The school-wide physical activity program

08/21/2013  |  By DAN YOUNG

The goal of the school-wide physical activity program is to develop the skills and knowledge individuals need to lead a physically active lifestyle. Accomplishing this goal requires the commitment of the entire school, just like any other curriculum area. There are two aspects to a comprehensive school-wide physical activity program. One is the physical education program. The other is the school physical activity program. The following briefly outlines the two programs.

How important is your physical education program to the students in your school? Does it contribute to student improvement? As a former physical education teacher and elementary school principal, I always expected physical education, as well as all other instructional programs in the school, to make a positive impact on student performance. I strongly believed that teaching for learning, regardless of the subject, was critical to maximizing student performance. The problem for physical education teachers is that they do not have the same curriculum resources available to them as all other teachers.

Students should be engaged in purposeful physical activity (PPA) from 60 to 80 percent of the physical education class. The instructional program should be developmental from kindergarten through fifth grade. This means there should be a six-year instructional plan. The challenge for physical education teachers is that there are limited comprehensive, developmentally appropriate physical education curriculum resources available. This limitation has had a significant negative impact on how physical education teachers plan and implement a long term program of instruction. Because physical education teachers have not had the resources they need to plan for instruction, they have had to develop their own. My question is how effective will your teachers be if they have to research, write, design, and implement their own curriculum? The curriculum resources provided by the school have provided teachers the information they need to plan and implement instruction.

I am convinced that physical education teachers would be more successful if they had curriculum resources, like teachers in other subjects have, to plan their instructional program. Few teachers, regardless of their subject, have the time and the training to research and write a curriculum. Teachers are expected to plan and deliver high quality instruction based on well developed curriculum resources that are provided by the school and/or school district.

As mentioned above, there are not many curriculum resources available for physical education. Teachers and administrators must do their research to find quality, developmentally appropriate curriculum material. The following are the basic characteristics to look for when reviewing physical education curriculum resources:

  • Is it based on the physical education learning standards?
  • Does it include planning information?
  • Are there clearly defined unit motor tasks (learning objectives)?
  • Is there a clearly defined learning sequence?
  • Does it give a rubric for each motor task unit?
  • Does it provide a formative assessment?
  • Does it provide a summative assessment?

Is it based on the learning standards? The physical education curriculum resource should be based on and develop the physical education learning standards. These may be local, state, or national. There are five national physical education standards. It is critical that the curriculum develops all the learning standards.

Does it include planning information? The physical education curriculum resource should provide teachers with planning information. This includes management ideas, supplies and equipment, suggestions on how to expand, and varied learning experiences.

Are there clearly defined motor tasks units (unit objectives)? The motor task units must be developed by grade level. They must clearly identify what the students should know and be able to do when the motor task is learned. The motor tasks should be developed by grade level.

Is there a clearly defined learning sequence? It is critical that the physical education curriculum clearly defines a scope and sequence for each motor task unit, across each grade level and from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Does it give a rubric for each motor task unit? The rubric must clearly identify what is expected of the students. The rubric establishes teacher expectations and the appropriate feedback to improve student performance.

Does it provide formative assessment? Formative assessment provides teachers with ongoing information about how well the students are doing. The rubric is critical to formative assessment. Formative assessment is used to determine if students are ready to move to the next task or if more instruction/practice time is needed on the current task.

Does it provide summative assessment? A physical education curriculum should provide protocols for how to assess each motor task unit. Summative assessment has two main functions. The most important is its use as an instructional tool. Teachers should take the information grained from the assessment of students to improve instruction. Secondly, it should be used as major criteria for student grades.

An effective physical education curriculum resource must provide the teacher with the information needed to plan and implement a program of instruction that will result in improving student performance. The goal of physical education is to develop the skills and knowledge of how and why to lead a physically active lifestyle.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) has developed an excellent curriculum assessment tool PECAT (Physical Education Curriculum Assessment Tool). It is available as a free download at  Schools and school districts should consider having their physical education review the available curriculum resources using the PECAT instead of having teachers write a physical education curriculum. It may be a valuable use of their time.

The second aspect of the comprehensive school physical activity is daily physical activity. Physical activity is the time students spend in health enhancing physical activity during the school day.

The goal of a physical activity program should be to provide at least half of the daily physical activity needs of children. The American Heart Association, American Medical Association, Center for Disease Control and the National Association of Physical Education and Sport recommend at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

School staffs that are preparing to make a commitment to a school-wide physical activity program should first conduct a review of the school day activities that are conducive to a physical activity, such as physical education and recess. Are students receiving an appropriate amount of physical activity during the time slots? In physical education, the students should be physically active from 60 to 80 percent of the class period. The time starts from the moment the students enter the physical activity area until they leave. A simple time study should be done to determine if the students are physically active for the desired time length.

Recess is another time that students can be physically active. Most recess periods are 15 to 20 minutes. Far too often, students are not physically active or their physical activity is low intensity, not providing a health benefit. Recess should be organized so that all students are physically active. This requirement can be as simple as having students walk while they talk if not participating in regular recess activities.

After reviewing the amount of time in health enhancing physical activity, the school staff should start identifying how extra time can be allotted for physical activity. Many classroom teachers who value the benefits of physical activity already plan physical activities that are beneficial to their students. These may be as simple as a brisk 20 minute walk.

There is not space —nor is the intent of this article — to explain how to plan and implement a comprehensive school-wide physical activity program. The following resource is recommended for school staffs interested in pursuing the development of a school-wide physical activity program: “Schoolwide Physical Activity” by Rink, Hall and Williams.

Schools that make a commitment to a school-wide physical education program increase the chances that their students will:

  • Lead a physically active lifestyle
  • Perform better in school
  • Have less behavior issues
  • Improve attendance

These are four good reasons to seriously consider implementing a school-wide physical activity program.

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