Most people remember gym class in school as something that was rather drab and uninteresting, something that everyone had to do. But schools across the nation are starting to re-think the way that gym class is approached.
New standards for math and English have been incorporated into school districts across the nation, and with that has come a call for physical education to become more thorough and include more academia. P.E. teachers are starting to post vocabulary in their rooms for students to memorize.
Take, for example, Everglades Elementary School in West Palm Beach, Florida. Ms. Patelsky has taken a more open-minded and thorough approach to her gym class. He emphasizes that she is a teacher, first and foremost.
For warmup, she has them count by intervals of four while stretching down to touch their toes. They do laps around mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. While doing push-ups, they are taught the word “alternate” as they switch between arms, one hold themselves up while the other is stacking large toy blocks into columns of different numbers.
Incorporating Other Classwork
In Chesapeake, Virginia, students in Deep Creek Elementary School count down in different languages during class warm-up and hop around on mats with letters printed on them to spell out words.
In Roxhill Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, physical education teacher Chellie LaFayette uses an iPad purchased via a Federal grant to show her students pictures of the Iditarod dog sled race and maps of mountain ranges. She uses the names of the mountain ranges to name routes on the climbing wall that students use there.
Standardized Testing For Gym
Testing has begun to incorporate gym-related material in the end-of-year standardized testing. The District of Columbia has added 50 questions about health and physical education, such as questions about the respiratory and muscular systems, to their standardized tests.
But not everyone thinks that this is such a positive change that is occurring in our schools. During a time of increasing childhood obesity and diminishing recess time, as well as physical education being cut completely in certain areas, administrators want to keep the focus of physical education on physical activity and not academia.
“I’m more concerned that we don’t have enough time to be in the gym,” said Anna Allanbrook, principal of the Brooklyn New School, an elementary school that does not incorporate academics into gym time.
Some parents and students say that in the excess of homework that comes from school already, the assignments from the physical education classes are simply adding to all of the busy work.
But the teachers are standing by their activities and assignments, elaborating that they want to keep the students moving during their physical education classes, and that there should be more meaning to the movement.
Kristina Rodgers of Indian Pines Elementary School in Lake Worth, Florida explains that it is hard to keep students moving for the entire half-hour period of class. After that observation, she decided to make it so she interspersed cognitive tasks with intense physical activity, such as fast-paced drills.
Physical Activity Tied To Cognitive Function
A growing body of research points out that physical activity helps improve cognitive function, especially in children as they continue to develop. So, mixing physical activity with academic work only improves cognitive development; that is the idea, at least.
“Some children just learn better through more movement than they do sitting at a desk,” said Janis Andrews, chief academic officer in Palm Beach. “Some kids are going to have that ‘aha’ moment not in the classroom, but the light bulb is going to finally go on outside.”