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Fostering Cognitive Development in Physical Education Programs

Fostering Cognitive Development in Physical Education Programs
Coming up next: Social & Emotional Factors Influencing Physical Education

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  • 0:04 Cognitive Results
  • 0:47 Equipment & Activities
  • 2:12 Inclusion & Activity Level
  • 3:17 Other Important Factors
  • 3:48 Assessment
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kathryn Lawson

Kathryn has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master's degree in criminal justice. She has experience with college instruction and staff training.

This lesson discusses strategies for using physical education to promote critical thinking, goal-setting, decision-making, problem-solving, and analytical skills in students.

Cognitive Results

Forget about dodgeball and other old-school games designed to humiliate unlucky students. More updated and effective physical education curricula can do more than promote physical fitness and health. Physical education can also contribute significantly to cognitive development in students.

Research shows that children who engage in more physical activity have larger brain involvement in areas associated with memory and cognitive control. They also show increased concentration and attention span, both of which are foundational to improving the ability to learn other subjects. In addition to the benefits of free play and general physical activity, physical education that incorporates the best practices is the most beneficial.

Equipment & Activities

High-quality physical education has adequate physical space and equipment for students to engage in planned activities. These activities include significant group and team efforts in which students cannot help but improve their critical thinking skills. They attend to the rules of the game or activity, analyze strategic moves and the placement of teammates and opponents, and evaluate different options for play. After weighing these options, the student selects a move or play. In order to improve performance, the student must then assess the effectiveness of his or her play. If the effort did not yield the desired results, the student must engage in problem-solving to improve future attempts.

For example, Maria is playing soccer during her physical education class and is in possession of the ball. She considers her position and its role (offensive vs. defensive) and scans the field to assess whether any of her teammates are available for a pass. Finding her teammates heavily guarded but seeing an open path for herself to the opponent's goal, she decides to dribble downfield. As Maria approaches the goal, a defender blindsides her and steals the ball. Maria analyzes her decision and its consequences and considers options to improve her next play. These complex cognitions occur over and over in the space of a single physical education class period, provided other key elements are also present.

Inclusion & Activity Level

Physical education activities should foster inclusion and offer opportunities to be physically active for most of the class time. Let's return to dodgeball and other activities of that type. For much of the time, these games have the majority of the students inactive for long periods of time after getting out. No physical or cognitive development is occurring as they languish on the sides. More modern conceptions of physical education recognize the need to encourage active participation among all the students. Ideal lessons are also far more sensitive to issues of embarrassment and exclusion. After all, activities in which a student is worried about shame or even possible physical injury is not one in which higher-order brain functions get much attention.

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