The new PE

Changing face of gym class intends to address student needs

Changing face of gym class intends to address student needs

March 24, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

Several dozen eighth-graders ambled out of the locker rooms dressed in white T-shirts and athletic shorts.

Within two minutes they were running laps around the school gym and twisting their bodies into various positions to stretch their arms and legs.

"Fifty crunches," called out the students' teacher, Jeremy Eby. "Twenty push-ups," he added.

The nonstop activity was the first five minutes of the class formerly known as gym.

At Greencastle-Antrim Middle School in Greencastle, Pa., students don't take gym, they have wellness class, and in other school districts gym has been replaced by physical education (PE).

While phys-ed might look like the gym class of 15 or 20 years ago, there are some real differences.

Today's students learn yoga and Tae Bo. They learn how to use fitness equipment such as stair climbers and elliptical machines - equipment they might find in an athletic club. They measure their heart rate with monitors and learn how to find their target heart-rate zone.


Physical-education teachers teach students about overall health and well-being, how to take care of themselves and why physical fitness is important.

The changing face of gym class is an attempt to address students' physical-education needs, teachers say. At a time when more than half of American adults are either overweight or obese, kids need to know how to take care of their physical health, not just how to play basketball and soccer.

"Our whole goal is lifestyle change and finding something that you can do that you will do for the rest of your life," says Cindy Neugebauer, a physical-education teacher at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Halfway. "We want movement for everybody. If you have a negative experience with anything as a child, you're not going to want to do it as an adult."

That mentality has caused some major shifts in the way physical education is taught to students - especially in elementary and middle schools.

Teachers spend more time teaching children about their bodies. They drill students on vocabulary such as: target heart rate, circulatory system and muscle groups.

PE activities are now geared to challenge each child individually, not just the athletic kids, explained Ed Masood, supervisor for fine arts, health, physical education and athletics at Washington County Public Schools. "In the past, a game like dodgeball would take kids out of play that most needed the activity and development," he said. "We do games for inclusion rather than the athletic, win-at-all-cost games, which exclude kids."

Physical-education programs are increasingly designed to reach a broad range of kids, to show them that physical fitness can be fun and exercise can be found in many unconventional activities, Eby said.

Greencastle-Antrim eighth-grader Andrew Mowen said he's not athletic. Still, he enjoys wellness class at school, especially playing the video game "Dance Dance Revolution."

The school recently added the video-game system, which directs players to make a series of dance steps on a dance pad. The intensity of the moves increases as the game advances. At advanced levels the game can give quite a cardiovascular workout, Andrew says.

"I played this for like six hours, and I was wiped out," he said.

To encourage students to find their own activities outside of phys-ed, Eby allowed several of his students to put together a wellness class lesson plan on the basics of cheerleading.

Eighth-grader Kelli Kline and some of her friends presented the lesson to their fellow classmates. They wanted to introduce other students to cheerleading stunts and safety precautions, Kelli said.

In the seven years he's been teaching, Eby has seen a turnaround in how kids respond to his class. Offering a variety of activities and giving students the ability to give feedback has students more interested in physical fitness, he said.

PE teachers today also are asked to make physical education "multidisciplinary," Masood said.

In elementary school especially, phys-ed teachers incorporate reading and math into their lessons about movement. Neugebauer reads stories such as Dr. Seuss' "Hop on Pop" to her youngest students and then directs them in mimicking the activities they see in books.

"That's how kids learn," Neugebauer says. "They learn by doing."

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