Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Educational Change/Health and Physical Education

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Why do we need health and physical education in our schools?

In an age where video games, the Internet, television, and fast food hamburgers permeate every tier of American society, it becomes increasingly more important for Americans to be aware of their food choices and to make a concerted effort to incorporate more physical activity in their day-to-day lives. However, the increasing numbers of obese men, women, and children in our society suggest that Americans are unaware of how unhealthy habits will affect them or perhaps Americans lack the motivation or know-how to fix these habits. We, as educators, are in a unique position. Our schools can provide health knowledge and exposure to physical activity by integrating them into the curriculum. The benefits will not only help our students maintain a healthy lifestyle but also help them academically.

The Facts of Life…[edit]

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, reach well beyond maintaining a healthy weight. The very workings of our body, both physical and mental, are affected by the diet and exercise choices we make everyday. The organization, Trust for America’s Health, determined in their 2007 report that, “Twenty-two states experienced an increase [in adult obesity rates] for the second year in a row; no states decreased. A new public opinion survey featured in the report finds 85 percent of Americans believe that obesity is an epidemic.” (Trust for America’s Health, 2007, paragraph 1) How do we address this problem as teachers? What can be done to keep America healthy?

By teaching our children about their health and exposing them to physical activity, educators may hold an important key to changing the future health of America. Forty-one million kids participate in organized, extracurricular youth sports like soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. (Trickey, 2006) These kids help to balance the rate of obesity in American children but the rate is still alarmingly high. “The rates of overweight children (ages 10 to 17) ranged from a high of 22.8 percent in Washington, D.C. to a low of 8.5 percent in Utah.” (Trust for America’s Health, 2007, paragraph 3) However, organized sports can be expensive to play and therefore, a number of parents cannot afford for their children to participate. This is one reason why it is essential that schools incorporate physical activity in the curriculum.

Let’s Get Physical (Education, that is!)[edit]

Physical activity is important. Schools have a vested interest and responsibility to provide for the well-being of their students. The following list includes a few of the most important physical reasons why we as educators should be concerned about the health of our students:

  • “Regular physical activity is associated with enhanced health and reduced risk for all-cause mortality.” (CDC, 2001, paragraph 2)
  • “Lack of physical activity, as well as dietary factors contribute to an estimated 300,000 deaths in the United States each year.” (Seefeldt, 1998, p.117)
  • “Beyond the effects on mortality, physical activity has multiple health benefits, including reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, selected cancers, and musculoskeletal conditions.” (CDC, 2001, paragraph 2)
Cool YouTube video on why we need physical education in school!

Our job as educators is to teach our students knowledge and life skills that will help them in the future. Teachers should be alarmed at the increase in the number of obese children. “First, overweight and obese students will inevitably miss more school days for medical reasons. These absences will mean that the students will have to catch up on material, increasing their risk of not fully understanding it and slowing down the speed at which teachers can advance to new topics. Second, when these students are in class, many will lack the energy to sustain the concentration needed to process new information.” (Yaussi, 2005, p. 1) Teaching, encouraging, and promoting physical activity is not outside the realm of the classroom.

As educators we are providing a service for the American public. As a result, we should be aware of what parents want their children to gain from their education. “Not surprisingly, nearly all (99%) adults with children in the household (aged 6-17) feel that it is important for the child to be physically fit, with 80% believing this to be extremely important.” (National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 2000, p. 5) The National Parent Teacher Organization (PTA) has a Resolution posted on their website urging local PTAs to “… support daily physical education programs as an integral part of children’s education.” (PTA, n.d.) Parents not only want their children to be physically fit but they want them to engage in physical activity at school.

This shared concern for student well-being among parents and educators serves as the basis for a collaboration to provide physical education for students at school. There are professionals within in a school, including physical educators, school nurses, and guidance counselors, that can help ensure that students’ physical education objectives are being met.

Video: Desert View Elementary in Arizona integrates technology with P.E.

If effective physical education is achieved in our schools, the benefits can span not only a student’s physical health but also their academics. “Research indicates that physical activity enhances brain function and produces many cognitive and physiological benefits.” (Tremarche, Robinson, Graham, 2001, paragraph 4) Researchers created a study in two Massachusetts elementary schools to measure the impact of increased quality Physical Education time on Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) standardized scores. They gave the MCAS test to 311 fourth graders in two comparable Southeastern Massachusetts communities below the state’s average per pupil expenditure within a two month period between April and May 2001. The participants were tested in Math and English and Language Arts (ELA). “Results of the study revealed that the mean ELA MCAS score for School 1 and the mean ELA MCAS score for School 2 were significantly different…In conclusion, students who received more hours of quality physical education per school year scored higher in the ELA subject area of the MCAS standardized test.” (Tremarche, Robinson, Graham, 2001, paragraph 1) If the results of this study are true and apply to other schools in other areas, then physical education has the added benefit of increasing the important standardized tests scores associated with No Child Left Behind.

