Physical, health education changing with the times

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Rowan County High School physical education teacher Alan Evans does a push-up while learning an activity that incorporates mathematics and physical activity in the classroom during an Alliance for a Healthier Generation professional development opportunity. Photo by Amy Wallot, Aug. 15, 2011
Rowan County High School physical education teacher Alan Evans does a push-up while learning an activity that incorporates mathematics and physical activity in the classroom during an Alliance for a Healthier Generation professional development opportunity. Photo by Amy Wallot, Aug. 15, 2011

By Susan Riddell

Physical education (PE) teachers in Kentucky are looking for ways to maximize student physical activity and learning.

But that can be difficult when class time in some Kentucky districts is dwindling – either because of shorter classes or because teachers have to use class time to do things besides teach.

For example, one elementary PE teacher in an eastern Kentucky school district said he often loses minutes off his 30-minute instruction time just gathering his students for class. During that time, he has to walk to other teachers’ classrooms, get students, walk them back to the gym and then return them to other classrooms. That basically gives him 20 minutes of class time with his students, he said.

To give students more time outside the standard PE class, some teachers are turning to after-school programs to get students moving and learning. Other districts are focusing on integrating PE into regular class time and are offering their teachers summer professional development to help them develop strategies on how to get their students moving during class time.

Jamie Sparks, a project director for Kentucky Department of Education’s Coordinated School Health, and Melissa McDonald, the Kentucky relationship manager with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity, have collaborated with several of these professional development programs.

“One of the concepts in moving forward in the profession of physical education is around the concept of a comprehensive school-based physical activity program (CSPAP). Because of budget and facility limitations around class size, increasing actual minutes in physical education is not a reality in most schools,” Sparks said. “So the shift in thinking in the profession is that the PE teacher is the cornerstone of the CSPAP at every school.

“So after-school physical activity programs, such as tennis (see sidebar), would certainly be one of the many program opportunities we want to see schools offering and, ultimately, students participating in to be more physically active,” Sparks added. “This concept is reflected in the Program Reviews in the PE standard of curriculum and instruction.”

 One of the intents of the Program Review process is integration and collaboration, Sparks said.

“So much of our focus with our summer PD trainings has been on various components of health and PE integration,” he said.

McDonald travels around Kentucky introducing the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to school districts. During her professional development sessions, like one held recently in Rowan County, she encouraged physical education teachers to become health and wellness champions for their schools.

“All schools need an advocate who can fight for these students,” McDonald said. “They need to have active movements, and this needs to happen daily. Right now, I’m working with 20 districts, and I can get a feel for district climate. Some just don’t do the physical activity that’s required.”

Even though PE teachers sometimes face barriers preventing them from getting students physically active, McDonald said they still need to evaluate their own practices.

“This is when we challenge teachers,” she said. “Write down how many active minutes your kids get each day and find ways to mix it up. See if different times each day work better or if different activities offer more active minutes. Really look at how you teach, and come up with the best way to get your students moving more in terms of active minutes.”

McDonald also challenged teachers to know their kids. Teachers should always be aware of the students with Type 2 diabetes or the ones at high risk for heart disease.

Those wanting to collaborate with teachers or integrate other content into lessons can easily do so, she said. During her training, for example, McDonald had Rowan County PE teachers complete an exercise that brought together physical activity and mathematics.

She handed each teacher a card instructing them to do 2×3 jumping jacks; 2×10 seconds of marching; 7×2 wall pushups; 4×4 single-knee raises and other physical activities.  

Another exercise used a floor map of the United States. The instructions told the teachers to walk to where the Seattle Seahawks play and do 10 sit-ups. Another direction said run to the Philadelphia Eagles’ location and pretend to throw five touchdown passes.

Teachers need to be creative in their planning of activities and come up with ideas that will naturally draw in other teachers, McDonald said. For instance, teachers could plan a community 5K race and set it up so that money raised goes back to the school. They also can set up health and wellness school councils in an effort to constantly reinforce the positive lifestyle, she said.

“I did that and went after active teachers,” said Hillary Hodges, a PE teacher at McBrayer Elementary (Rowan County). “I also got two really great parents, and we meet once a month.”

How can classroom teachers help facilitate a healthy lifestyle with their students?

McDonald said there are several ways teachers can incorporate active minutes into learning time. It can be as simple as allowing students to stand from time to time. Instead of chairs, students can sit on stability balls. Teachers can use music to get students moving.

Teachers at Hodges’ school use the Just a Minute (JAM) School Program. The free program, available to all schools, introduces physical activity and health education into the classroom by teaching kids (and adults) healthier lifestyle habits. It offers a weekly one-minute exercise routine called JAMmin’ Minute, an athlete-featured more extensive routine called JAM Blast and a monthly health newsletter called Health-E-tips.

“These are easy ways for classroom teachers to incorporate some activity into their day,” Hodges said. “We have our JAMmin’ Minutes on our morning announcements, and the kids love them. They’ll get after teachers, too, if the teachers are not doing them.”

 MORE INFO…

Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Jamie Sparks, jamie.sparks@education.ky.gov, (502) 564-2706, ext. 4539
Melissa McDonald, melissa.mcdonald@healthiergeneration.org, (859) 309-1223
Cindy Bramble, cindy.bramble@frankfort.kyschools.us, (502) 875-8658

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