When you reflect on your experiences in physical education class, you might remember kickball, jump rope, basketball, and a variety of other games and activities. You might recall the annual fitness tests, where you were challenged to swiftly run a mile alongside your peers, perform as many sit-ups as possible in 60-seconds, and lift your chin over the pull-up bar until your arms felt like spaghetti. Sport skills and health-related fitness components are still the backbone of a quality physical education curriculum, but you may be surprised to learn how these skills and concepts are being taught in today’s P.E.
Our world has changed drastically due to technology. Many of us even use digital tools to help monitor our exercise habits. Fitbits, Garmin trackers, Apple watches, and other wearable fitness gadgets have become commonplace. We employ these devices for personal accountability, and sometimes to foster friendly competition for added motivation. You can even find this type of technology in today’s physical education classes, for many of the same reasons.
Physical education teachers throughout the Mat-Su are incorporating technology to provide immediate and meaningful feedback to students on their skill performance, fitness level, and the body’s response to exercise. Video-recorders, pedometers, and heart rate monitors turn theoretical concepts into science-lessons with each student as his or her own subject of study.
In the old days of P.E., a student who finished last in the mile run might have been branded as lazy, or not trying hard. However, heart rate data may indicate that the student who finished the run in 10 minutes was exercising at a higher intensity (as measured by percent of maximal heart rate) for a longer time, than the student who completed the same distance in 7 minutes, displaying a greater expenditure of effort than her faster classmate. With such knowledge, this student can be proud of her effort, rather than disappointed in the finish, even as she trains to cover the distance at a faster pace in future contests.
At Goose Bay Elementary, our young students use pedometers to assess their efforts during physical education class. One of our first lessons presented an interesting question when two teammates noticed that they had significantly different times for their Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity (MVPA) during a small-group game. (The MVPA setting measures the time a student’s body is moving faster than two steps per second.) Upon comparing their numbers, the two students realized that one teammate quickly chased after every kicked ball prompting the other teammate to remain in place, awaiting the ball’s return. With this information, the students adjusted their play and became more effective at fielding.
At Machetanz Elementary, students record their classmates during tumbling practice. Using video to capture each other in action, students learn to recognize the angles, postures, and rotations of various gymnastic skills, and to coach their fellow students to improved performances. The videos assist the students with their communication, and enhance their understanding of the skill’s biomechanics.
Physical education is designed to get our students moving, playing, and learning. Using technology to gain a deeper understanding of how to move, how to play, and how our bodies respond to exercise is how we can move beyond the “old” days of PE, and into the next generation of physical education.
Nancy Blake teaches physical education at Goose Bay Elementary School.