Another study conducted in the state of Virginia explored the hypothesis that reducing the amount of time in related arts periods (art, music, P.E., etc.) would raise standardized test scores. Researchers collected data from 547 Virginia elementary school principals who completed a survey indicating the time specialists taught art, music, and physical education in their schools. After controlling for cultural and social differences between the schools, “… findings from the study do not support the notion that a reduced time allocation to art, music, and physical education is related to higher test scores.” (Wilkins, Graham, Westfall, Fraser, Tembo, 2003) Therefore, reducing the amount of time students spend in related arts, classes that according to brain-based research are believed to enhance a student’s academics, does not produce higher test scores.

Health is Academic[edit]

Physical education is just a part of the larger health curriculum that should be present within our schools. The two work hand-in-hand when they include both the health benefits of physical activity and behavioral skills such as decision making, planning, problem solving, as well as enhancing student self esteem and confidence. (Seefeldt, 1998, p.128) Also, providing students with the knowledge to obtain healthy eating habits helps in promoting a future filled with physically fit youth in America.

Another important aspect of health comes in recognizing who influences children’s eating behaviors. It is a common misconception that parents have powerful influence over children’s development of food preference. Very little correlation exists between parent and child preferences. However, parents do control what foods are available in the cupboards, and should make an effort to promote healthy foods by making them easily accessible and readily available for children. If children are not inheriting their tastes from their family members, then where are they learning their food preferences? The answer: from their peers. Evolutionary biology makes two suggestions as to why peer influence is more powerful than adult influence in shaping food preference (Cooke, Wardle, &Bigson, 2003). 1.) “Young children’s reluctance to sample new foods, most notably vegetables, is biologically wired” (Lumeng 76). This is linked to the concept that it is advantageous for human species’ survival for the young to be reluctant to eat unfamiliar plant life, due to the fact that plants can often be poisonous. Therefore, children determine what to eat by observing others around them. 2.) “Modeling eating behavior after peers may provide young children with some survival advantage” (Lumeng 76). Nutritional needs of young children are more similar to those of others in the same age group than to those of full-grown adults. An example of this comes from recognizing that children’s bodies are smaller and are less able to protect against infection, such as in the case of consuming iron; quantities which are essential for adults are toxic for children.

Health contributes to a student’s academics. “An optimally healthy student is more likely than a less healthy student to succeed in school.” (Wooley and Rubin, 2006, p.63) School health programs promote healthy eating, getting sufficient sleep, and engaging in physical activity to achieve optimal health and thus good grades. Wooley and Rubin also suggest that physical fitness, social-emotional health, and academics are inseparable. Teaching students to be emotionally healthy allows students to “… express a wide range of feelings in culturally acceptable and effective ways and thus[,] function well in the classroom and in life.” (Wooley and Rubin, 2006, p.63) With an estimated one in four students in the United States ages 10-17 at extreme risk for drug use, engaging in early, unprotected intercourse, participating in dangerous and criminal activities, experiencing depression or post-traumatic stress, or dropping out of school, it becomes apparent that health education is needed to inform our students of the risks and hopefully deter them from becoming a statistic. (Wooley and Rubin, 2006, p.64) The optimal result of effective health education should be healthy students that are functional, well-behaved adults in the future.

What Can We Do?[edit]

We, as educators, can help to promote a healthy student body that will result in healthy, future adults. It is through the cooperation of parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and politicians that we can provide successful physical and health education. By providing a quality curriculum through all levels of schooling, students can benefit physically, emotionally, socially, and academically.

But providing for the health and physical fitness of our youth is not just the job of the Health and P.E. teachers. Sarah Yaussi in her article, The Obesity Epidemic: How Non-P.E. Teachers Can Improve the Health of Their Students, suggests that regular classroom teachers can also help directly in the creation of healthy students within their classroom. We, as teachers, should serve as a role model for our students and exhibit healthy habits to our students. This includes using our classrooms as a place to “… simultaneously promote hands-on learning and physical activity.” (Yaussi, 2005, p. 1) Hiba Shublak, a fitness expert, has shown teachers an activity that can be used at the middle school and high school level to teach math skills through hip hop moves. Students create dance moves in different multiple counts or beats, thus utilizing math skills, and then show their dance to the class. The students then participate in a writing activity to reflect on the activity. (Yaussi, 2005, p. 1) Physical activity and academic material then occur simultaneously within a classroom. Through our creativity, we can create our own activities that involve our students getting out of their chairs to learn as well as keeping our students healthy.

