Thu, 19 May 2016 – editorialTwo New York high school students recently won an editorial writing contest by issuing their own PE challenge.
Students Norah Berry and Chase Moriarity, both 17, won an editorial writing contest by The Learning Network, an educational arm of the New York Times. Their editorial shared their thoughts on challenges they, and other students, face in PE. The article, titled “Gym Class Villains,” discusses how some PE curricula haven’t transformed with the times.“…physical education hasn’t changed in generations,” they write. “…an unimaginative curriculum of forced laps and overly aggressive games fails to accomplish much beyond boredom and exclusion.”

A curriculum overhaul

Telling words, even more poignant coming from the very students who should benefit from regular activity in PE classes.

Not all PE curricula remains stuck in antiquated roots, and not all teachers rely on “forced laps” and dodge ball to encourage students to work hard. In 2011, IHT president Jen Ohlson developed a new curriculum – PE 3, PE for the Mind, Body and Spirit – as a better way to engage students. The program also strives to motivate students to work harder than ever during their limited class time.

Adopted by the Texas Education Agency as an official PE course for its schools, PE 3 has several goals. First, it provides teachers more tools and strategies to reach students and teaches them to take more ownership of their workouts. The curriculum includes a week-by-week blueprint, lesson plans and tips for both teachers and students. Individual workouts are designed to push students to exercise in their optimal heart rate zone by incorporating moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels.

PE 3 also encourages students to monitor their own progress through the IHT Spirit System. Students wear heart rate monitors connected to the Spirit System software. The software tracks each student’s activity level and delivers a workout summary to the teacher, student and parents via email immediately following class. With access to their own workout data, students now have a better understanding of their overall well-being. This empowers – and motivates – them to maximize every class session. Once the bar of performance has been set, they strive to raise that bar each time.

Teachers must empower students

Teachers can move from villain to hero by connecting with students, working with them to embrace class goals and then strive to reach them. To do this, PE provides exciting new exercises – one PE 3 lesson ties a seven-station workout to learning about the seven wonders of the world. Last December, Ohlson published a blog about what makes a top PE teacher. While these aren’t the only six qualities, it’s hard to imagine teachers exhibiting these qualities earning “villain” status.

Are there teachers who haven’t embraced change and amended their PE curriculum to better fit today’s students? Sure. But PE heroes can be found across the country, too. They come in many different forms. It could the Michigan teacher whose student, when his Spirit System workout report showed up on his phone, looked at his teacher and said, “Hey, I did some good work today.” Or it could be the California teacher who, after seeing how classmates worked together to encourage each other, praised them for their effort and announced that 92 percent of them had reached their fitness goal that day.

As Berry and Moriarity point out, education becomes more demanding the further you go. PE needs to demand more as well.