachers often include classes on nutrition, substance abuse, and wellness topics in addition to teaching skill-related sports and fitness. There is also a much broader range of activities available in gym classes than when I was a student: one school in Tennessee, for example, has introduced fly fishing into their phys ed curriculum. After completing an 8-hour course on the sport, the phys ed staff now teach their students the finer points of knot tying and fly casting – all with the goal of getting their students outside for what could become a lifelong sport. Not all schools, of course, have the finances or location to be able to offer this type of sports class. With most schools facing tight budgets, some districts have been forced to reduce or even eliminate their PE classes altogether. In such cases, some enterprising teachers have found ways to introduce physical activity into their classrooms for several minutes each day, using yoga, stretching, or jumping jacks to get the students out of their seats and their heart rates up.
Regular physical exercise is vital to student learning. Studies show that students are able to concentrate better and stay focused for longer periods of time when they’ve participated in exercise. Exposure to endurance-type of exercise, such as running or skipping, appears to be the most effective, with test subjects’ scores all increasing by a wide margin after such exercise. This week I’ve selected three physical education resources for various grade levels. All of the featured resources below are from PE Central, a site that is devoted to providing the latest information about developmentally appropriate physical education programs for children and youth. The site is aimed at health and phys ed teachers, parents, and students, and they offer lots of lessons. Also, please be sure to read my colleague Peggy’s column (linked below) for her ideas on teaching about the importance of physical exercise and integrating it into the curriculum. Throughout the week, we’ll also be featuring many more fitness-related lessons and activities on our Twitter and Facebook pages, so be sure to check those out.
Subjects: Physical Education, Biology
This PE activity aims to help improve students' upper body strength and endurance. Teams of "crabs" must gather "crab food" from around the gym and deposit them one at a time in their designated areas, while crab-walking. An extension activity allows kids to learn and name major muscle groups used in the exercise. I’ve actually participated in this game at a local elementary school (don’t even ask), and it’s challenging and fun. In addition to the obvious physical benefits (work those arms!), the game requires cooperation and teamwork in order to successfully gather your team’s “food”. This game can be a nice addition to a unit on the human body, body systems, and other topics.
Subjects: Physical Education, Math (measurement)
The purpose of this activity is to give students the opportunity to improve their cardiovascular endurance, while at the same time allowing students to chart their progress and see the improvements being made. One of the things that I like about this activity is that it can be done both inside and outside of the classroom. Students can perform jumping jacks in the classroom, jog after school, or run during PE classes. There are a lot of opportunities to sneak in some math here as well – kids can graph their increasing endurance level in minutes or distance covered, resting and active heart rates, and so forth.
Subjects: Geography, Math, Physical Education
This activity blends math, geography, and physical fitness. Over the course of the unit, students gradually increase their jogging time, while plotting their progress on a map of the Appalachian Trail (one lap equals one mile on the map). I love that this activity ties student exercise to geography in a visual way, and the ability to watch one’s progress on a map of an actual location should be gratifying to most students. Teachers don’t need to use the Appalachian Trail, but can substitute other locations that are attractive or meaningful to their students.