Some students may not care about physical education, or even their physical well being. As their educators, we need to explain why physical education is important. Many high school students come to believe that becoming a physical education teacher is a joke. They think that since P.E. classes never have a text book, they aren’t learning anything important. They don’t realize that the period they spend in P.E. could be the only thing keeping them from being extremely overweight or obese. Physical education classes might even be the only physical activity that some children get. It seems that the “education” part of these classes is often forgotten. If the educators would explain to the students why they are doing jumping jacks and that jogging around the track regularly could save their lives, the students might be more likely to participate. In an article regarding youth fitness, pro football player Eli Manning was quoted as saying “It amazes me that physical education isn’t a requirement in some schools. These kids need physical activity in their lives for health reasons” (Crouse). Maybe if more students heard this type of thing from their teachers, there wouldn’t be as much of an obesity epidemic.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click the reveal the answer.

Jenny's science teacher has the class do an activity where the class uses a giant sheet with the human heart painted on it to walk the class through the heart to demonstrate blood circulation through the heart. How will this benefit her students' health?
A. Provide them with some physical activity in the classroom.
B. They will be learning in a new and different way.
C. The teacher will serve as a role model by participating in the physical activity.
D. They will be receiving a treat at the end of the activity.

A. Provide them with some physical activity in the classroom.

Windsor Farm Elementary School has reduced the time their students participate in physical education, music, and art to allow more instructional time. The school is trying to __________ their test scores by ____________ the amount of time students are learning math, reading, social studies and science.
A. increase, reducing
B. decrease, increasing
C. increase, increasing
D. decrease, decreasing

C. increase, increasing

Mill Street High School is trying to get their students to perform better on standardized tests. Which of the following is a healthy way to hopefully increase their scores?
A. Make it mandatory that students study 2 extra hours a day.
B. Increase the amount of effective physical activity time during the school day.
C. Reduce the amount of time students participate in related arts (art, music, P.E).
D. Tell the teachers that their job relies on their students' ability to pass the test.

B. Increase the amount of effective physical activity time during the school day.

The Johnson kids spend all their time in front of the computer and the television and their mom orders pizza for dinner every other day of the week. How will the Johnson kids be affected by this lifestyle academically?
A. They become at risk for becoming obese.
B. They could have an increased risk of getting cardiovascular disease and have other health problems.
C. They may suffer a lack of energy when it comes to learning.
D. They might whine because they want candy.

C. They may suffer a lack of energy when it comes to learning.

Severn Creek Middle School is implementing a program that teaches incoming 6th graders about abstinence and how to say no to drugs. What is the school most likely trying to accomplish through this endeavor?
A. To promote and teach the students about healthy lifestyles.
B. To give their students a break from the academic rigors of the day.
C. To fulfill a state mandate.
D. To frighten their students about the evils of sex and drugs.

A. To promote and teach the students about healthy lifestyles.

Anna is entering preschool this year, and her mother is worried about what her eating habits will be like at school. Who is most likely to influence Anna’s eating habits?
A. Her new teacher.
B. Her mother.
C. The young girls at her lunch table.
D. The cafeteria monitor.

C. The young girls at her lunch table.

Mrs. Appleton is a 3rd grade teacher at a local elementary school. Her principal plans on decreasing the time students spend in physical education and other resource classes. How might Mrs. Appleton get her principal to change his mind?
A. Remind her principal that by law, educators receive a one hour planning block, which is made available to them while students are in resource classes.
B. Familiarize him with the results of the MCAS studies.
C. Tell him that her students volunteered to let him jump rope with them during PE class if he gives it the same time block.
D. Throw a tantrum until he agrees to her demands.

B. Familiarize him with the results of the MCAS studies.

Many parents cannot afford to promote a healthy lifestyle by involving their children in extracurricular physical activities. How might the school system be able to help with this issue?
A. Implement a daily physical education class for all students.
B. Cancel academic classes to create a school-wide dodge ball team.
C. Pass out an apple for snack each day.
D. Charge a fee for all after school activities.

A. Implement a daily physical education class for all students.

What would a healthy motivator be for students to do better in physical education classes?
A. Explaining to students the purpose of what they're doing.
B. Receiving candy for doing well.
C. Telling the students they will fail unless they run the mile every week.
D. Making the students come to the front of the class to do different exercises.

A. Explaining to students the purpose of what they're doing.

Incorporating health class with physical education would do what?
A. Help the students understand what will happen if they do not lead a healthy lifestyle.
B. Allow the students more time to do homework.
C. Give the students another unnecessary burden.
D. None of these.

A. Help the students understand what will happen if they do not lead a healthy lifestyle.

If famous athletes came to physical education classes, what would the likely student response be?
A. The students would not do any physical activities in class that day.
B. The students would do more physical activity in order to impress the athlete.
C. The students would act as though they were sick so they would not have to participate.
D. The students would not respond.

B. The students would do more physical activity in order to impress the athlete.

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

How would you promote physical activity in your classroom? How would this benefit the students?

I would promote physical activity in my classroom by incorporating activities that required movement throughout the school day. First thing in the morning after my students have arrived and announcements are over, I want my students to do some light aerobic exercise. When I worked as a teacher in an elementary school in South Carolina, the school district provided each school with a DVD that contained a kids' exercise program on it. It had different aerobics workouts that lasted about five minutes each. It really helped the kids wake up their bodies so they were more alert and ready to learn.

I would also use filler activities, for when my class had to wait for another class to move out of a classroom or wait for an assembly to start, that would require some movement. We would play Simon Says or a game that required some quiet movements. This will not only keep my kids occupied and out of trouble but also keep their brains working while doing something fun.

Also, I want to include some physical activity into my curriculum if possible. An example of this would be having the kids create a dance to remember the different parts of the body or a game that required the students to point to the correct body part called out by the teacher. This would not only meet SOLs but also give the students a different way to remember the information while encouraging physical activity.


First, to promote physical activity in the classroom, I would begin each day with some form of physical activity for the students to perform for about five minutes. This could include stretching, jumping jacks, or dancing; basically anything to make sure students are all alert, awake, and ready for the day. Then I would include physical activity throughout the day by taking five-minute breaks between lessons or at five minutes to the hour, whichever came first. This would give the students a nice, but short break to help refresh everyone’s minds. This would be similar to the morning activity, such as jumping jacks, marching around the classroom, or stretching. I would also try and incorporate physical activity into other lessons, such as math. For example, if the math lesson was about measuring units, students could do a physical activity relating to the units. For example, if the teacher asked how many quarts equaled a gallon, students would do four jumping jacks.

By promoting physical activity in the classroom, students are able to stay focused and alert during school hours. This not only benefits the learning capacity of students, but it benefits teachers as well. Teachers are able to cover more material because students are able to pay closer attention. Students also learn the importance of physical activity and will hopefully continue to stay active throughout their lives. By staying active, students receive the short-term benefits during school and also acquire long-term benefits as well. These include a reduced risk of chronic disease, such as heart disease, Type II diabetes, lower cholesterol and a reduced risk of hypertension. —Katie Irby

References[edit]

  • CDC. (2001) Increasing physical activity: a report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR, 50 (18), 1-16.
  • Cooke, L., Wardle, J., & Gibson, E., (2003). Relationship between parental report of food neophobia and everyday food consumption in 2-6-year-old children. Appetite, 41(2), 205-206.
  • Crouse, Karen. "Jet and Giant Team Up to Promote Youth Fitness." New York Times Oct. 10, 2007. <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/sports/football/10jets html>.
  • Lumeng, Julie (2008). What can we do to prevent childhood obesity? Annual Editions: Early Childhood Education 2007/2008, 74-76.
  • National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2000) Public Attitudes Toward Physical Education: Are Schools Providing What the Public Wants? Retrieved September 13, 2007 from http://www.aahperd.org/naspe/pdf_files/whatsnew-survey.pdf.
  • PTA. (n.d.) Resolution – The Importance of Physical Education in Our Schools. Retrieved September 13, 2007 from http://www.pta.org/archive_article_details_1141761325921.html.
  • Seefeldt, Ph.D, Vernal D. (1998). Physical Education. In Eva Marx, Susan Frelick Wooley, & Daphne Northrop (Eds.), Health is Academic: A Guide to Coordinated School Health Programs (pp. 116-141). New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Tremarche, Pamela V., Robinson, Ellyn M., & Graham, Louise B. (2007, Spring). Physical Education and its Effect on Elementary Testing Results. The Physical Educator, 64 (2), 58-64.
  • Trickey, Helyn. (2006). No child left out of the dodgeball game? Retrieved September 15, 2007, from http://www.cnn.com/2006/HEALTH/08/20/PE.NCLB/index.html.
  • Trust for America's Health. (2007). F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America, 2007. Washington, D.C.: Author.
  • Wilkins, Jesse L. M., Graham, George, Parker, Suzanne, Westfall, Sarah, Fraser, Robert G., & Tembo, Mark. (2003, Nov). Time in the arts and physical education and school achievement. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 35 (6), 721-734.
  • Wooley Susan F. and Rubin, Marcia A. (2006). Physical Health, Social-Emotional Skills and Academic Success are Inseparable. In Maurice J. Elias & Harriet Arnold (Eds.), The Educator’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence and Academic Achievement (pp. 62-66). California: Corwin Press.
  • Yaussi, Sarah C. (2005, Nov/Dec). The Obesity Epidemic: How Non-P.E. Teachers Can Improve the Health of Their Students. The Clearing House. 79 (2), 105-108.